Welcome! This months artist is a stupendous artist that I’ve been following for a little while now: Ibeabuchi Ananaba. Ananaba, born (1976) in Belgium, was raised in Aba, Abia state (located in Nigeria). Holding a degree in Fine and Applied Arts, Ananaba’s pieces tend to centre around the societal and political issues that Nigeria faces. He also questions how said issues that are pervasive in Nigeria, affects the everyday lives of the average Nigerian. Ananaba is constantly evolving and experimenting with various forms of material to create his delightful pieces; from charcoal, oil and acrylics to ballpoint pens, Ananaba finds new and interesting ways to execute his ideas. He also carries out sartorial, light-hearted pieces from drawings of famous musicians to storyboards of the World Cup via his Instagram.
I got the opportunity to informally interview Ananaba and he was kind enough to respond to the questions. This was (is) an opportunity to get to know the artist better from their perspective and I am grateful to Ananaba for taking the time out of his busy schedule to indulge me. Above I’ve written a brief description on Ananaba but, as part of one of my questions, here’s how he would introduce himself:
Hi, I’m Ibe Ananaba. I’m an artist whose works largely interrogate issuesthat affect or influence contemporary living and part of my goal is to constantly use my art as tool for social engineering.I grew up in Aba, a commercial city in Abia State- South-Eastern part of Nigeria.I studied Fine and Applied Arts in Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, Nigeria and Majored in Painting.I graduated in 1999 with a Distinction. The love and desire to experiment with my art has led me into different creative phases concurrently, having me function as a Painter, Fashion Illustrator, Cartoonist, Calligraphist, Designer and Art Director in advertising where I spent 15 years while still practicing my arts. I rose to Senior Group Head (Art) at Insight Publicis before resigning to become a fulltime practicing artist.I have exhibited severally both locally and internationally. I also have been published in several books including A Celebration of Modern Nigerian Artists- 101 Nigerian Artists (Published by Ben Bosah Books, USA, 2010), Artists of Nigeria (Published by 5 Continents, 2012), Fashion Illustration Africa – A new generation (Published by Shoko Press, London, 2016), The Villager- How Africans consume brands (Published by Tracey McDonald publishers, South Africa, 2018) among many others. I have been researched and used as case study by a variety of students from different universities here in Nigeria for their final year project thesis.My works adorn the walls at National Assembly, Abuja as part of their collection.I am also listed in Smithsonian Institution Libraries Collections.In 2016, I collaborated with Canadian High Commission, Abuja in their African Child advocacy campaign.I enjoy travelling, meeting people, visiting galleries and listening to music.I am married with 2 lovely children that inspire me every day and currently reside in Lagos, Nigeria.
As evidenced in his introduction, Ananaba has a wealth of experience within the arts and his cv boasts of wonderful publishing and collaboration opportunities but, at the core of it all, Ananaba is a doting husband inspired by his children and participates in everyday activities as we all do.
An artists studio is thought to be the beloved space where the magic and beauty we get to see in exhibitions were birthed. Knowing it would be a difficult task, I asked Ananaba what are 3 cherished items that his studio cannot be without and this was his response:
A whole lot of things but for the sake of 3 Cherished items, they’d be Sketch Pad, Paint and Easel.
(Am I the only one that had to do a quick google search for what an Easel was? I am? Okay.)
