Stand in any metropolitan hall and ask the artwork scene denizens there what they learn about Aniekan Udofia. Some may checklist the 33-year-previous among the many most gifted visible artists of his technology, with nationwide consideration on his work in hip hop magazines resembling XXL, Vibe and The Supply.
And on an area degree, others may even christen the Nigerian artist as “the face of the D.C. artwork motion that mixes political themes with a hip-hop aesthetic.” But it doesn’t matter what you hear, Aniekan will inform you himself they solely scratch the floor of who he actually is.
For starters, meet his mother and father, Dr. George and Edna Udofia. They got here to the U.S. from Nigeria for college whereas Civil Conflict raged again of their residence nation (the Nigeria-Biafra Conflict lasted from July 6, 1967 to Jan. 15, 1970). Nigerians first got here to the USA to attend American universities, desiring to return residence, writes Kalu Ogbaa in his ebook “The Nigerian People.” But for the primary time in Nigeria historical past, the civil battle “grew to become the reason for immigration, and extra college students from the battle-ravaged Japanese Nigeria simply made good instances for his or her immigration to the USA.” So George and Edna studied legislation and nursing, respectively, at universities in Washington, D.C. They settled down and began a household. Aniekan, the second of 5 kids and the primary son within the household, was born on Nov. 26, 1975.
Ogbaa, professor of English and Africana Research at Southern Connecticut State College, continues: “The gloomy sociopolitical and financial situations in Nigeria ensuing from their civil battle had been so insufferable for Easterners that everyone wished to flee the nation.” By 1980, the variety of Nigerian immigrants within the U.S. rose to 25,528. As well as, the emergence of army dictatorships, the abuse of energy and denial of human rights additionally led to a mass exodus of skilled personnel in college establishments from Nigeria. By 1990, the variety of Nigerians within the U.S. greater than doubled to 55,350. But as an alternative of following the development, George and Edna determined to whisk their kids away from their delivery place in Northwest D.C. to Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom state in 1982.
Aniekan, who was 7 on the time of the journey, is of the Ibibio folks, considered one of greater than 250 ethnic teams in Nigeria – the three hottest being Yoruba, Ibo (or Igbo) and Hausa-Fulani. Positioned in southeastern Nigeria, primarily within the Cross River state, the Ibibio are rainforest cultivators of yams, taro, and cassava. They export largely palm oil and palm kernels; they’re additionally famous for his or her skillful wooden carving.
Again in Nigeria, George taught French in highschool, and Edna was a well being educator. That they had excessive hopes for his or her first son, Aniekan. “As a patriarchal society, sons are skilled to be robust and assertive and to develop management qualities that may allow them to inherit the management roles of their fathers at residence, ought to such fathers die or turn out to be previous, ailing, or infirm,” Ogbaa writes. As well as, “They’re presupposed to be suppliers of their relations’ wants and to present them safety in addition to emotional and financial safety always.” In keeping with Aniekan, his mother and father thought he was destined to go to school and main in one thing extra sensible than artwork, or decide up a commerce and work together with his palms. But as an alternative, he embraced a motion from abroad.
Having grown up on highlife, a musical style that originated in Ghana within the 1900s earlier than finally spreading to Sierra Leone, Nigeria and different West African international locations by 1920, Aniekan was acquainted with legends resembling Ibo highlife innovator Sonny Okosun and Victor Olaiya, a Yoruba singer and trumpeter. But hip hop captured the then-17-year-previous in methods highlife could not. “It was the expression of it…Even with Slick Rick, how he tells the story,” Aniekan remembers. “He is rapping, but it surely’s like he is singing…the artwork of twisting phrases.” (He likened listening to Kool G Rap, a exact wordsmith, to “enjoying Tetris at excessive-velocity.”) Aniekan’s first encounter with the artwork type was via a good friend, who handed him a Child ‘N Play cassette tape in 1992. Different encounters got here via associates who obtained VHS tapes of Yo! MTV Raps from their kin within the U.S. “We did not have a VCR,” Aniekan says. “It was like one individual within the hood had one, so we’d all go 15 deep to that individual’s crib, hang around, watch these movies and get all hype, making an attempt to speak like the fellows within the movies.”
