Aniekan Udofia – You Imagine You Know, But You You should not

Stand in any metropolitan corridor and talk to the artwork scene denizens there what they know about Aniekan Udofia. Some could list the 33-calendar year-previous amongst the most talented visual artists of his generation, with countrywide interest on his get the job done in hip hop journals this kind of as XXL, Vibe and The Source.

And on a neighborhood stage, many others may well even christen the Nigerian artist as “the face of the D.C. artwork movement that mixes political themes with a hip-hop aesthetic.” But no issue what you hear, Aniekan will notify you himself they only scratch the surface area of who he really is.

For starters, satisfy his mom and dad, Dr. George and Edna Udofia. They came to the U.S. from Nigeria for college when Civil War raged again in their dwelling country (the Nigeria-Biafra War lasted from July 6, 1967 to Jan. 15, 1970). Nigerians very first came to the United States to attend American universities, intending to return household, writes Kalu Ogbaa in his e-book “The Nigerian People.” But for the to start with time in Nigeria heritage, the civil war “turned the result in of immigration, and much more college students from the war-ravaged Japanese Nigeria very easily manufactured good conditions 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 begun a spouse and children. Aniekan, the next of 5 small children and the first son in the relatives, was born on Nov. 26, 1975.

Ogbaa, professor of English and Africana Scientific tests at Southern Connecticut Point out University, proceeds: “The gloomy sociopolitical and financial problems in Nigeria resulting from their civil war ended up so unbearable for Easterners that most people desired to flee the country.” By 1980, the quantity of Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. rose to 25,528. In addition, the emergence of navy dictatorships, the abuse of power and denial of human legal rights also led to a mass exodus of educated personnel in university establishments from Nigeria. By 1990, the amount of Nigerians in the U.S. more than doubled to 55,350. But in its place of subsequent the pattern, George and Edna resolved to whisk their small children absent from their birth location in Northwest D.C. to Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom state in 1982.

Aniekan, who was 7 at the time of the excursion, is of the Ibibio people today, just one of a lot more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria – the a few most common getting Yoruba, Ibo (or Igbo) and Hausa-Fulani. Located in southeastern Nigeria, primarily in the Cross River condition, the Ibibio are rainforest cultivators of yams, taro, and cassava. They export mainly palm oil and palm kernels they are also famous for their skillful wooden carving.

Again in Nigeria, George taught French in substantial university, and Edna was a overall health educator. They experienced substantial hopes for their first son, Aniekan. “As a patriarchal culture, sons are qualified to be sturdy and assertive and to produce leadership characteristics that will help them to inherit the leadership roles of their fathers at house, must these fathers die or turn into aged, sick, or infirm,” Ogbaa writes. In addition, “They are intended to be providers of their spouse and children members’ requires and to give them protection as very well as emotional and economic safety at all instances.” In accordance to Aniekan, his parents considered he was destined to go to higher education and major in something extra realistic than artwork, or decide on up a trade and do the job with his hands. But instead, he embraced a movement from overseas.

Acquiring developed up on highlife, a musical genre that originated in Ghana in the 1900s just before eventually spreading to Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other West African nations around the world by 1920, Aniekan was familiar with legends this sort of as Ibo highlife innovator Sonny Okosun and Victor Olaiya, a Yoruba singer and trumpeter. But hip hop captured the then-17-calendar year-previous in approaches highlife couldn’t. “It was the expression of it…Even with Slick Rick, how he tells the tale,” Aniekan remembers. “He’s rapping, but it truly is like he’s singing…the artwork of twisting words and phrases.” (He likened listening to Kool G Rap, a exact wordsmith, to “enjoying Tetris at significant-velocity.”) Aniekan’s first experience with the art type was as a result of a friend, who passed him a Child ‘N Participate in cassette tape in 1992. Other encounters came as a result of mates who received VHS tapes of Yo! MTV Raps from their kinfolk in the U.S. “We failed to have a VCR,” Aniekan states. “It was like one particular individual in the hood had a person, so we would all go 15 deep to that person’s crib, cling out, check out these films and get all buzz, hoping to converse like the fellas in the videos.”

