Interview by Visual Collaborative
July 2019 7 min read
Uthman Wahaab is a Nigerian artist who possesses an overarching interest in social phenomenon with the consistent use of medium or singular aesthetic styles. As a feature in our Vivencias interview series Wahaab shares his perspective as a multidisciplinary artist, the process of his work, general background and practice.
(VC) Outside of being a internationally exhibited artist who is Uthman Wahaab and what does self awareness mean to him?
(Uthman) Am always very reluctant answering to the question “Who is Uthman Wahaab” Its like giving a self-appraiser. But, if you insist I will say Uthman is a self reliant, at the same time a good listener to others. An extrovert who is quick to mingle with like minds of any background. Could be very aggressive and arrogant when it comes to his integrity and career as an artist.
Self awareness allows me to understand other people, how they perceive me and my attitude. It is very important for creatives to be self-aware because when we have a better understanding of oneself, we are able to experience ourselves as unique and separate individuals. We are then empowered to make changes and take a queue from our areas of strength as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements. I will continue to know more about my abilities as I further open my mind to the journey of self discovery.
(VC) A perfect world does not exist, but if one does what core values would you make a staple in the creative community?
(Uthman) I won’t claim to be leftist, but I strive as much as I can to open the minds of emerging creatives of any background, to see the need for change on how they would want to be perceived. In the end resilience and growth by improving or focus on one’s creative abilities is very important in this art community.
Phenomenal Woman Series Artwork by Uthman Wahaab
(VC) Some elements in your work calls attention to ethnocentrism on the subject of the Black Identity Crisis and the celebration of women’s bodies. Has the reception to the series been the way you envisioned it?
(Uthman) I honestly stopped expecting too much from audience when it comes the reception of my work. But, I must mention the reception is gradually getting close to how I envisioned it, having understood that the elements are not alien to many, they only wait for one to start the conversations. Even if my narratives are not received as expect, the beautiful thing about this profession is that its still fulfilling. Every artist is entitled to his or her own opinion about things around them. And for me, the fact that I created something and the others disagreed with it makes it more relevant!
(VC) The word curator has been overused by many art connoisseurs. And this has opened the gate to different culture vultures through partnerships and even with local African foundations. There are many unassuming artists who get preyed upon similar to how African art was taken during colonial times. How can one remedy this on the continent that still lacks transparency?
(Uthman) Its funny how this will continue to exist. Artist will forever fall prey due to their pure heart and free spirit to work with many of these art predators. It makes many of the artists seems naive. But, the table is turning now as artists from Africa and her diaspora is being expose to the necessary knowledge in taking charge to balance the proportions. I usually have this conversation with fellow young artists, on the need to be more strategic beyond making of art in order not to always been taking advantage of, An artist should prepared himself to be needed not needing.
(VC) ) Lagos Nigeria has its own kind of culture and flamboyant attitude. Do these facts motivate any of the themes in your art series Phenomenal Woman?
(Uthman) Of course it does. The series phenomenal woman series aims to challenge the preconceived notions of what the right or wrong body type is. The portrayal of bodies in the works suggests a certain disinterest in Western imposition of beauty ideals on African women and society. Its also a nod to the Fattening Room tradition in Nigeria that contradicts western-centric standards of beauty and sensuality that dominate the social sphere. So, many of the themes are informed by events perceived in my environment, overheard conversations, threads on social media and personal encounters on an ongoing cultural shift.
I am witnessing as new history unfolds. The Neo culture of human interaction like social-media is also changing into something we less expect it to become, the era where fiction becomes fact.
(VC) Some mention the renaissance or the West African pan-African times as an art period they admire. If you can time-warp back to any era, what time would it be and why?
(Uthman) Common [Uthman Laughs] time-warping won’t fix anything, That only happens in science fiction movies. Seriously Its long gone, one can only refer to them in taking position to make a shift. I will still want to live in the moment to enjoy seeing how some of the past era histories are reoccurring in a more sophisticated way. I am witnessing as new history unfolds. The Neo culture of human interaction like social-media is also changing into something we less expect it to become, the era where fiction becomes fact. All kinds of technology applications enabling cultural shift, keeps evolving either we like it or not. And the beautiful thing about all these is that we are consciously aware of them all. But, if I have to time-warp, its definitely going to be the Old Kingdom period in the 3000 BC when Africa attained its first continuous peak of civilization in achievement and complexity.
Phenomenal Woman Series Artwork by Uthman Wahaab
(VC) At this stage of your professional career, accomplishments and agency commitments, If you could work alongside any creative, public figure or company, who would it be and why?
(Uthman) This is a very difficult one to answer as my preference of artists radically change sometimes [Uthman Laughs]. Back in the days when I was in the college, I used to keep this list of artists in my head and the list keeps dropping as the concept of my visualization and creative process changes from its conventional form over time. But, if I have to mention as we speak, It will be Jenny Saville and George Condo. I love the way these two artists in their different ways originated and challenge the method of depicting figures in their works. I really fancy Condo’s term “Artificial Realism” i.e the realistic representation of that which is artificial. He created this hybridization of traditional European master painting. With Saville, I admire her large-scale painting with juxtaposition of bodies, her reinvention of figurative painting of female nudes in the sphere of contemporary art is epic.
(VC) In your quiet or noisy moments how do you get inspired. What makes you create the work you do. Do you seek spirituality or get physiological like many artists for muses?
(Uthman) I don’t think I can really define what give the push when it comes to creating my works. Its like trying to describe what makes you breathe to
live. Maybe its spiritual or physiological I can’t really say.
But, many times I usually find myself staring at a blank canvasses
drinking my coffee while I converse with them in silence, then it feels like
those images already exist there concealed waiting for me to rescue
them out. Sometimes when I am angry I make good art. What makes me angry? Just a thought! And it doesn’t mean I can not have people around while I am in these realm of my creative process. I still can have side conversation with my visitors if I have to do both.
Process is the most sensational part of my art making. From the mark
making, balancing thoughts, additions, subtractions etc. many of which
disappears into what we see as a finished work of art. For me, I don’t consider any of my pieces finished. I only sign them to stop. Every creation or invention is a process they are never finished which is why will always have a newer version of them and so it will
continue till eternity.
(VC) What kind of commercial work or personal work can the world expect from Uthman within the next few years?
(Uthman) As a multidisciplinary artist, no one can really tell what you are doing next not even me the artist. The only thing that is certain is growth and more improvement in my practice.