I’m always interested in what draws an artist to choose art as their career and Ananaba had an outstanding response to this question:
In my view, Art is a calling. It’s more of art choosing me than me choosing art.At the tender age…I think somewhere between 3 – 5 years of age, the moment I discovered a pencil could make a mark on a sheet of paper, I was drawn to engage myself with pencils and crayons. This actually began with my attempt to emulate my elder brother (Ugo Ananaba) who I’d say is the first artist I ever met. I watched him recreate comic superheroes and create his own as well in drawings. He was the type that would write from the front of an exercise book and draw from the back. I towed the same line and practically drew on anything PAPER that I set my eyes on. In trying to draw like Ugo, I gradually found my own voice as I’d developed a habit that would be a vital part of my daily activities till date.Luckily, my mom would encourage me by ensuring we had basic materials (crayons) and never for a day did she discourage me in my beloved hobby regardless of how naughty or troublesome I must’ve been at that stage in my life.The affinity I developed with drawing helped shape my perception of life and made me understand how every little thing we do as humans matter. With that, I never had and have never had an alternative choice as regards profession as it became clear I was going to forever live my life as an artist.I later would be that ‘go-to’ guy for anything art/illustration in both primary and secondary school, so it was easier for me to go a step further to formerly study Fine and Applied Arts in the high institution.I have always loved the therapeutic angle of art as it helps me engage my senses and also helps me understand the human mind just like psychology. That thought led me to have a 15-year romance with advertising where I functioned as an Art Director while practicing my arts and I must say it was a lovely adventure regardless of the challenges.
Attached to the question on what drew him to art, I also asked why the specific medium he uses and Ananaba broke down this question in two forms:
1; Art as a medium of communication: To this, Art has since become a part of me right from childhood so it’s my voice through which I speak to the audience and the world at large. Art is empowerment! (My empahisis) With art one gets the access into the heart of the audience and society based on the sincerity and relevance of its content.2: Medium, as regards the materials I use in creating arts: I’m a firm believer in experimenting, hence the reason I am an artist. Experimentation comes as my quest to know and discover things heightens. I am open to using any traditional and non-traditional medium or materials because each one opens me up to learn something new and strengthens my confidence. I apply my sense of creativity to any available material I see or have at the moment. What actually drives me is the hunger to create new a experience for myself and the viewer or the audience. Based on this mindset, I open myself up to use oils, acrylics, charcoals, graphite, ballpoint pen, found objects, digital medium etc, in search of new meanings.
‘Art is empowerment’ resonates with me and Ananaba uses his art to empower and inspire young individuals. He is the Director of Arts for the Girl Child Art Foundation in Nigeria. I asked if he could elaborate further on this programme and how/why he got involved:
First, I believe in using my arts to inspire and value to mankind.Luckily I’m married to a lady who shares same belief and based on that founded Girl Child Art Foundation (www.girlchildart.org) in 2000 even before we got married. The core essence of the foundation is to inspire African girls to be leaders and entrepreneurs and empower them through a variety of well-designed art activities. As a practicing artist, it made sense to support in keeping the machine moving by coordinating and overseeing activities of the foundation.
Volunteers are currently needed at Girl Child Art Foundation (GCAF) so if you’re based in Nigeria and are interested in the betterment of young girls and women, pay their website a visit and apply. If I was residing in Nigeria, I’d do the same.
As someone who could not begin to put pencil to paper to create a piece if my life was dependent on it, I’ve always wondered when an artist knows a work is complete. Some may respond that they’re never truly finished and, like Ananaba, some know via their intuition:
I listen to my intuition. It’s sort of magical how instincts work. Sometimes I set out to do one thing and I end up with something else. One has to be open and ride with the flow of things and watch the priceless organic progression of every creation. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone otherwise (in terms of making an artwork look ‘nice’) as regards to not listening to or following my instincts during creation and ended up getting the work messed up. The feeling is really disheartening but we all learn as we grow.So, at that moment when I see or feel the spark, I know the work is complete. It’s something I got to know with time.
After answering my primary questions at length with words of wisdom within most, I included bonus questions for Ananaba to select one from and he decided to answer them all – because he’s just that lovely! For any budding artists out there reading this post, here’s Ananaba’s advice for you:
A: Confidently believe in yourself. The sky is big enough for everyone* so let your voice/art count.B: Be sincere.C: Make mistakes and learn from them. They’re part of life and are loaded with success pointers.D: Know that the road isn’t always rosy.E: Research and be open to learn.F: Ensure you catch fun while creating. The therapeutic part of art creation is priceless.
* My emphasis.
The sky is big enough for us all! Thank you so much to Ibe Ananaba for being the first artist I’ve ever interviewed and for graciously answering all my questions. Eternally grateful for your words, patience and art.
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Note: Uncredited images are from Google.