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Aniekan Udofia – You Think You Know, But You Don’t

Aniekan Udofia – You Think You Know, But You Don’t

Stand in any metropolitan corridor and check with the artwork scene denizens there what they know about Aniekan Udofia. Some may well listing the 33-calendar year-old amongst the most talented visual artists of his generation, with nationwide interest on his function in hip hop publications these types of as XXL, Vibe and The Supply.

And on a neighborhood amount, other folks could even christen the Nigerian artist as “the facial area of the D.C. artwork motion that mixes political themes with a hip-hop aesthetic.” But no make a difference what you hear, Aniekan will notify you himself they only scratch the floor of who he actually is.

For starters, meet up with his mom and dad, Dr. George and Edna Udofia. They arrived to the U.S. from Nigeria for college though Civil War raged back again in their property place (the Nigeria-Biafra War lasted from July 6, 1967 to Jan. 15, 1970). Nigerians very first came to the United States to go to American universities, intending to return residence, writes Kalu Ogbaa in his reserve “The Nigerian Us citizens.” But for the initially time in Nigeria history, the civil war “grew to become the induce of immigration, and far more pupils from the war-ravaged Eastern Nigeria simply built excellent situations for their immigration to the United States.” So George and Edna studied regulation and nursing, respectively, at universities in Washington, D.C. They settled down and began a family. Aniekan, the second of 5 small children and the initially son in the household, was born on Nov. 26, 1975.

Ogbaa, professor of English and Africana Studies at Southern Connecticut State College, continues: “The gloomy sociopolitical and economic circumstances in Nigeria ensuing from their civil war ended up so unbearable for Easterners that most people needed to flee the region.” By 1980, the selection of Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. rose to 25,528. In addition, the emergence of army dictatorships, the abuse of ability and denial of human legal rights also led to a mass exodus of experienced staff in college establishments from Nigeria. By 1990, the range of Nigerians in the U.S. a lot more than doubled to 55,350. But alternatively of pursuing the development, George and Edna made the decision to whisk their little ones away from their birth area in Northwest D.C. to Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom condition in 1982.

Aniekan, who was 7 at the time of the journey, is of the Ibibio persons, a person of a lot more than 250 ethnic teams in Nigeria – the a few most preferred getting Yoruba, Ibo (or Igbo) and Hausa-Fulani. Situated in southeastern Nigeria, mostly in the Cross River condition, the Ibibio are rainforest cultivators of yams, taro, and cassava. They export mostly palm oil and palm kernels they’re also noted for their skillful wooden carving.

Back again in Nigeria, George taught French in superior school, and Edna was a wellness educator. They had significant hopes for their very first son, Aniekan. “As a patriarchal society, sons are skilled to be robust and assertive and to acquire management characteristics that will help them to inherit the leadership roles of their fathers at property, should really this sort of fathers die or become old, sick, or infirm,” Ogbaa writes. In addition, “They are meant to be suppliers of their household members’ wants and to give them stability as nicely as psychological and financial safety at all situations.” In accordance to Aniekan, his moms and dads believed he was destined to go to school and key in a little something far more sensible than artwork, or pick up a trade and get the job done with his palms. But alternatively, he embraced a motion from overseas.

Having grown up on highlife, a musical style that originated in Ghana in the 1900s just before ultimately spreading to Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other West African nations by 1920, Aniekan was acquainted with legends these kinds of as Ibo highlife innovator Sonny Okosun and Victor Olaiya, a Yoruba singer and trumpeter. But hip hop captured the then-17-yr-previous in means highlife could not. “It was the expression of it…Even with Slick Rick, how he tells the story,” Aniekan remembers. “He’s rapping, but it can be like he is singing…the artwork of twisting words.” (He likened listening to Kool G Rap, a specific wordsmith, to “enjoying Tetris at superior-speed.”) Aniekan’s initially come upon with the artwork sort was as a result of a friend, who handed him a Child ‘N Perform cassette tape in 1992. Other encounters arrived by way of close friends who acquired VHS tapes of Yo! MTV Raps from their family members in the U.S. “We failed to have a VCR,” Aniekan claims. “It was like one particular particular person in the hood experienced just one, so we would all go 15 deep to that person’s crib, dangle out, check out those videos and get all buzz, seeking to talk like the men in the movies.”

