Ibeabuchi Ananaba graduated from the institute of Management and Thechnology in Enugu Nigeria in 1999 with a degree in Fine and applied arts. Though he majored in painting, he also has a love for music, jokes and sketching. He recently had an exhibition at the Goethe institute in Lagos called "Against All Odds". The works exhibited, showed his skill using the ball point pen to make etchings which eventually become portraits. His work was somewhat surreal and a visual delight to observe. We at the basement hooked up with him to understand his art just a little better. He says he grew up with an ambition to touch lives with his creativity and that has never changed.
When did you decide that you wanted to become an artist
IBE ANANABA: As long as I could remember, I took the decision way back in my childhood days. Growing up sketching was about the greatest fun for me so it was easy for me to decide.
Your latest exhibition at the Goethe-Institut was called “Against all odds” and it was inspired by the TY Bello song “Ekundayo”. Enlighten us more about the story behind that project
IBE ANANABA: I think there's a little misconception somewhere. AGAINST ALL ODDS wasn't inspired by TY BELLO's song, rather TY Bello's song- 'Ekundayo' inspired "THE VESSEL - Tribute to Mama Ekundayo series.
The first time I listened to the song I felt touched by the emotive touch TY gave the song through the English words I could hear because it was mixed with Yoruba. Then again I saw the picture that TY took of her which poked my heart to decide I just have to do something with it. I later rang TY to actually tell me more about Mama, I also shared my intent and asked for the rights to use the image which she permitted me and mailed me the picture. TY told me she realized how empty she’s ever been after meeting Mama. She got to meet her in Kogi State (Nigeria) while working on a photo project on orphans around Nigeria. She said Mama’s personality and her simple fragile yet strong nature ministered to her being through how free, humorous and playful she was. One of the things Mama mentioned that was shocking was when she (TY) and her team asked Mama what she thinks should be given to her to support her orphanage and she (Mama) mentioned television. They asked her why TV and she explained that her kids often times go to people’s homes in the evening to watch TV, that she enjoys seeing them happy together. TY also said Mama’s joy and gratitude was unbearable when they provided the TV for her orphanage.
She was a selfless being that gave hope to so many lives through her calling. She had a big heart to have opened her home since 1969 to run an orphanage. As at last year, it was reported that about 470 orphans had passed through her orphanage in a documentary that I watched. It’s quite hard to comprehend in an environment where embezzlements and other negative news headline the tabloids. So for me, this sheds light on CARING for one another which should be an integral part of our value system because we need to care for ourselves if we must develop as a people. This still falls in line with my proposition of advocating for hope by directing the mind towards optimism.
Back to the Mama Ekundayo series, 'THE VESSEL -Tribute to Mama Ekundayo' is a series of three works that goes beyond appreciating Mama Ekundayo and her amazing story to actually emphasize on the cause she stood for while she was alive which basically borders on CARING. She died some few months back. May her soul rest in peace!
You work with less traditional materials, why did you choose the ball point pen as your medium? Are there any other materials you would be interested in working with, that you have not delved into yet?
IBE ANANABA: As an artist, I open my mind to work with varieties of art materials. I experiment and I enjoy it like I enjoy my favourite food. I work with the known traditional mediums like oils, acrylics, watercolor, charcoal and the rest but for a while I've been working more on ballpoint pen. But of course there are so many materials I'd want to experience like oil bar and some more.
As regards the ball point pen, the first attraction was when I saw my elder brother (Ugo) constantly using pen to “mess up” the back pages of his exercise books with some cute enviable drawings and I followed up. Then in my drawing class in first year in higher institution, my drawing lecturer gave a rule not to bring erasers to drawing classes. Somehow I understood he was getting us to build confidence with only pencils but it was misunderstood by many of us why all of a sudden erasers can’t work hand in hand with pencils anymore. I stuck to the rules (for class assignments only) but secretly wished I could break it at that tender stage but the liberty came shortly afterwards. The mastery came as a result of so much interest and constant practice, and then a black pen became a part of me. Afterwards, I lost my cool when I set my eyes on Enyinnaya Ihediwa’s pen portraits. Enyinnaya is a phenomenon. He's an artist although he studied architecture. His creativity goes beyond his course of study to catering, interior decoration, writing, singing and some other aspects I’m yet to discover. He opened my third eye to see how far I can play with the ballpoint pen. He’s the type that makes work look like play. His attitude drew my attention to dig out the hidden confidence in me to handle this medium. That first experience of setting my eyes on his ballpoint pen work made me realise how much I can affect the world with my ‘alternative hand writing’.