At the exact same time, report stores begun popping up all about Uyo, a town that grew to become a capital of Akwa Ibom Point out on Sept. 23, 1987. “You had DJs who experienced places like that and they set these major speakers exterior,” Aniekan claims. “That is the place we applied to dangle out.” Other dangle-outs had been barbershops, which usually consisted of a closet-sized room with a chair, a indicator, a comb and some clippers. Some barbers had been fortuitous ample to convert their humble beginnings into a franchise. One this sort of barber was “Significant Things,” who had 3 retailers in professional locations all through Uyo.

At the time, it was customary for barbers to commission neighborhood artists to generate value lists and posters for their outlets. Major Stuff commissioned an artist that completely improved Aniekan’s life. As a result of this artist, the budding hip hop head would realize the electric power of expression by way of illustrations. “It was a guy named Arabian…He would do shit and you would just glimpse at the piece [amazed],” Aniekan states. “He had a ton of creative imagination.” He remembers Arabian incorporating hip hop designs, with fellas dressed in hoodies and posing in the attractive rides of the time. “The fashion was so crazy the way he did it. Every single very last one particular he did was diverse.” There was a price tag checklist, where a man experienced a finger in excess of his mouth when a further hand pointed to a price checklist painted in what looked like a gap in the wall. An additional one particular was an illustration of three men posted up outdoors a nicely – a person dude on a cell cellphone, the other on appear-out even though the third pulled a selling price listing out of the effectively. “His creativity was just anything nuts,” Aniekan claims. “Outrageous!”

Nonetheless, his hopes of discovering a mentor in Arabian ended up dashed when they achieved in 1995. Until eventually that place, Aniekan would stroll around with a sketchbook, hunting for operate that Arabian illustrated. “I would go try out to duplicate it and practice at dwelling,” Aniekan says. Noticing the younger artist’s fascination, Huge Things gave Aniekan an Arabian piece from his shop to choose household and study. “So I went and analyzed it and tried out to figure out how he employed the colour, what variety of coloration he was employing.” (“Was it watercolor or crayons?” he puzzled). This was amongst 1994 and 1997, what he termed his “study era.”

It is really the period he practiced the “picture-real looking” type of drawing. He experimented until eventually he arrived up with his own fashion of drawing faces with color pencils and ink, and then pasting them around a unique history. He was anxious when Significant Stuff took him to Arabian’s house in 1995. “When I at last satisfied him, I was all groupie-fied,” Aniekan says. “I get to meet him and I am all shy.” The magic quickly wore off, when Aniekan said Arabian had promised to attract him anything. “He by no means definitely bought close to to it. It just turned into me continually going in excess of there and him blowing me off.”

He turned that discouragement into resolve and set out on a 1-man mission to determine out how Arabian did it. In the method, Aniekan slowly created a name for himself by drawing a variety of haircut kinds and promoting it to barbers. He commenced coming up with his have concepts for barbershop posters. In an previously generation, he took a piece of board and drew a hand slicing hair with an arrow pointing in the path of the barber’s chair. “Men and women would see it from down the hill and they would know a barber was proper there,” Aniekan recollects. In exchange, the barber gave him $50 for the poster. Aniekan’s aim was to get his name, like Arabian’s, all in excess of Uyo. He shortly grew to become a sought-just after artist amid regional barbers asking him, “Yo, could you draw me some haircuts or whichever.”

His acceptance, having said that, was not ample to impress his moms and dads, nor quell their wants for him to fulfill his responsibilities as 1st son. “I went to complex educational institutions [and] vocational universities they were making an attempt to improve my head,” Aniekan says. But everywhere he went, he observed individuals as passionate about their fields as he was about art. Throughout the 17-yr struggle with his mothers and fathers, he wrote letters to an aunt that lives in D.C. Just after quite a few correspondences, she granted his ask for by sending him a airplane ticket to occur and consider his hand in the U.S. art business. He came to D.C. in 1999, at the age of 24. Given that he’s been below, he’s captured the countrywide consideration of apparel designers and magazines – no for a longer period the new fish splashing around in the nationwide artwork scene. He’s developed layouts for And 1, an urban athletic don corporation, and was the premiere artist for the D.C.-based Native Tongue City Clothing line.

