Arts View

Mar 2023 – May 2023

Ara Deinde

Ara Deinde – Visual Artist

Ogun State, Nigeria

Ara Deinde is an artist from Abeokuta in Ogun State, Nigeria. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Ara took interest in art from a young age spending his time doodling in his school notebooks. He took to full-time studio practice in 2019 after he discontinued his engineering education to pursue his passion. He was the resident artist and assistant project manager at KUTA Art Foundation in Abeokuta in 2021 and 2022.

Ara makes striking portraits of himself and his friends set in fantastical spaces. His paintings are commentaries on what he calls ‘Mental Migration’, a call for the redefinition of what constitutes the expectations and experiences of his fellow Africans. His works have been exhibited in Nigeria and in the USA, and he has taken on several notable painting and mural commissions.

He has also been featured in several publications at home and abroad, some of which are the Ake Review for African art and Literature, The Daily Trust Newspaper, and Insights by Fokus Magazine, New York. Ara had his first solo exhibition at Nest by KUTA in his hometown of Abeokuta, Nigeria.

AGN; Why did you decide to give up studying engineering in order to pursue a career in art?

AD; I was not enjoying the course and felt like a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t feel like I was moving towards fulfilling my purpose. In any case I was spending so much time on developing my art so as to transition from it being a hobby to a profession that I eventually decided to pursue my passion.

AGN; Although things are gradually changing, African parents are known for wanting their children to study law, engineering or medicine. How did your parents feel about your change of direction?

AD; The transition was a gradual process. I didn’t just spring it on my parents. My university was very science based so there were limited options available for me to transfer from engineering to a course that was more arts based.

My parents were not in favor initially but due to me not being able to transfer from my engineering course over a two year period and as a result of ongoing dialog with them about me wanting to change direction over that time, when I finally left it was not a shock to them. While they did not provide any additional support during this period of change, they at least allowed me to do my thing. I left in my final year which was hard for my parents to take as they had invested in my education to become an engineer.

Conversations With Self II

AGN; Now that you are pursuing art as a profession how does the reality compare to your expectations?

AD; I was optimistic before embarking on my artistic journey that it was going to be relatively smooth sailing but of course the reality has been markedly different. I learned being a professional artist is a marathon not a sprint. I had already committed to creating art for the rest of my life. I had to ask myself that since that is what I am committed to doing, why am I bothered that things are not moving as fast as I would like.

My approach now is to keep on moving. I feel it is important for me to keep on living. In effect this means sharing and connecting with fellow artists and people in general. Having said that it remains challenging to connect with other artists and this in part is down to me being somewhat of an introvert.

AGN; Who are your biggest influences from the art world?

AD; Toyin Ojih Odutola, Yayoi Kusama, Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso are among my biggest influences. I am fascinated by their process. It seems that commerce/financial considerations follow their work rather than these artists being driven by commercial considerations. It allows for a purity that is beyond a desire that others have to commoditise their art.

I am drawn to the prolificness of Picasso and Kusama. In my view they lived/live and breathed/breathe art. Kahlo conveyed with clarity an ability to communicate her pain and reality so succienctly to the world. Such clarity is very rare to find.

AGN; You say your paintings are a commentary on what you term ‘Mental Migration’. Can you expand on what you mean by this?

AD; We understand the process of physical migration, economic or otherwise. That is something we are familiar with. There is a context to ‘Mental Migration’ which is globalization. We live in a very inter-connected world. We don’t have to be in China before we can hear about things that are happening there and be influenced accordingly.

‘Mental Migration’ is the parallel of physical migration where we travel mentally rather than physically. Let us look at an example, before one considers migrating to another place physically, one would first have dwelt on what life would be lived like in that location. That is the essence of ‘Mental Migration’; always considering what could be while thinking critically about the self. It’s all about self reflection, journeying into oneself for better understanding so that our choices are more in-line with who we are and less directed by external influences.

School of thought III

AGN; To what extent does the culture you originate from, Nigeria as a whole or even Africa in general manifest through your work, if at all?

AD; My culture/African identity is apparent in my work to some extent. The skin colour of people in many of my works is black as are some of the hairstyles, items of clothing and other iconography. Having said that there is always that tension between imbuing one’s work with one’s own cultural sensibilities and allowing one’s work to have a more global appeal and be more easily accessible.