At the identical time, report stores commenced popping up all over Uyo, a town that grew to become a money of Akwa Ibom Condition on Sept. 23, 1987. “You experienced DJs who had spots like that and they put these large speakers exterior,” Aniekan states. “That is exactly where we made use of to hold out.” Other cling-outs ended up barbershops, which ordinarily consisted of a closet-sized house with a chair, a signal, a comb and some clippers. Some barbers ended up privileged ample to change their humble beginnings into a franchise. Just one this sort of barber was “Big Things,” who had 3 shops in industrial spots during Uyo.

At the time, it was customary for barbers to fee community artists to create price lists and posters for their shops. Large Things commissioned an artist that absolutely altered Aniekan’s daily life. By way of this artist, the budding hip hop head would have an understanding of the electrical power of expression via illustrations. “It was a male named Arabian…He would do shit and you would just seem at the piece [amazed],” Aniekan says. “He had a great deal of creative imagination.” He remembers Arabian incorporating hip hop variations, with men dressed in hoodies and posing in the attractive rides of the time. “The model was so ridiculous the way he did it. Every very last just one he did was unique.” There was a price tag list, where a dude experienced a finger above his mouth even though a different hand pointed to a cost checklist painted in what seemed like a gap in the wall. An additional one particular was an illustration of three guys posted up outside the house a nicely – one person on a cell phone, the other on seem-out though the third pulled a price checklist out of the perfectly. “His creativity was just a little something crazy,” Aniekan says. “Ridiculous!”

Even so, his hopes of locating a mentor in Arabian were dashed when they satisfied in 1995. Until eventually that level, Aniekan would stroll all-around with a sketchbook, searching for do the job that Arabian illustrated. “I would go consider to copy it and exercise at household,” Aniekan says. Noticing the younger artist’s fascination, Major Stuff gave Aniekan an Arabian piece from his shop to acquire household and research. “So I went and researched it and tried using to figure out how he utilized the colour, what sort of colour he was using.” (“Was it watercolor or crayons?” he wondered). This was amongst 1994 and 1997, what he known as his “study period.”

It’s the era he practiced the “photograph-sensible” design of drawing. He experimented till he arrived up with his own design of drawing faces with colour pencils and ink, and then pasting them more than a distinctive qualifications. He was anxious when Big Stuff took him to Arabian’s residence in 1995. “When I ultimately met him, I was all groupie-fied,” Aniekan suggests. “I get to meet him and I am all shy.” The magic soon wore off, when Aniekan said Arabian had promised to draw him something. “He never ever really bought all-around to it. It just turned into me continually heading above there and him blowing me off.”

He turned that discouragement into willpower and established out on a a single-guy mission to determine out how Arabian did it. In the approach, Aniekan slowly built a title for himself by drawing several haircut variations and offering it to barbers. He commenced coming up with his possess concepts for barbershop posters. In an before development, he took a piece of board and drew a hand cutting hair with an arrow pointing in the path of the barber’s chair. “Individuals would see it from down the hill and they would know a barber was appropriate there,” Aniekan recollects. In trade, the barber gave him $50 for the poster. Aniekan’s aim was to get his identify, like Arabian’s, all more than Uyo. He soon grew to become a sought-right after artist among regional barbers inquiring him, “Yo, could you attract me some haircuts or what ever.”

His recognition, on the other hand, was not ample to impress his mothers and fathers, nor quell their wants for him to satisfy his responsibilities as initially son. “I went to complex colleges [and] vocational universities they were making an attempt to transform my brain,” Aniekan states. But almost everywhere he went, he observed individuals as passionate about their fields as he was about artwork. In the course of the 17-calendar year struggle with his parents, he wrote letters to an aunt that lives in D.C. Right after various correspondences, she granted his ask for by sending him a plane ticket to arrive and try his hand in the U.S. artwork marketplace. He arrived to D.C. in 1999, at the age of 24. Because he is been here, he is captured the countrywide focus of outfits designers and publications – no longer the new fish splashing around in the national artwork scene. He is made patterns for And 1, an urban athletic put on organization, and was the premiere artist for the D.C.-primarily based Native Tongue City Attire line.