It might seem like ballpoint pen is the only material I work with but it's beyond it. Let's say it's my most-used medium for now. With time I'll concentrate on some other stuff but that'll be when I must have made a great mark with it and decide to move ahead.
It is quite difficult to earn a living in Nigeria purely as a visual artist, plus there isn’t as much corporate investment in the arts. What is your take on this and what do you think can be done to promote the works of artist more in Nigeria?
IBE ANANABA: The state of art in Nigeria, in my view, is like a light yet to shine. People are beginning to appreciate things and getting to open their minds to ideas. If you look at some locally made music videos, you’ll appreciate the new breeze. Somehow it might seem cheap but then the fact that one realizes he/she has to make a mark or even dare to attempt is a pointer to sunny days. Beyond the visual arts, the music industry is growing as well as the movie industry. Together they help uplift our image but then I think the need for the government to see the potential and give a heavy support is crucial.
My suggestion would be foundational. It has to start from the grass-root level. It has to start from the school curriculum. The awareness and appreciation needs to be taught and emphasized from a tender age. People need to be well informed so they can function with a liberated mindset. Art in my days in school was mostly misinterpreted. Art goes way beyond what people think it is. Art transcends entertainment and ranges from informative to educative and even therapeutic. Art, one way or the other, influences our way of thinking, living and behavioral patterns which makes up our culture. It explains and shows our heritage and identity.
Living a well balanced life also would help in preserving our artistic culture. Some term it as a waste to take time from the daily crazy hustle to explore art while some don’t realize its essence. Some know how to travel far to appreciate a sight seeing while some fail to see the need. A balanced lifestyle helps open and equip the mind on how to preserve what is yours.
I also think strong campaigns that reinforce the essence and importance of our artistic culture and the need to preserve and promote them are also very important, campaigns which reach the masses through different media that grabs people’s attention. Other programs like trainings could help out too. You know we also need to bear 'quality' in mind too.
Quite a lot of young popular contemporary artists are graduates of art schools in the east of Nigeria. Take a look at the likes of Nnena Okorie, Joseph Eze…Besides the Oshogbo arts movement; do you think there is a deep cultural link between the East and the contemporary art scene at the moment?
IBE ANANABA: (Laughs) I think it's relative. It depends on the angle you're looking at it from. For me, yeah, quite a lot of young popular contemporary artists are graduates of art schools in the east of Nigeria but we must also recognize the fact so many are graduates from art schools in the north, south and west also. The names are too long for me to start naming. Limiting it or concentrating on the east would raise lots of questions because you can't rule out others. With that mentioned, the deep cultural link spreads beyond the east. Maybe the media makes it seem so but believe me, it's broader than that. Some 'Bad guys' (permit me to use that term) represent the Uniben, Auchi, Yaba, Zaria, Unimaid art School and lot more.
I once spoke with another visual artist who said that one of the major problems that artists suffer is that they refuse to collaborate with each other. What would you say to that?
IBE ANANABA: Well, I see sense in what you are saying. The major problem is between ego and ignorance. I'm yet to figure out the factor that has an upper hand between the two. You see, most times we sit and tell ourselves or wish for development or growth without collaborating. How can we grow a body without combining our different strengths? I mean, many of us are so myopic concerning this issue. Sometimes insecurity sets in too which i think is caused by complex. You see the reason I said art has to be included in school curriculums seriously from a tender stage, it would help expand minds and fuel the zeal to see beyond all these stumbling blocks. Majority of us live on our own islands, we hardly connect although in recent times i think we're beginning to notice a shift. It might be slow but it's good at least.