I feel that we in Africa allow ourselves to be more easily polluted with influences from elsewhere. I am not so fixated on my work reflecting my African heritage as my desire is for my work to have more of a global appeal. If one zooms out and looks at my body of work in its entirety, it becomes evident that I am an African artist, but that is not necessarily evident form each piece I create.

AGN; What was like life for you growing up?

AD; For the most part I spent my childhood in Lagos and its environs. I was quite introverted and didn’t have many friends during that time. I was an avid reader but found that drawing was a way for me to engage more deeply with the world. While my parents spoke our traditional language between themselves, we as a family all spoke English. It was only until I went to live with my grandmother around the age of 6 years old that I learned our traditional language and much more about our culture.

Learning our language has helped me connect far more deeply with my culture in a way that being an English speaker could never enable me to. I remain eternally grateful to my grandmother for enriching my life immeasurably in this way.

AGN; To what extent does the political environment in Nigeria shape your work?

AD; My work is not overly political. Perhaps in time it may become more so but up to now it has been fairly apolitical. Some things can be fairly polarizing. The reality is that we are all connected and must find better ways to accommodate our differences if we are going to move forward on a more equitable basis as a species.

AGN; What is the greatest misconception people have about your work?

AD; Many people look at my work from the point of view of aesthetics. General feedback tends to be about how pleasing to the eye my work is. I wish more people would look beyond the visual representation so that they could gain a deeper understanding of what I seek to convey. I aspire to create works that are more than just pretty pictures.

AGN; What would you like to be doing within 5 years time?

AD; I would like to have set up an artist run space where people can come and develop their artistic abilities. I already have a name for it i.e. ‘Safe Space’. I also have a visual idea of what it will look like, what facilities it will have and the genres of art I would like it to cater for.

In addition, I would like to have more international shows. I would like my art to impact more people around the world.

Currently I paint and draw but I would like to move into sculpture and installation art too. I have been fascinated by Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. I would like my installations to be an experience that people can step into and feel like they have traversed into a different world.

Bánú Sọ Ara Deinde

AGN; If there was one thing that you could change about the challenges emerging artists face in Nigeria what would it be?

AD; It would be two things not one. Firstly, a higher standard of education in the business of art is called for. Artists need to be taught more about how the business side of things works and where African art is in the greater scheme of things. It’s not enough to have some idea about how to monetize one’s output. In my opinion an understanding of the underlying process involved is also necessary.

Secondly, greater access to international markets, shows and galleries that are more equitably beneficial to artists and 3rd parties alike would be a great help. More international exposure is good to have in Europe, Asia etc but it is It is welcoming to see more shows in different African countries that are attracting African artists from other countries on the continent instead of each country just focusing on its own artists and a handful from neighboring countries/the same region.

AGN. How do you make money from art?

AD; To be honest I haven’t made much money from art and that is why I touched on the need for better arts business education.

AGN. Let’s talk about your process. How do you go about creating a new piece.

AD; I typically create from one of two ways as a starting point. I may have an idea and then I go about thinking of how I am going to create it visually.

Alternatively I collect pictures and video clips of interest, either ones I have taken or ones others have taken and I keep them in a folder for further review at a later point. I utilize the ideas generated from this content to create new work.

Either way, I typically start with a sketch and then I start building the work up in layers using acrylics or oils and so on.

I always write about each work. I may have written something about an idea even before I have started working on it visually. Doing so can also impact the visual representation of an idea that forms a piece of work.

AGN. What do you like to do in your free time?

AD; I am still an avid reader. I also like watching Youtube video clips across a range of issues as well as fully fledged documentaries. I enjoy playing Ludo especially with my wife who is also an artist. Occasionally I watch movies but that seldom happens as I would rather watch something educational on Youtube.

I am very much into music from all parts of the world. Having said that I have never been to a concert although on rare occasions I have experienced smaller live music gigs.

AGN; Is there anything you would like to add.

AD; I would like to urge readers to take time to better understand themselves and the world in which they live. There is a lot going on that has the potential to influence us and pilot our existence in ways which if we stopped to think deeply about, we might elect to choose a different path.

Previous ‘Arts View’ interviews are available here; archive

Ri Iyovwaye

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on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) – Mar 2023