Nigerian-based artist, Anthony Azekwoh, is not an unfamiliar name to art lovers and enthusiasts in the online community. In 2020, his famous artwork The Red Man popped on the pages of thousands of social media users and it was indeed a cocktail of reactions that ranged from fear to bewilderment and teeming appreciation for art...
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“That was honestly one of the more peaceful points of my career,” Azekwoh who works from Lagos, Nigeria, despite his growing fame in the international scene scene tells Legit.NG as we delved into the inspiration behind the work.
“Them times when it’s really just about the work and nothing else. For me, it was just another painting at the time, for the rest of the world, it was something else,” he continues.
Days before our chat, the artist who has a fondness for engaging with his community of online supporters opened up about his earliest encounter with art and how he “failed art consistently” in school.
He, however, recounts an experience that changed it all and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become an enviable career.
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“It was weird, I was primarily known as a writer but then in 2016, my laptop broke and I couldn’t write anymore (my handwriting is really bad) and so I picked up some leftover pens, some paper and I started drawing. It was bad, really bad. But, I showed my mum and she said that it was great, and that she loved it and that was how it started.”
As one who struggled with art in school, Azekwoh maintains that the government is still not doing enough to improve the way art is being taught in schools.
“I definitely don’t think it has done enough in that regard. I feel that there can be so much more sensitization and inclusion for children, especially in the arts, but it just isn’t given the focus.”
Although celebrated at the moment, Azekwoh didn’t have it easy with his parents when he chose to dump a promising chemical engineering degree for art.
These days, the former Covenant University student who spends thousands of minutes painting on digital devices says his parents have come to be more accepting.
“They definitely didn’t at first. It’s unpredictable and confusing, the field I’m in. But, as time goes on, I feel like they’ve grown to understand it.”
In October 2020, thousands of Nigerian youths stormed the streets of Lagos to protest against continued police brutality by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a special arm of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), that had gone rogue.
Many youths gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate area for a peaceful protest that would eventually turn into a bloody shoot-out after soldiers and police officers stormed the area in a bid to disperse the gathering.
Even though the government continues to maintain there was no massacre of innocent Nigerians, youths in the country refuse to be gaslighted and Azekwoh is among those who guard the memories of October 20.
For his Animal Talk series, Azekwoh, inspired by the socially conscious lyrics of the late Fela Kuti, revisits the #ENDSARS protest.
“I’m a big Fela fan, got into him during my time in uni. And for the series, that imagery had been in my head…animal e wear agbada. I feel there’s been so much tension in my spirit from Endsars that I needed to let out artistically and the series was a perfect outlet for that. From the politicians, to the pastors, to police and then us, the people, I feel that I was able to capture a great moment there.”
Azekwoh, however, makes it a point to note that he has no control over how people choose to consume his work once it is out there.
“Most times I’m trying to express myself. When it’s out in the world, it’s out of my hands,” he says.
A visit to Azekwoh’s Instagram and Twitter pages welcomes one with a plethora of works that have been painstakingly created.
For his community of online followers, the artist makes it easy for those who cannot afford art to simply take screenshots for keepsakes or even proceed to make their own prints. While the issues of ownership and creative control come to the forefront with such scenarios, the artist is seemingly unbothered.
“With NFTs and the rise of digital ownership it’s really been easy and straightforward especially since my brand is very distinct,” he says.
Azekwoh whose journey in the art world has spanned almost ten years stressed the importance of patience for those coming behind.
"It’s been almost 10 years in total and for pointers, I’d say go to where you feel like you have something to add and keep at it. It takes time, but so does everything good."
Nigerian artist goes viral over realistic drawings
Meanwhile, Legit.ng reported that a talented artist identified as Mayor_Arts on Instagram was applauded massively after photos of his incredible artworks surfaced on social media.
Mayor_Arts specializes in drawing human beings and making his artworks look very real.
Social media users who came across photos of his works expressed their amazement over how realistic he made them look