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‘Why I quit my bank job for visual arts’

Why did you choose art as a career?I am a self-taught artist and started painting in primary school where I discovered that I have talent…

Why did you choose art as a career?
I am a self-taught artist and started painting in primary school where I discovered that I have talent in fine arts. I obtained a diploma in Business Administration from Kaduna Polytechnic in 1987 before I worked with United Bank for Africa between 1989 and 2001. I got a HND in Business Administration but couldn’t get admission to study fine arts at ABU Zaria after several attempts. I started showcasing my art works in the banking hall where I worked in 1991 till I resigned. It was the patronage from the people that made me to resign my job and I am now fully operating as an artist.  I made a lot of paintings in water color, acrylic, oil and so on using many styles like abstract and landscape.

Who is your mentor?
 Leonardo Da Vinci and Van Gogh, they were good. I like to carry on from them. But I don’t like copying other’s work. I like to be original.
You said you quit your bank  job for art due to the patronage you got from people, how?
While working as in the bank, I got to the position of ‘officer four’ about to become a manager when I realized that art works can fetch more money for me. Most of the bank customers especially white men who saw my art works at the hall were happy and some requested that I should make some paintings for them at a reasonable cost and I got what was higher than my salary. I discovered that I was wasting my time doing bank work so I resigned and faced art work.

Didn’t your wife feel apprehensive that you are leaving your job for something less certain?
 We understood each other. I explained to her. We suffered and we are now reaping from the venture. I am seeing a prosperous future. The problem is not in the work, but in the marketing.
Where can we see some of your major works?
You can find them with the Kaduna State government offices and hotels, some of which have earned me awards and recognition. In 2000, I represented Kaduna State at an art exhibition in Abuja where I got wider recognition.  Late General Hassan Katsina bought my paintings and recommended some to former Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida. Some international art collectors have started recognizing my work and I am making good business.
How would you describe the attitude of Nigerians toward artworks?
To be honest artists don’t get encouragement from the authorities and this is why there are still fewer artist than expected in the country. People don’t buy artworks and some often tell me that there is hunger in the country and they rather buy food stuffs than spend their monies on artworks. These are the kind of attitudes that discouraged most artists but for me, the morale is high. In fact I see it as a waste if could not make at least one painting per day. I estimated that I can make paintings worth N50, 000 per day and with that I can earn a living if there is patronage.

Do your paintings portray tradition or modernity?
You know, most artists normally portray their immediate environment so that other people can see how we live and some aspects of our culture. In my own case, I usually pay attention in presenting some distinguishing features in the Hausa-Fulani culture. Also, the modes of living in places like Katsina, Kano, Zaria, Kaduna and so on. I was fascinated by traditional settings especially what I saw in some villages where I used to spend my holidays as a primary school pupil. I don’t take pictures with cameras rather; I do my paintings based on what I observe. All my artworks are abstracts and depict traditional life in northern Nigeria including local music, farming, dancing, which are good for students and even foreigners. Islam has discouraged certain aspects of visual art such as depictions of humans and animals that is why I pay more attention to abstracts art.
I try to bring back some forgotten items, customs and foods in the north in my works to attract people due to low patronage just like the calabash items and musical instruments such as Kalangu, Gurmi and Kotso that may not be known to young people living in the cities. When these paintings are hanged in the houses, parents tend to explain their meanings to their wards. In a way, I am trying to preserve our culture using artwork.   

Are you saying that religion is playing a role in discouraging people from patronizing artworks?
It is not necessarily discouraging people but all religions have their own teachings which people even from different faiths should tolerate. So, I try to avoid making images that are against Islam. And there are some people too, who will not want to buy paintings with human or animal images depending on their understandings.

Who are your customers?
People who buy my paintings cut-across different social classes. So, people from the lower, middle and upper classes patronize my work but not regularly. The most annoying aspect is that Nigerians and other local customers do not value artworks and I give you an example; a painting worth N50, 000, they will bargain for it at N20, 000 and that is disappointing; is it because they are stingy? There were people who will pay half of the money they bargained and take a long time to pay the balance. The people you least expect to buy artworks will be those to pay large sums of money in some instances.

How do you relate with foreign customers?
I have foreigners as customers that I relate with via the social media precisely the facebook. Others communicate with me by e-mail and I even started selling my artworks online. About three people from foreign countries have paid for my paintings recently. I sent one to Italy, another to Costa Rica and last one to USA. I am actually happy with all these transactions in fact it will amaze you that all my foreign customers offered to pay before delivery but I insisted that they should receive the paintings first before they make payments, just to maintain friendship with them.
I hope to travel to countries that value visual arts and make efficient business if I get sponsorship either from government or other organizations.

Do you mentor young artists?
I do encourage young artist, in fact I engage my children in the learning process basically to increase their attention and focus as well as motivate them to practice higher-level artworks. I buy local pots and design them using oil paints together with children. The pots are sold for beautification in houses and offices. I also allow young artist to improve their cognitive abilities in my art studio.

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