On the identical time, document retailers began popping up throughout Uyo, a metropolis that grew to become a capital of Akwa Ibom State on Sept. 23, 1987. “You had DJs who had spots like that they usually put these massive audio system exterior,” Aniekan says. “That is the place we used to hang around.” Different cling-outs had been barbershops, which normally consisted of a closet-sized area with a chair, an indication, a comb and a few clippers. Some barbers had been lucky sufficient to show their humble beginnings right into a franchise. One such barber was “Massive Stuff,” who had three retailers in industrial areas all through Uyo.
On the time, it was customary for barbers to fee native artists to create tariffs and posters for his or her retailers. Massive Stuff commissioned an artist that fully modified Aniekan’s life. By way of this artist, the budding hip hop head would perceive the facility of expression via illustrations. “It was a man named Arabian…He would do shit and you’ll simply have a look at the piece [amazed],” Aniekan says. “He had plenty of creativity.” He remembers Arabian incorporating hip hop types, with guys wearing hoodies and posing within the trendy rides of the time. “The model was so loopy the way in which he did it. Each final one he did was totally different.” There was a value checklist, the place a man had a finger over his mouth whereas one other hand pointed to a value checklist painted in what regarded like a gap within the wall. One other one was an illustration of three guys posted up exterior a properly – one man on a mobile phone, the opposite on look-out whereas the third pulled a value checklist out of the properly. “His creativeness was simply one thing loopy,” Aniekan says. “Loopy!”
Nonetheless, his hopes of discovering a mentor in Arabian had been dashed after they met in 1995. Till that time, Aniekan would stroll round with a sketchbook, on the lookout for work that Arabian illustrated. “I might go attempt to copy it and apply at residence,” Aniekan says. Noticing the younger artist’s curiosity, Massive Stuff gave Aniekan an Arabian piece from his store to take residence and examine. “So I went and studied it and tried to determine how he used the colour, what sort of colour he was utilizing.” (“Was it watercolor or crayons?” he questioned). This was between 1994 and 1997, what he known as his “examine period.”
It is the period he practiced the “picture-real looking” model of drawing. He experimented till he got here up together with his personal model of drawing faces with colour pencils and ink, after which pasting them over a distinct background. He was anxious when Massive Stuff took him to Arabian’s residence in 1995. “Once I lastly met him, I used to be all groupie-fied,” Aniekan says. “I get to satisfy him and I am all shy.” The magic quickly wore off, when Aniekan mentioned Arabian had promised to attract him one thing. “He by no means actually obtained round to it. It simply become me continuously going over there and him blowing me off.”
He turned that discouragement into willpower and set out on a one-man mission to determine how Arabian did it. Within the course of, Aniekan slowly made a reputation for himself by drawing varied haircut types and promoting it to barbers. He began developing together with his personal ideas for barbershop posters. In an earlier creation, he took a bit of board and drew a hand reducing hair with an arrow pointing within the path of the barber’s chair. “Folks would see it from down the hill and they might know a barber was proper there,” Aniekan remembers. In change, the barber gave him $50 for the poster. Aniekan’s purpose was to get his identify, like Arabian’s, throughout Uyo. He quickly grew to become a sought-after artist amongst native barbers asking him, “Yo, may you draw me some haircuts or no matter.”
His recognition, nevertheless, wasn’t sufficient to impress his mother and father, nor quell their needs for him to satisfy his duties as first son. “I went to technical colleges [and] vocational colleges; they had been making an attempt to vary my thoughts,” Aniekan says. But all over the place he went, he noticed folks as keen about their fields as he was about artwork. In the course of the 17-year battle together with his mother and father, he wrote letters to an aunt that lives in D.C. After a number of correspondences, she granted his request by sending him a aircraft ticket to return and check out his hand within the U.S. artwork business. He got here to D.C. in 1999, on the age of 24. Since he is been right here, he is captured the nationwide consideration of clothes designers and magazines – now not the brand new fish splashing round within the nationwide artwork scene. He is created designs for And 1, an city athletic put on firm, and was the premiere artist for the D.C.-based Native Tongue City Attire line.
