When Creativity Takes Courage - Nigerian Artist, O Yemi Tubi
When and how did you start your career as an artist?
I started my career as an artist in 1978 in Nigeria. I was employed as Graphic Art Assistant with the Ministry of Information, Oyo State Government, Ibadan, Nigeria. The position of Graphic Art Assistant was more or less an Apprenticeship position because I never had any art training before then. I later travelled to USA to study and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art. In 1986 I settled down here in the UK, I tried to start my art career as a painter but African community did not appreciate fine art much so I changed to photography and Graphic Art. Arab Spring of 2012 and the war on terror that followed moved me to pick up my brushes and to start painting.
What does art mean to you?
Art is means life to me. Sometimes I could not stop or take a break for anything even to stop to eat when I start painting. I only stop when I am arrested by sleep because it is difficult to work if I cannot keep my eyes open.
Why are the majority of your artworks having political and social messages?
Like some of the old art masters Delacroix and Goya that spoke about social and political upheavals of their time in their works, I use some of my paintings to express myself about on-going political and social issues around the world. “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art” so said Paul Cezanne. I believe arts should not just decorate but also evoke feelings and preach for positive change.
What does Africa mean to you? Why Africa is strongly presented in your work (sufferings and problems of Africa)?
Africa is a great continent and a rich and God blessed continent. There should not be so much suffering in Africa if the continent resources were evenly distributed. I do not use my works to speak mainly about sufferings and problems of Africa; I am also using my works to celebrate achievements of Africans and black people around the world. I did a painting “Kabiyesi Oba Obama (Unquestionable King Obama)” to celebrate President Obama second terms as President of America. My paintings “Soyinka: An African Literary Icon” was done to honour Professor Wole Soyinka for his achievement in the world of Literature. “Simone Biles: The Golden Rose” was done to spotlight the American sensational artistic gymnast Simone Biles who won five gold medals in Rio Olympic in Brazil 2016. I am currently working “AJ: Omo Oduduwa the world Champion” in honour of Anthony Joshua, the British heavyweight Champion. I will soon start series of paintings on Yoruba ceremonies and culture. Though some of my recent paintings are about exploitation and corruption in African, my ultimate goal is to showcase the positive image of African people not to affirm negative stereotypes of Africans.
How can we empower arts and artists in Africa?
To empower arts and artists in Africa we need to promote arts. Performing art and actors and actresses are doing well in Africa especially in Nigeria. Nollywood - Nigeria’s Movie Industry produces movies nearly every week. Many African actors and actresses have attained celebrity status in the world. The arts that need promotion are Visual Arts. There are lots of outstanding painters and sculptors in Africa. People like El Anatsui from Ghana; Nigerian born, Sokari Douglas; William Kentridge of South Africa; Ibrahim El-Salahi of Sudan to name the few. If you stand in the corner of any major city in Africa and you ask people to name any Art or Artist, I do not think many people will be able to name any piece of art or an artist but they may be able to name famous African footballers and movie stars. Many African youths will like to be footballers and movie stars because they hear and see successful footballers and movies stars in the medias.
We need to promote arts and artists just as Africa.com is doing by interviewing emerging artists like me. Young people must be encouraged to develop their artistic talent. Arts should be thought at primary schools to secondary schools. Day trips from schools to Museums and Art Galleries will educate youths and give them awareness of arts. In this digital age, nearly everyone has smart phone and access to internet. There are many online galleries that promote African Arts and Artists. The originals and prints of our works are online for sales. There are many products online made from our works like T-shirts, bags, smart phones covers etc. All these will empower African arts and artists. Visit my website: www.o-yemi-tubi.pixels. com to see my works and products from my works
What role does the artist have in society?
Like every other media, the role of the artist is to use his or her works to educate and enlighten the society. We do not live in a perfect world. There are lots of things wrong in our world not only in Africa. Artist should use his or her works to passionately advocate for change in our world of crisis. I often say that arts should not be just for decoration but should also evoke feelings. This is what moved me to me to use my painting “Arab Revolution” to speak about Arab Spring that started in 2011 and my “The Eagle has Landed” was about American-led “war on terror”. Looking at the fast wealth of the continent of Africa, I wondered why many Africans are living in abject poverty. This made me to do some of paintings about African issues like “OIL: Africans’ Wealth and Woe”; “Hunger in the Land of Plenty”. I do not like how other nations are literarily taking food out of the mouths of Africans by stealing Africans’ resources and businesses with the help of some corrupt African leaders this made me do my painting “African’t” (Africans cannot say no to exploitations)
What is your message to Artists in general and especially African Artists.
My message to Artists in general and especially African Artists is that contrary to stereotypical images of Africa as so-called “Dark Continent”, “the continent synonymous to poverty, famine and war”; Africa is Affluent, flamboyant, bright and beautiful; rich in Arts and Cultures. African Artists should be proud of their heritage and proudly showcase the beauty and diversity of our blessed continent in their works. When I was studying in America, I learnt in the art history class that the Europeans learnt from Nigeria how to use bronze for sculptures.
Europeans Museums are full of Africans’ Artifacts stolen from Africa countries during the colonial reign over Africa. Many of us in Africa are Christians or Muslims and because of our religious beliefs some Africans have demonized African arts. It is true before the advent of the two religions, our forefathers and mothers use their arts to decorate their religious temples and shrines just as Michael Angelo used his paintings to adorn the religious shrine of his time Sistine Chapel in St Peter Cathedral Vatican City. We need to appreciate the arts of our forefathers aesthetically whether it was used to adorn religious shrine or as a mask for the face of masquerades. Their artistic talents are God-given talents and must not be credited to the devil. Where ever I go around the world I will always showcase my Africa in my works and in what I wear.
‘I use some of my paintings to express myself about on-going political and social issues around the world’
A Soyinka piece by the artist
Yemi Tubi with his award winning painting Peace In Our Time-Eagle