Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Ken Nwadiogbu harnesses his artistic talent to highlight the socio-political issues facing young Africans. He’s part of an emerging hyperrealism art scene in Nigeria.

How did you discover your talent and when did you decide to make a career of it?​

I was a high-school science student, so my plan was to go to university to study something science related, and then graduate and search for job. I never prepared for a life and career in the art world. Six years ago, I began studying a Civil and Environmental Engineering degree at the University of Lagos. During my first year of study there, I met a young man who was painting the then Vice Chancellor. I used to doodle in my books while in class, but that was just a bad habit, I thought. Once I saw this young man painting this amazing work of art, I wanted to know more. So I went back and started to research. My research turned into hunger, hunger turned into addiction, addiction turned into love… And that was when I fell deeply in love with art. My career in art wasn’t planned, but it changed my life. I was always very enthusiastic to create, and this was a perfect way for me. Over the past five years, I’ve read, studied, practiced, and grown, not just in my craft, but in the art world. I fell in love with hyperrealism, and it influenced me so strongly that I became a figurative hyperrealist.

You have a BSc in Civil and Environmental Engineering, how hard was it for you to convince your parents of your new-found path?​

In an African home, there are few career choices parents impose upon their children: lawyer, doctor, engineer, or scientist. Any other career choice, especially a creative one, is ‘second rate’. It’s not because they do not appreciate the talent their children possess, but they fear that society, particularly Nigerian society, will dismiss and devalue this type of career choice. My father had this ideology, but my mother was very supportive. Fear is one of the greatest issues in any man, and the growth of a family or a nation lies in its defeat. Convincing my parents of the people around me wasn’t necessary – I had to show them! I spent many nights creating art while reading on the side, trying to balance both career paths, just so that my parents were happy and fulfilled. It took a lot out of me and I sacrificed a lot of time, energy, socialising, etc. But it was the sacrifice I paid for success.

What made you decide to use your artistic talent to talk about socio-political issues and to ‘advocate for positive change’?

A painting becomes art when it transcends merely looking aesthetically pleasing and speaks about a cause. In my country, my society, my environment, you’ll experience so much pain, war, fights, mental battles, problematic ideologies, feminine denigration, and more. It affected me as a person, and my family, too – every day became another fight for survival; a fight to breathe and grow. This happens all over the world, too, and no one seemed to be talking about it, and even if they were, the public wasn’t listening. I knew hyperrealism had great appeal, especially when carried out on a large scale. I began to use that as a platform to speak out about these things, so that people would be attracted to listen and ask questions. In this way, I could drive home my ideologies and narratives, speak about socio-political issues and advocate for positive change.

‘Fear is young people’s biggest barrier. The fear to start. The fear to succeed. The fear to grow. The society in Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, breathes fear into young kids.’

What would you say is the biggest barrier for a young person in Africa who’s looking to realise their full potential?

Fear! Fear is young people’s biggest barrier. The fear to start. The fear to succeed. The fear to grow. The society in Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, breathes fear into young kids. Start from the issue with slavery, then move on to racism, then tribalism, educational institutions and the numerous obstacles you have to pass before you can be admitted into schools. It continues on to corruption, the unemployment and poverty rates, and then on to wars: Boko Haram, xenophobic attacks, etc, and then on to money and its value… I can keep naming issues and problems. These things collectively kill the dream of every young person and drive them into bad businesses, scamming, killing, etc. If only we could conquer that fear and strive to be who we want to be, every young person in Nigeria would have a brighter future. That’s why I’m here, my goal is to inspire people, even just one person, to follow their dreams. If I can do it, they can do it.

‘In the end, it’s your relentless attitude, your precision, your perseverance and your patience that wins. Success, for me, is only brewed for the strong!’

How has the world opened up for you since you decided to follow, or rather create, your own path?

The world is an amazing place if you keep growing, think positively, approach the world with optimism, and turn deaf ears to discouragement. I can’t say I’ve had a smooth journey because honestly, I’ve hit some bumps along the way. Bumps like my age bracket [he was born in 1994], my location, my chosen genre, as well as many other things. But in the end, it’s your relentless attitude, your precision, your perseverance and your patience that wins. Success, for me, is only brewed for the strong!

What is the inspiration behind The Black Mentality series?

The Black Mentality series brings together the relationship between black resistance and survival. It strives to explain that the mentality of survival can be painful and destructive, as well as inspiring and powerful. It speaks in-depth about the meaning of survival to humans and the extent they will go to achieve it.

Tell us more about The King’s Diary.

The King’s Diary is an ongoing series that attempts to present African women in the light of kingly power; decorated in the regalia of the traditional rulers. The motive is to encourage the acceptance and respect otherwise ascribed to the kings of Africa – and any realm, actually – as a right of the African female, which is depicted in the art pieces. This new light will help see the girl-child in sub-Saharan Africa, and all of Africa, as privileged as the sons, and not doomed to the woes of forbidden education, and early marriage against her will.

Any African artist/creative we should be looking at?

I would recommend you check out Nigerian artist Babajide B Olatunji – @babajideolatunji on Instagram.

Any upcoming events?

I’ll be showing at Art X Africa from 2-4 November 2018. Also I’m starting a new installation project called 1005 Portraits. It’s inspired by my quest and hunger for feminine empowerment. In this project exists 1005 portraits of different women of different races from different countries coming together against feminine denigration. Women sent in pictures of themselves through any of the 1005portraits platforms, along with a caption on what they feel about feminine empowerment. Together, they can collectively have a voice against feminine denigration.