When Cre­ativ­ity Takes Courage - Nige­rian Artist, O Yemi Tubi

Sunday Trust - - ARTS & IDEAS - By Jalal Bounoua Text and Pho­tos: Africa.com

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

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