Adubi Mydaz Makinde, one of Nigeria’s most exciting and, dare I say, “slept on” contemporary artists, has been a long time in the making. Admittedly, I felt quite anxious about this feature due to a sense of great foreboding of how iconic the artist is bound to become in the future; as such, I wanted the telling of his story to be just right.
With the world still spinning on an axis of turmoil, and with Christmas and the new year fast approaching, it felt apt to introduce the sensual feast that is Adubi’s work to our readers; to lift the mood and fill them once more with a sense of life, inspiration and optimism.
How long have you been painting, and at what point did you consider yourself a professional artist?
I started painting in 2002 while I was a freshman at university. Back then, my week would not be fulfilled without experimenting with different styles to materialize the tips and lessons garnered from art research. I participated in a group exhibition that involved creative students of my alma mater in 2006, and that was the process that built me largely as a self-taught artist. After several years of practicing and participating in more group exhibitions and several workshops on art across the country, and with a couple of years spent in the corporate world, I finally left my last 9-5 job in 2011 and immediately settled in for a full-time studio painting professionally.
I quickly secured my footing by sheer determination and hard work, which resulted in my first solo exhibition in December 2013, just two years after launching my private studio practice. I have never looked back since then as my quest for artistic expression has materialized into many other group exhibitions both home and abroad, with three more solo shows till date.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where were you born and raised, and what was your upbringing
I was born and raised in a city called Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. Originally a native of Ogun state from the Yoruba speaking people of the south-west part of the country.
In my childhood, I was a regular weekend visitor to my father’s merchandise office in Sabo, Ibadan, an exclusive community of northern Hausa settlers wherein the adjourning streets, aboriginal cultural artifacts and sculptures, was and is still one of the highly-priced articles of trades.
These sculptural imageries found fertile ground in my burgeoning mind as a youngster and would be scribbled into drawings during the school breaks, and holidays. Out of these numerous practices came the best fine art pupil in my primary school. Drawing itself gave me a beautiful childhood memory filled with fun and happiness. Art was my first love as a kid because drawing cowboys and horses with colored pencils and crayons and painting minimalist vehicles on wood planks was a daily hubby. As luck would have it, those cultural objects, later on, came to play a big part in my depiction and stylization of an austere figurative composition, giving voluptuous form to enigmatic faces whose ethereal heads and bodies seem to flip right off the surface of canvas.
I sustained and improved my artistic skills graciously until after high school when I met a remarkable realism master artist named Mr. Tope Fatunbi in Ibadan, who agreed to show me secrets of the trade. My apparent commitment to all that is art got me the responsibility of the assistant manager to Topfat Art Studio & Gallery in Ibadan, Oyo State, between 1999-2000. This would be one outstanding milestone in my professional steps into the noble career of fine art and a remarkable moment when I was nursing the idea of becoming a professional artist.
Where do you currently live and work?
I am currently based in Lagos. My private studio practice and gallery representation, including major exhibitions, has been woven around here so far. This is because apart from Lagos being the city of imagination, it is the wealthiest state in Nigeria; as such, the Lagos art market sustains its artists quite effectively, and it’s the window to reach out to more opportunities beyond the shores of Nigeria.
Your work today pays homage to your Yoruba heritage, Egyptian and Ethiopian Coptic art, and interestingly, the Harlem renaissance. What drew you to these elements, and what do they mean to you?
Africans—and I as one—have always been a people of artistic expression and also dramatic impressions. If you delve deeply into the history, you’ll find the interwovenness of a thread line in the social-cultural properties of Egyptian, Ethiopian and several ethnic groups of sub-Saharan Africa, out of which the Yoruba are one of the prominent people.
My artwork has thus succeeded in uniting and stitching these elements together by exploring undeniable traits that are commonly found in their artistic expressions. For instance, I discovered a lot of similarities in Coptic art style with the art pieces of aboriginal people of sub-Saharan Africa. You will find these across centuries-old sculptures, wood carving, doorposts of West Africa, from Yoruba and Togolese woodcarvers to Egyptian wall reliefs and Ethiopian wall paintings. The main subject or the most significant personalities in a composition are somewhat depicted larger than other figures. After this discovery, I said, why not consider this in my artwork too. Though it was like taking a risk, I am very happy with the outcome now.