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

In 2004, Aniekan joined Artwork Mbilashaka (AM) Radio, a loose band of four to 10 visible artists and a DJ. They’re contracted by company shoppers to make a 7 x 5 creative interpretation of their symbol in front of a are living audience. As a component of this group, Aniekan labored on initiatives for shoppers together with Red Bull, Heineken, Honda, Recent Television set, Timberland and Adidas.

He works by using hip hop themes as social commentary on difficulties he really feel are left lingering such as faith, gender wars (“Is homosexuality appropriate or erroneous? Who’s to pick?”) and racism. They also target on American consumerism. In a person of his controversial parts, previous President George W. Bush is in numerous poses, holding device guns. On his shirt: “Obtained Oil?”

Some of his work was controversial plenty of to attract criticism from viewers, and some galleries have even requested him to acquire down his paintings. Even however, his style of “telling the truth of the matter” is one most individuals can respect. In a June editorial overview, Rhome Anderson (aka DJ Stylus) likened Aniekan to a local treasure. “From murals all-around town to his reside improvised portray at musical occasions, Udofia is as a lot a fixture in the city arts scene as the DJs, vocalists, producers and musicians,” Anderson writes on “As portion of the Words, Beats and Life’s ‘Remixing the Art of Social Change’ train-in, Udofia was commissioned to craft a completely new collection of pieces.”

On a Tuesday afternoon, Aniekan is hard at get the job done on a new commission. His one particular-space condominium on 17th Avenue NW doubles as his ware dwelling and art studio. Cross the threshold and you wander toward a stash of comedian publications neatly stacked together with a variety of hip hop and artwork magazines. Seem all over, and you can expect to see a perform-in-development set on an easel in the middle of his kitchen area – artwork lining the wall together the entrance, previously mentioned his cupboards and into his bedroom. His most new present, The Illness 3, opened at Dissident Display on H Street NE in June. Aniekan required the show to be a departure from his well-liked hip hop-themed is effective. His peers’ reactions assorted. “It was great and terrible. There ended up some men and women who have been like, ‘I’m not emotion this new, monochromatic, a person-color-themed, insane stuff,'” he recalls. “But then there have been persons who ended up like, ‘Wow! That’s in fact dope.’ It can be a stretch and I experience I need to have to tend a lot more toward that side.”

Hunting around his kitchen area, a reporter noticed a image of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer. In the artwork, a few distinct Felas take on unique hues – a blue Fela seems 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 through an define of Africa. When asked if Nigeria or things of his Ibibio tribe at any time do the job their way into his paintings, Aniekan seems up from a sketch to thoroughly take into account his response. “If I decide on to do a certain again dwelling type of theme”-these as the EVOLUTION OF Culture demonstrate, which opened April 3 at Wisconsin Neglect on Wisconsin Avenue NW- “that is when I generally deliver out these attributes of the place I am from,” Aniekan suggests. “It can be far more of a preference.”

It is a selection he feels that musicians and other artists really should have the appropriate to exercising without having staying labeled cultural promote-outs, or worst. Take Fela, the Afrobeat songs pioneer and human rights activist. He did not begin out as the political maverick he’s identified as today. “He was into new music…he commenced off with highlife, which he grew up into,” Aniekan states. When Fela observed some social and financial problems went unaddressed, his music grew to become his bullhorn – “wherever he started off just banging on the presidents” and corrupt politicians. “That took him to yet another degree,” Aniekan claims. “He was not producing just about Nigeria what he wrote was really a lot Africa, by itself, and the earth.”

That relationship with the planet is what Aniekan is on the lookout for with his art. He knows If he places his artwork in a box labeled “African art,” it would narrow the scope of his operate. The similar thing if he only did “hip hop” paintings. So what does he do? He pushes himself with every portray. Aniekan says, “As a visible artist, it truly is for persons to see your progression.”