Anila Adnan is a Pakistani multidisciplinary artist based in Nigeria. The master’s degree holder in Graphic Design has spent more than 30 years in Nigeria founding Art Addiction and engaging women and children in art education. She owns a private gallery where she showcases hundreds of her works. She is a painter, horticulturist, cook, and cloth designer and currently learning pottery. She speaks on how Nigerian culture influences her works and how artists can make the best of their condition in Nigeria.
How did art start for you?
From my childhood, I was good at art. My father was very encouraging and he would see my sketches and place them on the wall, and everyone appreciated them. As a science student, all my diagrams used to be neat and my teachers also appreciated them. I did not know my career would be in fine art as I was a science student and all my siblings were too. But later, I had to cross from being a pre-medical student to studying fine arts. I am quite a restless person regarding my work and I know from the beginning when there’s work there’s no rest. I am uneasy until I have met my target. I have done several small and big interior projects in Nigeria including one on Nigerian tourism as my final year university project, for that I had to go to villages to take photographs of fascinating scenes and people, which everyone loved.
I take challenges very seriously, if something doesn’t work for me, I try to push harder and make it work for me. Hard work pays off.
Do you think you’d have done better in medicine?
I don’t have any regrets because anything that is my passion will make it worth it. But I always think if I was in medicine, I would be excelling there as well. If you are hardworking in one aspect of your life, you tend to channel the same energy to other aspects as well. Whatever I had chosen, I would be the same because nature never changes. I don’t regret it because I do things that fascinate me and that I want to do, I don’t get influenced by others in any way. And I don’t get impressed by others unless they are worth it or better than me in a way. My work is like my food to me, it gives me happiness and strength and reason to be a strong woman and I enjoy doing it.
You’ve been in Nigeria for quite a while, how has that influenced your art?
African art is unique, beautiful and pure. The world is thrilled about it. I was thrilled and fascinated by such creative artworks at Nike Art Gallery Lagos a few years back when I participated in a group exhibition with FEAAN (Female Artists of Nigeria). I had never dreamt of in my entire life that any gallery could be such rich in culture, that had unique works of thousands of artists.
African culture is so rich. It was never in my plan to own a gallery. As I am not a Nigerian, my husband worked in different companies and we did not know how long we were going to stay here. I worked as an art teacher and coordinator at different schools. I had never thought of doing something big but when we moved here and due to some factors, I converted this place into an art gallery. But COVID-19 came which was a setback for me. It wasn’t easy but I survived Alhamdulillah. Mama Monica Nike encourages me every time I feel discouraged, and she pushes me and says never to give up.
You must have seen the way of life of Nigerians, does that influence your design?
My paintings are more of African styles. You can see I’m wearing a Nigerian dress. I try to focus on simplicity and originality, so I make my own work. When I’m not working, I feel sick. My energy booster is my work. I did several interior projects for homes and schools in Abuja. A private school gave me a project to make murals for the whole school. I don’t compromise with the quality and I gave them quotations and they supplied me with all I wanted and I did an outstanding job. So, they still honour me. I did several big and small projects in my country as well that won me several awards and rewards at the National level.
I love to paint, do creative work, do horticulture, cook, design dresses, listen to music etc, but I am still a learner and want to learn more skills every day. It is however sad that most people don’t like to train others.
How do you touch lives with your works?
The little things I do is empower women and the local craftsmen. You can see some good works of local craftsmen from Kano here at my gallery. I think it is better to use local raw materials, it is good for originality. They can be designed and marketed in different ways. Nigerian fabrics especially don’t fade, I wear them a lot. I used local products and patronize local craftsmen for all my works.
As an old African proverb says “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.
And when an educated woman is empowered economically, she builds nations. I have seen African women and young female entrepreneurs really doing great, especially in Nigeria and going far very rapidly, they are unstoppable.
I want to achieve things on the basis of my own strengths and abilities. I really don’t like to take unnecessary favours from people. And I know women are better at taking on many responsibilities at a time and are multitaskers.
Where do you get the most market for your product, Nigeria or overseas?
Actually, I’ve not tried overseas because I’m living in Nigeria so mostly my friends and well-wishers would support me. I would love it if anyone visits my gallery ‘Art Addiction’ and see my works that are mostly handmade. I try to make use of Nigerian fabrics as well in my work. Everyone can be creative; they can make something nice, and packaging is also very important. A group of Pakistani women (PWAA) also help and like to empower less privileged women who support their families in return. We are doing different things to help needy women.
You mentioned something about cost, this is usually a challenge.
Art is a luxury; most people don’t even know or value art. So, a particular class that has a taste in art do come to buy. Many others don’t buy. Actually, the raw materials are quite expensive, if an artist buys these materials, the price goes high.
An ordinary person comes and says ‘you’ve done it yourself so why are you calling a high price’?. They don’t consider that it’s the profession of that artist and will give you the price where he or she places her work. The artist spends day and night on that artwork but people don’t value the hard work and effort and time put in to create that piece. People should appreciate handwork. That feeling of appreciating artworks is not there. We need to encourage artists by buying his/ her works.
What do you enjoy most?
There’s a vast variety of things that I enjoy doing; the list is long. Whenever I learn something new, I want to do it and pay extra attention to details. There’s a variety of things I do but there’s no specific thing I enjoy doing the most. I do multiple things, and every time I want something new, I don’t consider the cost, I do it because it brings fulfilment. Sometimes, I give them out as gifts too but paintings very rarely.
Doesn’t that affect the business?
One discouraging thing is people don’t value it when you give them for free. I’m not a stingy person, I know what is destined for me will be for me. By giving, I know God returns it back. If I don’t make sales, God has decided it that way. I have strong faith in Allah. The challenges are whenever I need an assistant, I don’t get people that go with my speed, mostly the workers are not loyal, they lie and cheat at every step. Most of the time they don’t meet deadlines, though it’s not everybody that is like that.
Why is it important to learn arts?
It’s good to learn art because it is very therapeutic, it relaxes your mind, and it makes you comfortable after a stressful day and you enjoy doing it.