Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Morgan Nwanguma


‘My race against time’
– By Yetunde Oladeinde, Arts & Life, The Nation Newspaper

Art is beauty; it is the gem of life. Art fuels your power of perception and vision; and how wonderful it is to emulate God in the art of creativity. The artist connects with nature, the sublime terrains of the universe, and the community because he is the mirror of society. “He maybe a prophet sometimes crying and screaming in the wilderness for those who care to listen. He is a friend of the muse. What can be more exhilarating?” asked Morgan Nwanguma rhetorically as he takes Yetunde Oladeinde into his world

Tell us about some of your works.
I practice in various mediums and modes of expression, all culminating in making me a well rounded creative agent – a complete artist: My creative energies find expressions in the visual arts such as painting, graphics designing, etc. On the other hand, I am a poet and creative writer with a couple of unpublished books lying on the shelves for now.  As a painter my works are rendered in two major mediums – oil painting and watercolours. My watercolours are a celebration of spontaneous colours and ‘happy accidents’, in which you capture the fleeting moments, your patience is put to test while you take a breath of fresh air in visual poetry as I usually refer to my works in that whimsical medium of expression.  

Oil painting affords me the freedom to express hard and deep concepts. I am able to execute concepts on a larger scale and of course a more durable format such as the canvas. The oil medium no doubt is the king of painting or two dimensional medium of expression. But in all, my paintings and drawings in whatever medium, will cut across impressionistic, and semi-abstract expressions most of the time. Sometimes too I would also delve into the surreal when there is the urge to express some ethereal impulses. One of my favourite paintings in this mode is the one I titled ‘Time is against you’. It is a race against time, and we are all involved in it. Therefore whatever is there to be done must be done right now, because you lose this moment, it is gone forever.

What are some of the exhibitions and projects in which you have participated?
I have had the privilege of having my works shown in various parts of the country and a few times abroad. My works also are proudly adorning so many private homes in Nigeria. Some adorn the walls of corporate entities as well as galleries. In foreign lands I am proud also to say that my works are in private collections in places such as – USA, Russia, Spain, Kenya, Venezuela, Taiwan, U.K., and Germany. My most memorable exhibition so far is my third solo show at DIDI Museum, Victoria Island in 1999, titled ‘Lyrical Expressions’. I am also a curator, and so have handled quite a few curatorial projects for group shows. A good example of these is ‘The Pains, The Tears, The Regrets’ - an art exhibition on violence against women by (LRRDC), also in 1999, at the National Museum in Lagos.

What are some of the challenges encountered as an artist?
The artist in Nigeria encounters similar kind of challenges that other professionals come face to face with such as the lack of adequate social infrastructure, e.g. inadequate power supply, unorganised public transport system, etc. And sometimes, there may be slightly different kinds of challenges in that our low level of development has a serious negative impact on art and artists. Patronage is low and there is just a hand full of dedicated art patrons and collectors out there. The level of enlightenment is low and government has no interest whatsoever. Quality art materials are all imported and as such are very expensive to acquire. You should pity the student artists as they have to go through gruelling times to pull through art school these days.

How do you cope with some of these challenges?
The artist should learn to stay focused; whatever you do, keep your eye on the ball. It does not matter if you take a different route, but just know where you are going. And that is what I am doing. I try to diversify as much as possible and be determined to succeed. I have also learnt to improvise where necessary.

Let’s talk about some of your memorable moments as an artist.
When I am in front of my easel bringing to birth yet another creation and I enjoy what I am seeing, that pleases me; when I create from my computer a graphic concept, watching it grow from idea, to design, and to production, I am full of gratitude. I also love exhibitions: it is the melting pot for creative synergy and a meeting point for kindred spirits - everyone that matters in the art society. There you rub minds with fellow artists, art writers, patrons, connoisseurs, and art lovers alike.

Who or what do you consider as the greatest influence in your life?
This is a hard question for me. I have admired a mixture of both Nigerian and foreign artists over the years. It may be due to my personal idiosyncrasies or exposure, I do not know. But I have been a great admirer of the works of the impressionists, e.g. Turner, Constable; the chiaroscuro master – Rembrandt, and the great British portraitist – Sir Joshua Reynolds, etc. Back home, I am excited by the woks of Abayomi Baber, two great watercolourists - Obiora Udechukwu and Sam Ovraiti. Other big influences on me have been Olu Oguibe, and my affable lecturer, the late Gani Odutokun.

I am deeply moved by lush romantic landscapes, and so I love to portray them. Right now I am working on a series of these in oil. The quaintness and serenity of unspoilt country landscapes is a wonderful experience and inspiration. These, coupled with our variegated cultures have had a great influence on me.

How would you describe the achievements of Nigerian artists?
Nigerian artists over the past recent decades have attained great milestones: The standard and quality of works you see these days are remarkably high, and in the course of these the artists have continued to conquer new frontiers that were hitherto great barriers. Our works have gained international fame and recognition as many of our practitioners have become internationally acclaimed. So much of Nigerian art is already getting into international auctions abroad. 

'Time is against you' - oil on canvas

If you had to compare what they are doing with those in the diaspora, what would you say?
In terms of quality of output, I would like to place them at par. But the real difference is that undoubtedly our Nigerian colleagues abroad, especially in the advanced world continue to have an edge over us: There the level of art appreciation and patronage is higher; the working environment is more conducive to productive ventures.

Where do you hope to see Nigerian Arts in the next ten years?
In the next decade from now Nigerian art will be more visible on the global scheme of things. This is what I hope to see. We need more discipline though, and greater exposure right from the training ground to the studios. We can get there.

Tell us about some of your mentors in the arts and what you admire about them.
The great Bruce Onobrakpeya (Dr.) is one of them. Both from the distance and even personal contact, this great icon of Africa has taught me many things. Sam Ovraiti is a great watercolourist who has helped to keep me on that course. I have followed his works with keen interest over the years even though he does not know it.

      If you had to advise younger artists what would you tell them?
The younger artists should be focused; they should try to master their craft in the course of their work by exploring materials and techniques. It is very important to hone your skills and not be too engrossed with chasing after the money. But if they are consistent, they are bound to be successful. It is not at all a bad idea for an artist to graduate from the art school and still go into apprenticeship under a master – it all depends on what you want out of the practice. It is also not a bad idea for the artist to first of all look for paid employment while he is still practising; it does a lot of psychological cushioning.

The younger artists and indeed Nigerian artists should form groups like is done in advanced climes. It is a big pity Nigerians, including the artists are not very cooperative; they should learn to share ideas. A lot of selfish tendencies abound, and this is not healthy for growth.

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