My Coptic art approach is well embraced within art circles, including art collectors and fellow artists. I genuinely love to create unique artworks with the hope of inspiring others, so I basically stay away from popular routine and techniques because my joy comes from creating something entirely new.
In addition, my findings also established that African Kingdoms had a unique way of communicating from one end of the geographical region to the other; despite what we were told by the imperialists that ancient Africans do not have a method of writing, our ancestors did this effectively with symbolism. Here you can refer to the Adinkra symbols of Ghana, their meanings and usage and hieroglyphics symbols as seen on the walls and pillars of Egyptian ruins. I sometimes borrow from these sacred writings to express unique values in African social-cultural identity. You can relate to this forgone eclectic knowledge in my Adinkra symbols artwork series.
With regards to the Harlem renaissance, we are currently witnessing a new social-cultural landscape in Lagos, Nigeria, just like when black Americans migrated from the south to [the] northern part of America. The renaissance gave birth to Jazz and Blues as well as the civil right[s] movement. Most of the paintings and other art forms produced by intellectuals depicted the vibrancy of these cultural innovations. Formerly suppressed men had a platform to express their innate creativity, while their women were also given wings to fly.
Similarly, just about 100 years later, in the early 21st century, as Lagos state is becoming a megacity, migration of youth from the nooks and crannies of Nigeria to this small geographical entity is playing out a repeat of the Harlem renaissance phenomenon. There is a consistent creation of new fads and trends, new dance styles and musical genres with homegrown celebrities that are being celebrated all over the world.
My artworks have successfully adapted and continuously record these growing Lagos neo cultural expressions reminiscent of the Harlem renaissance. I love to depict the latest trending dance in my dance compositions, moves and corresponding vibes within other subjects, just like some great artists painted the Harlem era stage performances and club scenes.
Additionally, regarding your Harlem renaissance references, particularly the bold and empowered flappers of that time, your work captures your female muses in control, confident and liberated. What inspired this theme in your work?
In as much as we portray visually appealing art pieces that characterize women in numerous scenarios, we should not overlook the subliminal messages that each artwork carries within. I am aware that ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the way we live, work and relate to one another has been radically altered.
However, industrial revolutions have brought in modern appliances and household technology, which freed up women’s time. Since 1900, women [have] continuously flooded the workforce and are ever more empowered and in control of their livelihood. When I started as a professional artist, I was determined to represent women in their finest glory and elegance, a depiction of the modern woman’s newfound liberation, self-realization, and professional achievements. This is practically true of this internet age. As we are being ushered into the 4th industrial revolution, there is nothing a man can do that women cannot accomplish. Technology has brought in a level ground for all to explore and succeed. We shall continue to see an emergence of more female presidents, CEO’s, and billionaires all over the world.
I must mention that this picture of a confident, emancipated woman is in sharp contrast to what I saw growing up in Nigeria, where a lot of artists depicted women in subservient roles and metaphorical images. My artwork would rather register the contemporary changes that have brought an educated girl equal empowerment in my immediate environment and elsewhere.
As an artist of African descent, what are your views on the surge of interest in modern and contemporary African art?
My observation is simply that through contemporary African art, people are seeing the true version of authentic African narratives far apart from what has been scripted and fed to them through news and other popular propaganda since the end of colonialism.
The art world has fully explored different stages of development in the North American, European and Asian art scenes. Except for some outstanding creativity in these terrains, I believe what is being offered now are re-innovations and experimentation with virtual reality and techie installations with artistic narratives. Whereas the African contemporary space, despite still being heavily dependent on the traditional art medium of oil or acrylic on canvas as provided by the western art innovations, has got novel stories from a huge untapped social-cultural context.
Nigeria has a long-established contemporary art scene, with growing patronage from collectors based locally, as well as internationally; what do you think has contributed to the health of the domestic market?
The bubbling art market in Nigeria is chiefly driven by a need to espouse and preserve our cultural heritage. Regardless of its challenging economy, which to some extent has stifled the buoyancy of its creative sector. There are certain individuals and institutions that have continuously supported the Lagos art market consistently. Some of them probably felt betrayed by the stolen artifacts, and aboriginal pieces carted away by the colonialists and [are] currently being displayed in western museums without any consideration for reparation.
