Daily Trust (Nigeria): Offiong interview with Ayo Aina

The Daily Trust's Adie Vanessa Offiong has interviewed the sculptor Ayo Aina in September when I was just about to revive this blog (here's the link). I've just realised that some of the links to Nigerian sites in my old posts don't work anymore, so I give the full interview here in the hope that my blog outlives those links.

What inspired you to go into visual arts?
I would say passion, which developed at a very tender age. I was actually a science student in college. I had wanted to study architecture or civil engineering, and had even attended a one year advanced level Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics class. But the passion for what I could do well with little effort was stronger. It was a tough decision I had to make to drop out of science class, which I’m yet to have regrets over.
You started off as a painter but also do sculpture and mural. Could you tell us about the evolution of your art?
My journey in art is a very interesting one. I studied painting only because I had to choose between it and sculpture. I could have studied sculpture, graphics or ceramics. Growing up I had a broad understanding of these fields and actually practiced in every area, with the support of a father who, although was not an artist, encouraged and guided his first son to embrace anything art, hoping to raise a sound architect. On getting into the university, I fell into the hands of wonderful teachers, some of whom, I noticed, effectively combined these fields. At graduation I walked away with three of the five prizes my department offered.
Of all of them, which are you most comfortable with?
I’m fortunate to be an artist who has worked extensively in various genres. From painting to sculpture, mosaic to installations - and I enjoy every bit of what I do. But of note is my love for installations, given how flexible it is and the fact that it encompasses several postmodern art forms.
What was the motivation to do the installations on trafficking?
The media is filled with stories of human trafficking and forced labour. The victims who in many cases are children,  cannot reason or make quality choices, so I ‘speak’ for them. If these heinous crimes are brought to the fore, then we can begin to suggest ingenious ways of tackling them. Also, I’m fascinated, but appalled by the methods involved in human trafficking.
Why do the methods fascinate you?
The methods are replete with deception. Most of these children are baited into this devilish enterprise, with some of their parents being ignorantly supportive.
Is there one of your art works you feel most attached to and would not let go of?
None. I love to share my creations with the public. While my paintings, sculpture and murals target galleries and the luxury of connoisseurs’ homes as a final resting place, my installations aim at reaching the public with a special message expressed in an elaborate visual-spatial language.
Please could you explain your work, ‘Child trafficking'?
‘Child Trafficking’ uses humour, irony and metaphor to address critical issues of forced child labour and abuse, subtly embedded in our social environment and greatly suggestive of the prevalence of a new kind of slavery - contemporary slavery.
Your works sometimes straddle the space between paintings and sculpture. When did you first decide to break those barriers and how well received would you say the works are?
It started after my MFA program in 1996 when, upon setting out into full-time practice, I made a decision to dedicate an aspect of my art to addressing critical issues of social and political injustices in my society. I soon discovered that the two dimensional surface, single-handedly, became less effective for this task. I needed to introduce three dimensional forms of creation. So far, the technique has remained potent.
What does it feel like when you see your works adorn public spaces?
I feel fulfilled as an artist.
What is life like as a full time artist?
Very Interesting! You are always in charge of your life. You are able to create works that make you an artist. Just imagine a footballer who doesn’t play football or one who warms the bench. But you feel like a valuable striker.
Have any of your kids shown interest in art and are you encouraging them if they have?
Yes. My little boy who is six is doing very well now, and I’m not about to discourage him.
In your view, how much has the art industry grown into a proper one?
It is evolving at a great speed. Whether a boom may or may not be on its way, it seems smart for artists to stick with their practice, working diligently and professionally. The genre of African art that had largely been overlooked is finally getting a turn in the international spotlight.
What next after your ongoing trafficking project?
I’m working right now not knowing how my art is going to evolve. But you know there is always an issue to address.

The Mojo Gallery provides more information on Ayo Aina.


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