My suggestion is for us to admit first of all, then open our minds to learn. We should move around, travel around, play, experiment, try and look into other fields...beyond arts, you'll be amazed at what would inspire your work outside what we call art. See technology today, You see products that do more than what we know them for. You see a phone that is also a camera, that is also a music device and so on. We need to realize the fact that we can't have it all on own all the credits.
Most people view the world of visual art as very high brow culture and thus claim that the average Nigerian would be unable to appreciate it, essentially closing it within its elitist bubble. What would you say to that?
IBE ANANABA: It's an unhealthy one if you ask me. Let's look at it this way, art or visual art is part of a culture. As a human being, you have eyes, you appreciate things, things visual appeal to you and it's not just you alone, people around you too. Everyone has the right to appreciate. Art appreciation is not only for up-class people. It's just that majority of people who are associated with the consumption value it more than others. Then they see the business angle of and invest heavily in it. This, directly or indirectly makes it look like as a 'status thing' rather than part of what adds to our cultural identity.
Another major factor (in fact this should've been the first) is the state of economy. We are still battling to stabilize the basic needs of life so art appreciation becomes secondary or not even in the picture. The need for shelter, food and other basic amenities overshadows art appreciation for a large number of people that make up different socio-economy classes.
A number of artists have had exhibitions in the past where a piece of work claims to have been bought, however gallery owners and the exhibition organisers do not take a deposit and the prospective buyer eventually decides not to buy. Have you ever had a similar experience? Plus what do you think is the main problem that artists are experiencing with regards to exhibitions and sale of their work?
IBE ANANABA: It's actually funny and same time not funny but totally silly. In my case I experienced in my first joint show in 2003, some guy who walked into our exhibition hall and tagged a work and we never saw him again till now. I later heard he left the company where he claimed he was working for when the company was contacted.
The problems artists are experiencing with regards to exhibitions and sale of work are many. Let's start with the IDEA. Many overlook the idea. First thing I ask myself in an exhibition is "what's the idea behind the exhibition". What is the artist saying?...What does he/she want me to take out?...
PLANNING is another factor. Many artist think it's all about hanging works on the wall and putting prices on each purely for sale. Sale is so sexy (please don't get me wrong) but an exhibition goes beyond that.
Again is presentation of the art show. Presentation is all part of it. In fact a major part because if you cook a delicious soup and serve it in a poe, you scare the hell out of me. We should work presentation of an art show/works into plan. Next comes CURATING. A curator should be part of an art show. A curator knows how to assemble different works of an artist to drive home the idea of the exhibition and not just pack works from the artist and put up for view. A curator should help plan and oversee the process/project.
PACKAGING is another major part we fail to take seriously most times. Good packaging attracts attention. Poor packaging is a perfect repellent. Packaging is part of the project and should be taken seriously.
AWARENESS is another great factor. I noticed a lot of us (artists) shy away from marketing with the belief or excuse that "a good work speaks for itself" so that part suffers. Asides producing the works, an artist should make sure that awareness is created so that people would know about him/her and what's coming on. He/she doesn't necessarily have to do it by him/herself. One could subcontract that part. To put it clear, one has to hire someone to do all that for him/her.
MARKETING is also another issue that artists are poor at doing. Just like the awareness bit, an artist should have a manager that does that. In this part of the country or world, many artists double as marketers, promoters, curators etc but letting some responsibilities out would help a great deal in follow ups and other engagements.
PATIENCE is a virtue we run out of easily. If there's an idea...a good idea, the best thing to help realize it so well is to have patience and work it through. Again, like I mentioned earlier, lots of artist bear making money in shows in mind and forget to tidy the conceptual bit of an art show. An artist can decide to have a show with works 'not for sale'. I was at Kainebi Osahenye's show titled TRASH-ING at CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts,Lagos). Kainebi made a bold visual statement with a piece of installation of burnt cans of drinks that talks about consumerism titled CASUALTIES. The work evokes a sort of jarring feeling while looking at it. I was admiring his guts then another artist wondered if Kainebi would be able to sell that piece. That moment I was disappointed because that artist missed the point. The work might not be for sale, or might be or it could be for awareness sake. So with this I think we should concentrate first on our idea and how to make impact with what we create knowing that attracting big pay comes with the quality of thinking behind producing the work.