In addition, his operates have been featured in numerous city publications this kind of as Rime, Elemental, DC Pulse and Frank 151. His illustrations also graced the album covers of hip hop artists these as Critically Acclaimed and Flex Mathew, as properly as the handles of guides and hip hop journals.

In 2004, Aniekan joined Artwork Mbilashaka (AM) Radio, a free band of four to 10 visual artists and a DJ. They’re contracted by company consumers to generate a 7 x 5 creative interpretation of their emblem in front of a are living audience. As a part of this group, Aniekan labored on assignments for clients such as Purple Bull, Heineken, Honda, Current Tv set, Timberland and Adidas.

He uses hip hop themes as social commentary on problems he really feel are still left lingering such as religion, gender wars (“Is homosexuality proper or improper? Who’s to pick?”) and racism. They also target on American consumerism. In 1 of his controversial items, former President George W. Bush is in many poses, keeping equipment guns. On his shirt: “Got Oil?”

Some of his function was controversial enough to attract criticism from viewers, and some galleries have even questioned him to choose down his paintings. Even nevertheless, his design of “telling the fact” is one most men and women can recognize. In a June editorial evaluation, Rhome Anderson (aka DJ Stylus) likened Aniekan to a community treasure. “From murals close to city to his live improvised painting at musical gatherings, Udofia is as much a fixture in the city arts scene as the DJs, vocalists, producers and musicians,” Anderson writes on washingtonpost.com. “As element of the Terms, Beats and Life’s ‘Remixing the Artwork of Social Change’ educate-in, Udofia was commissioned to craft a wholly new series of pieces.”

On a Tuesday afternoon, Aniekan is tough at perform on a new fee. His just one-home apartment on 17th Road NW doubles as his ware residence and artwork studio. Cross the threshold and you stroll in the direction of a stash of comedian books neatly stacked together with numerous hip hop and artwork magazines. Seem around, and you’ll see a get the job done-in-progress established on an easel in the center of his kitchen – artwork lining the wall alongside the entrance, earlier mentioned his cabinets and into his bed room. His most latest exhibit, The Sickness 3, opened at Dissident Show on H Street NE in June. Aniekan required the clearly show to be a departure from his preferred hip hop-themed will work. His peers’ reactions assorted. “It was great and poor. There had been some individuals who had been like, ‘I’m not experience this new, monochromatic, just one-shade-themed, nuts things,'” he recalls. “But then there had been people who had been like, ‘Wow! Which is really dope.’ It’s a stretch and I truly feel I want to are likely extra in the direction of that aspect.”

On the lookout around his kitchen, a reporter seen a photo of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer. In the artwork, a few unique Felas get on distinctive hues – a blue Fela seems to be up at a black and white Fela who’s enjoying a saxophone. In the qualifications, a silver Fela raises his arms in a victory pose as a result of an define of Africa. When requested if Nigeria or aspects of his Ibibio tribe at any time function their way into his paintings, Aniekan appears to be up from a sketch to cautiously think about his reply. “If I pick out to do a distinct again dwelling type of topic”-such as the EVOLUTION OF Society demonstrate, which opened April 3 at Wisconsin Ignore on Wisconsin Avenue NW- “that is when I generally deliver out individuals qualities of the place I am from,” Aniekan states. “It truly is far more of a choice.”

It is really a choice he feels that musicians and other artists need to have the right to work out without the need of currently being labeled cultural promote-outs, or worst. Consider Fela, the Afrobeat music pioneer and human rights activist. He failed to commence out as the political maverick he is regarded as right now. “He was into tunes…he begun off with highlife, which he grew up into,” Aniekan says. When Fela recognized some social and economic challenges went unaddressed, his songs became his bullhorn – “exactly where he begun just banging on the presidents” and corrupt politicians. “That took him to another amount,” Aniekan claims. “He wasn’t composing just about Nigeria what he wrote was quite much Africa, by itself, and the globe.”

That connection with the globe is what Aniekan is on the lookout for with his artwork. He knows If he places his artwork in a box labeled “African art,” it would slim the scope of his get the job done. The similar factor if he only did “hip hop” paintings. So what does he do? He pushes himself with every single portray. Aniekan claims, “As a visible artist, it’s for people today to see your development.”