Stephanie Unaeze: The art industry in Nigeria has an amazing crop of female artists
According to a notable artist; Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.” This is what Stephanie Unaeze’s Modern Afro-Pop-Surrealism artwork represents. A self-taught Visual Artist currently living and working in Lagos Nigeria, her practice aims to understand and document the effects that society, culture, and tradition have on the proverbial self. Tackling issues such as globalisation, post-colonial consumerism and identity. She credits her multicultural upbringing as one of her main influences.Through her form, which she describes as ‘Modern Afro- Pop- Surrealism’, she is able to juxtapose fact against fantasy traversing through the conscious and subconscious with ease. Her work acts as a conduit for history, bringing it into the new age whilst maintaining its authenticity. Stephanie uses her art to express and document the nuances, complexities and layers that surround the modern African lifestyle. With the use of patterns, geometric design, and vibrant colours, she evokes the strong flavours of the continent and the spirit of its people. Her use of minimal, often faceless figures, projects the idea that the self is always present through cultural shifts, new forms of expression and societal changes. The talented artist shares her inspiring story with Esther Ijewere.
Growing up, I was a very shy and introverted child, who loved reading and drawing. My Father was a Diplomat in the Air-force, so we moved around a lot; I got to live in a lot of different places and experience different cultures and different ways of living. Books were a form of stability for me; being able to escape into those worlds helped me deal with the constant changes happening in my life.
I first started drawing by copying the illustrations I saw in the books I read. I was enthralled by the striking simplicity of Nick Sharratt’s illustrations and that inspired me to want to create my own. Fortunately for me, I always had Art teachers who saw my talent and encouraged me, especially my art teacher in my first secondary school (St Mary’s College Bishops Stortford ) who enrolled me into a gifted and talented program for the Arts, which opened my mind to the idea of being an Artist.
Why I Became My Visual Artist
On my 21st birthday, I went to the MoMa (Museum of Modern Art, New York) to visit the Warhol Exhibition. I had been a huge fan of his work (as well as other artists such as Frida Khalo and Kehinde Wiley). But something about seeing his work in person and hearing them talk about him and the impact his work had on society and modern culture made me realise that Art was more than just visual images. It’s a way to tell a story, capture a time, speak up about injustice, and for me personally an opportunity to change the singular narrative of Africa and African Art.
The Journey So Far
My journey since I started has been filled with ups arms downs initially, because I didn’t go to Art school; I always felt that I was at a disadvantage. There are so many opportunities Art school gives you to connect with established artists and institutions that I just didn’t get, so I always had to work twice as hard.
I’ve been working as an artist professionally for about five years and there were many times I wanted to give up, because my works weren’t selling and people didn’t understand my style, but I pushed through because I knew I was offering something new that people weren’t used to. I’m still on my journey and I know the best is yet to come.
Modern Afro- Pop- Surrealism’
‘Modern Afro-Pop-Surrealism’ is a mix of several art genres that I draw inspiration from. Surrealism is about the sub-conscious, the dreamlike, quintessentially an expression of the subconscious, made famous by artists such as Salvador Dali. Whilst Pop-Art is more culturally relevant and was created as a way to introduce art to masses by depicting popular culture and imagery in striking compositions and a simplified art style, whilst taking advantage of modern technology such as screen printing, digital art and photography. With my work, I aim to merge these two concepts together in a modern way to showcase African Culture and lifestyles.
Inspiration Behind My Work
It’s very intentional. With my work, I aim to show black people in a divine light. I also believe that artistic talent is a gift from God.
How Twitter Helped My Work
In terms of visibility, it’s been really impactful, it helped me gain a new audience and with how important social media is in these times, it’s really great to have something like that happen.
The pandemic and its impact on my work
I worked through the pandemic and some of my pieces were influenced by what was happening around me and around the world. I honestly think that making artwork was what helped me keep my mental health in check and provide a sense of normalcy.
Challenges as a visual artist
I’m a self-taught artist, so learning my craft was a challenge, learning how the art world works was a challenge and learning how to create a career from your talent was also a challenge.
Three Women Who Inspire Me
Lynette Yiadom Boakye, my sisters, and Maya Angelou. Each of these women inspire me with their resilience, hard work, determination, and grace. They’ve taught me to never give up and to always focus on reaching my maximum potential.
Being A Woman Of Rubies
What makes Stephanie Unaeze a woman of rubies and more… her spirit, her determination, her kindness, and her ability to overcome everything that is put in front of her. She is a woman who knows herself and her worth.
Other Projects And Activities
I have a functional Art studio that I just started, Stephanie Unaeze Studio’s. It is a Functional and Applied Art Studio that draws inspiration from the Mbari cultural practice of Eastern Nigeria, inspired by the idea of making art more accessible, interactive, and tactile. Using locally sourced and crafted sustainable materials from around Africa, our goal is to transform the everyday and mundane into art, creating a more enriching life experience.
The Art Industry In Nigeria & Female Artist
The art industry in Nigeria right now has an amazing crop of female artists who are making powerful work and showing these works across the world. What we have now is a good foundation, but we need to build on it. We need to go to the grassroots, primary and secondary schools and put structures in place that will allow more girls to rise up and become the future female artists that will one day lead the industry.