IGNORANCE deals with us a lot and lack of awareness. Most of us don't really consider what happens after sale of an artwork. We mostly don't sign an agreement with whoever buys our work to let them know the do's and dont's. Someone buys you physical work and uses it for something else, maybe a campaign or book cover or whatever without your consent. Professionally, it's unethical. Lots of us don't even know our rights. All we're focused on is just to get the money.
Would you like to collaborate with any other artist both visual and other? And Why
IBE ANANABA: Of course I'd like to collaborate with many artists- not only visual artists. I think as far to collaborate on a project merging visual and performing arts and so on. It would be challenging and would open my eyes to see new grounds, who knows... I'd like to collaborate with as many visual artists as possible to see the outcome of combined strengths. My first art show here in Lagos was titled DOTS IN MOTION. It held in 2003 at Quintessence, Falomo, Ikoyi. It was a joint with a friend - Chamberlin Ukenedo. We've seen as many art shows and felt like doing something new. We collaborated and served the public some drawings to feed on. Chamber even exhibited some sketches on alternative surfaces. It was my first time showcasing ballpoint pen drawing on a large scale and the reception was shocking to us. In 2005 i had another joint with my elder brother Ugochukwu Ananaba titled LINES AND REASON at same place. Two brothers coming together to serve some kind of fresh drawings again was a bang! You see, that's the strength of collabos. Collaborations are great if one knows who he/she is compatible with or if there's a great idea and it's planned well. It's like listening to WE ARE THE WORLD. If it was a visual piece, Quincy Jones would be the curator
What are your side hustles?
IBE ANANABA: For now, practicing my art is the main side hustle. I deeply do my art for the love. With this in mind, I got myself a job I work as a Senior Art Director at Insight Communications Limited so I fight real hard to create time for my art. it's not been easy but I have to do it or else my art practice suffers. It is a job that always task the brain and gives you room to create. It has helped expand my mind and opens a window for me to get a grasp of how the human mind could be influenced by what we think and create.
What inspires you to make art?
IBE ANANABA: Everything around me, could be people, music, jokes, a scenario..name it. The power of imagination. The hunger to affect someone's thinking and feeling.
Which piece of your own work have you been most unhappy with?
IBE ANANABA: i can't really remember. But I know it resides in my sketchpad somewhere.
What are your dreams for your work and career?
IBE ANANABA: My dreams for my work and career goes from touring the world showing the outcome of what God's gifted me with at major museums to challenge, inspire and shape people's mind to having my own cloth label because of my love for fashion illustration. I also would love to publish books, catalogues of my works for younger generation to learn because I learnt from so many artists. The ripple has to continue for legacy sake. I'd love my hard cover books to make respected libraries and homes around the globe. I wouldn't mind running an art foundation where kids would come and their minds would be liberated at a tender stage to understand the importance of arts in our lives and communities. I'd love to erect my dream home with proceeds from my art practice. I'd like to retire and rediscover myself, catch lots of fun in art practice and appreciation
Have you ever been moved to tears by a piece of art? What was it and why?
IBE ANANABA: Yes I have but it wasn't visual arts, it was the performing art. I was moved to tears in church when the choir ministered in a special way that touched my heart. The feeling was divinely soothing!
What keeps you going?
IBE ANANABA: Wow!... a lot. I fear God. Hope keeps me going. Chilling with friends and loved ones. Power of imagination. i imagine a whole lot so when I'm in that state, it's 100% bliss. Listening to good music. Drawing, enjoying jokes....I mean, a whole lot.
Which piece of art in the world do you wish you made?
IBE ANANABA: Dem plenti o!!!! I wish I painted lots of portraits done by late Damian onyekuru. I wish I assembled the CASUALTIES by Kainebi Osahenye. There's a sculpture piece I wish I made titled THE GYMNAST by Richard Mac Donald.
check out his blog www.ibeananbart.blogspot.com check out his website http://www.ibeananaba.com/
Experimental,vivid,entertaining, art and life in a way you havent read or heard before..the words and sounds straight from the GUERILLA BASEMENT
From interview features to hard hitting documentaries and all sorts of podcasts that will boggle the human mind