As well as, his works have been featured in varied city publications resembling Rime, Elemental, DC Pulse and Frank 151. His illustrations additionally graced the album covers of hip hop artists resembling Critically Acclaimed and Flex Mathew, in addition to the covers of books and hip hop journals.
In 2004, Aniekan joined Paintings Mbilashaka (AM) Radio, a unfastened band of 4 to 10 visible artists and a DJ. They’re contracted by company shoppers to create a 7 x 5 inventive interpretation of their brand in entrance of a stay viewers. As part of this group, Aniekan labored on tasks for shoppers together with Purple Bull, Heineken, Honda, Present TV, Timberland and Adidas.
He makes use of hip hop themes as social commentary on points he really feel are left lingering resembling faith, gender wars (“Is homosexuality proper or unsuitable? Who’s to decide on?”) and racism. In addition they deal with American consumerism. In considered one of his controversial items, former President George W. Bush is in a number of poses, holding machine weapons. On his shirt: “Received Oil?”
A few of his work was controversial sufficient to attract criticism from viewers, and a few galleries have even requested him to take down his work. Even nonetheless, his model of “telling the reality” is one most individuals can recognize. In a June editorial assessment, Rhome Anderson (aka DJ Stylus) likened Aniekan to an area treasure. “From murals round city to his stay improvised portray at musical occasions, Udofia is as a lot a fixture within the city arts scene because the DJs, vocalists, producers and musicians,” Anderson writes on washingtonpost.com. “As a part of the Phrases, Beats and Life’s ‘Remixing the Artwork of Social Change’ train-in, Udofia was commissioned to craft a totally new collection of items.”
On a Tuesday afternoon, Aniekan is difficult at work on a brand new fee. His one-room house on 17th Road NW doubles as his ware home and artwork studio. Cross the brink and also you stroll in direction of a stash of comedian books neatly stacked alongside varied hip hop and artwork magazines. Go searching, and you will see a piece-in-progress set on an easel in the midst of his kitchen – paintings lining the wall alongside the doorway, above his cupboards and into his bed room. His most up-to-date present, The Illness 3, opened at Dissident Show on H Road NE in June. Aniekan wished the present to be a departure from his widespread hip hop-themed works. His friends’ reactions diversified. “It was good and unhealthy. There have been some individuals who had been like, ‘I am not feeling this new, monochromatic, one-colour-themed, loopy stuff,'” he remembers. “But then there have been individuals who had been like, ‘Wow! That is truly dope.’ It is a stretch and I really feel I must have a tendency extra in direction of that facet.”
Trying round his kitchen, a reporter seen a photograph of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer. Within the paintings, three totally different Felas tackle totally different hues – a blue Fela seems to be up at a black and white Fela who’s enjoying a saxophone. Within the background, a silver Fela raises his arms in a victory pose via an overview of Africa. When requested if Nigeria or components of his Ibibio tribe ever work their method into his work, Aniekan seems to be up from a sketch to rigorously contemplate his reply. “If I select to do a particular again residence type of theme”-such because the EVOLUTION OF CULTURE present, which opened April Three at Wisconsin Overlook on Wisconsin Avenue NW- “that is once I normally deliver out these traits of the place I am from,” Aniekan says. “It is extra of a alternative.”
It is a alternative he feels that musicians and different artists ought to have the best to train with out being labeled cultural promote-outs, or worst. Take Fela, the Afrobeat music pioneer and human rights activist. He did not begin out because the political maverick he is often called at this time. “He was into music…he began off with highlife, which he grew up into,” Aniekan says. When Fela seen some social and financial points went unaddressed, his music grew to become his bullhorn – “the place he began simply banging on the presidents” and corrupt politicians. “That took him to a different degree,” Aniekan says. “He wasn’t writing nearly Nigeria; what he wrote was just about Africa, itself, and the world.”
That reference to the world is what Aniekan is on the lookout for together with his artwork. He is aware of If he places his artwork in a field labeled “African artwork,” it might slender the scope of his work. The identical factor if he solely did “hip hop” work. So what does he do? He pushes himself with every portray. Aniekan says, “As a visible artist, it is for folks to see your development.”