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Bunmi Augusto: Depicting Cultural Conciousness Through Art

By Oreoritse Tariemi
11 November 2021   |   1:52 pm
The Nigerian art scene features several spectacular artists whose breathtaking works depict individuality. You can always find these breathtaking pieces at the yearly ART X Lagos fair. Showcasing for the first time at Art X Lagos is Bunmi Augusto, a first-class degree holder in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins College. Bunmi Agusto's works depict…

Bunmi Augusto

The Nigerian art scene features several spectacular artists whose breathtaking works depict individuality. You can always find these breathtaking pieces at the yearly ART X Lagos fair.

Showcasing for the first time at Art X Lagos is Bunmi Augusto, a first-class degree holder in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins College.

Bunmi Agusto’s works depict surreal figures born from the metaphorical language of cultural theory by drawing on concepts such as “alien” and “hybridity”.

At the core of her practice is an exploration of what triggers her Nigerian cultural consciousness, inspired by Sherry Turkle’s theory of evocative objects as vessels anchoring personal histories and cultural identity. Agusto combines the human body with elements she deems integral to this notion to create a mythology of fictional clans on a transcendental plane.

Her first solo show, Escape to Within, was at the Dada Gallery, London (2021).

The Guardian Life met up with Bunmi Augusto to discuss her art, the inspiration behind her work and her first-time debut at Art X Lagos 2021.

  • What was the first art piece you ever created?

I’ve been drawing non-stop since I was born so it was probably a sketch of a Disney princess or something. The earliest one that I can remember outside of a colouring book was this rabbit made of cotton wool that I created in playgroup at about age three.

  • What was the most difficult hurdle you experienced as an artist?

Finding the conceptual core of my artistic and theoretical practice. It’s something every artist has to go through. Metaphorically, I imagine we all start off with this large block of ice that represents all that we’ve experienced, what we are drawn to conceptually, what we are drawn to technically, other art practices we love and respect, and we just begin to chip at it over the years to create a sculpture that really encompasses our true niche of interest and how best to tackle it materially. At the same time, in my opinion, artistic practices are meant to evolve so this sculpture that is made is not meant to remain static. Returning to the metaphor of ice, it’s going to melt, it’s going to change its shape, you may have to put it back in the freezer for a few years. It is a never-ending challenge that is difficult but rewarding. 

Bunmi Agusto, Ceremony, 2020, Pastel pencil_ ink_ acrylic on pastel board, 40.6 x 50.8 cm.jpg

  • If you could change one thing about the Nigerian art industry, what would it be?

We need more publications, writers and critics. We need to implement more systems of discourse, criticism and documentation. The creation aspect of the industry is booming, the business is booming, but the critical aspect is growing too slowly in comparison in my opinion. We don’t want capitalism to be the only form of validation for artists because that makes for market-driven works and that is not great. 

  • Your art seems to belong to a world of its own. Allow us to walk in your shoes for a minute. Tell us, what’s it like inside your head? Where do you get inspiration from?

It’s terribly busy in my head. The psycho-spacial world I have created is inspired by my lived experiences so it encompasses a lot, from the agama lizards I watch scamper around Lagos to aspects of my religious upbringing. It is really about me unpacking and deciphering elements of my selfhood and expanding my existence as a single being into a wide fantasy world. Since it is all about my experiences, I simply get inspired by things that fascinate me such as video games, Sci-Fi & Fantasy movies, architecture, literature and so on.

  • We’ve noticed the recurrence of an interwoven pattern in many of your artworks, from the Braided Labyrinth series to Collective Entry. What is the significance of this? 

The interwoven patterns in my works are braids and they are in line with the linguistic influence of my practice. The presence of the braids in the landscape of my wonderland is a nod to the idiomatic phrase “the world in my head”. If the world is in my head, it should be covered in braids like my actual head is. When one attempts to depict figurative language literally, it makes for very surreal or strange scenes. Also, from an art history perspective, interwoven patterns are often present in ancient Benin sculptures which I’ve studied a lot so that influence snuck its way into my visual language.

  • How would you like your art to be remembered?

To me, my “art” includes the physical material objects I produce as well as my writing and research. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in History of Art & Archaeology at SOAS University London and my main area of interest is speculative fiction across Nigerian art, literature and cinema. So my fantasy world-building falls perfectly within my theoretical line of inquiry. 

As an artist and budding art historian, I would like to help clearly define a movement in Nigerian Art History. Today, we find a lot of our works being swept under the title of ‘Modern & Contemporary African Art’ which very simply defines the times and the continent these works are made in but neglects the specificity of its actual content. 

  • To be an artist means to constantly pour out of oneself. Every piece you’ve created seems to be a different personality, or a different approach to reality. Do you ever experience any conflicts within your person?

All my pieces are the same personality to me and that personality is mine. I wouldn’t say that I experience conflict in terms of how I perceive myself because I am neither a monolith nor a stereotype. I am as playful as I am critical, I like playing video games as much I like writing essays, I am as loud as I am quiet. I don’t see it as conflict, I see it as range.

  • Your art will be showing at ART X Lagos 2021. How does it feel to be listed in Nigeria’s biggest art fair and what should guests look out for in your pieces? 

It is an honour. I have watched the fair grow over the years and it really has injected some great energy into the Nigerian art industry. Tokini Peterside has done a fantastic job. In terms of my work, guests should look out for braids and agama lizard tails.