A late distinguished art patron once told me that he wants the best of Nigerian art to stay in Nigeria and not in any western art holdings. For that reason, some of them have taken up the responsibility to act as the custodian of our tradition, culture and heritage by collecting pieces that truly represent our society.
Apart from the fact that Nigerian artists are quite competitive when it comes to the quality of works being offered in comparison to their counterparts in other developed countries, another main reason is that many wealthy Nigerians and socialites have consistently realized that collecting art pieces is a potential great asset. These same class of people have homes abroad where African contemporary artworks are proudly displayed and constantly discussed with their expatriate friends and associates. They are well-traveled and have witnessed the significant growth and expansion in the value of the art market in Nigeria. Hence, they buy artworks from artists, galleries and auction houses as alternative investments in their asset portfolios. All these aforementioned factors cumulatively resulted in the International market showing an interest in what Lagos state art market offers.
How has the lockdown impacted your art?
Being under lockdown means I automatically have more studio time, which increases my productivity. Moreover, I also got more inspiration amidst the chaos and despair that came with COVID-19 that has enticed me to start a new series that I am currently executing. This series observes the psychological impact a worldwide phenomenon has had on the collective consciousness of humanity. In addition to my unique COVID-19 experience, some of my colleagues and I also witnessed a surge in the demands for our art pieces which still baffles us to this moment. It’s like people are taking solace from the psychological properties of some artworks. The majority of my works are essentially motivational anyway; it may be that’s why collectors have wanted them more. The therapeutic attributes of some artworks are quite effective in times like this. I will be happier knowing that my art can heal the world of hearts in need of care.
While COVID-19 has taken the art world by storm, the world has also been rocked by the ongoing protests and campaign to end SARS, police brutality and poor governance in Nigeria. Do you believe, as an artist, you have a role to play to raise awareness and document the times, or do you take the view that artists should not mix with politics?
Just in 2019, Nigeria, with its wealth of oil and other natural resources, was declared the poverty capital of the world. Unemployment has reached a very scary stage, with the majority of the political class acting like they have no clue about the overwhelming economic depression. Then, COVID -19 arrived, out of which the most compounding stringent measure to curtail the deadly virus was the eponymous 2020 lockdown. This further subjected a lot of Nigerians to economic hardship and starvation. While COVID-19 relief packages and palliatives were seamlessly organized, distributed or given to citizens of other countries, authorities in Nigeria locked up and mismanaged more than 95 percent of food and resources meant to bring succor to the masses.
People were hungry and angry, the tragedy of George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter protest occurred during this moment of mass suffering in Nigeria, and a lot of people became even more annoyed with such extrajudicial killings because it's quite rampant here too. Soonest after the lockdown was eased, the Nigerian police, especially its SARS division, resumed being brutal and were manhandling, killing, terrorizing young people: daughters, sons, brothers, and fathers of an already aggravated society. That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and Nigerians could not take it anymore. Hence, the #EndSARS protest.
The uniqueness of this protest was what made it obligatory for all and sundry, including creatives, to lend our voices through different mediums and demand a change so that authority figures can be subjected to accountability and incoming generations would have a moment to reference and reckon with.
Art in different degrees and forms is the consciousness of society. For this reason, it has a big role to play in shaping the greatness of a nation. Art should shame poor policymakers and hail great thinkers.
I have executed a few artworks on political subjects before; the most remarkable one was titled “Godfather”. This piece depicted a well-dressed man without a mouth; the purpose and inspiration was to educate the illiterate masses who are not aware of the jeopardy of godfatherism in Nigerian politics. They cannot be trusted and [are] not worth listening to (the significance of the mouthless face). They superimpose incompetent people during elections and fix square pegs in round holes for their personal gains. That was one of the ways I have used my art to enlighten my fellow compatriots.
What is next for you as an artist, and what can we expect in the future?
I have an ongoing project in preparation for another solo show. This exhibition will explore my observation of societal perspective on major events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter and EndSARS social-political narratives that are currently redefining our reality.
By: Raphael Dapaah