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Udenta… Her garden is full of paper flowers

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IT is late afternoon on a sunny day. Traffic is heavy, but the driver of the vehicle taking me to Abule Oja, meanders his way through the thick traffic on Herbert Macaulay Way. Not long after, he is on Ebun Street, off Morris Street. We arrive on time to see the lady cutting papers into shapes and patterns, and getting set to make some new flowers that will form part of a show coming soon. 

   She’s in a fitted vintage flora top, and black pant with light make-up. That’s not to say she wears heavy make-up to the studio. Her locks are allowed to rest on her shoulders, as she breathes life into the papers.

   It’s not often that Udenta allows anybody to her studio. This afternoon is, however, different. Though, Udenta comes across as a lady with tough mien, she is soft and generous to a fault. Her bold and big dreadlocks seem to suggest she is a rebel. 

   Are the locks a sign of rebellion? I ask.

   “No, no,” the unassuming lady roars out with laughter. As she says this, she dips girlishly in a small curtsy. “I’m not rebelling against anything.”

   In a manner that seems a singsong chirrup than the speedy tones that she is noted for, Udenta says, “a few years ago, I got fed up with trying to choose between Peruvian, Brazilian, Mongolian, Cambodian, Burmese or Indian hair. I decided to have and be proud of ‘Omo’s Hair’. Coincidentally, I was doing a course at the time and also needed a few more hours to study, so, decided to delete ‘Visit to the Salon’ from my weekly to-do list.”

    Recently, she’s been involved in a lot of art shows. In 2012, at the 5th National Art Competition, she and Afikko Obadina put in an entry titled, Oil, Blood and Tears, which placed third at the event. 

   “It was a commentary on the environmental issues, particularly with regards to oil exploration in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta. This drop is representative firstly, of the millions of drops of oil that has been spilled, taken or stolen from our land. Secondly, the tears of many who suffer from the effects of oil pollution, exploitation and oppression. And thirdly, the blood shed by those born and unborn in the fight for freedom from economic oppression,” she reveals, as she sips a little from the fruit drink in her front. 

   Her latest offering is paper flower. You wonder how that has worked out?

   “In 2014, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Female Artists Platform Exhibition. The theme was, The Femme Fatale, and in my entry, I created what could broadly be described as the femme fatale’s room with the paper flower wall representing the Garden of Eden from where, arguably, the first femme fatale emerged,” Udenta recalls.

   “I have always made fabric flowers, which I use as brooches, but I was working on an installation titled, Eve Metamorphosed 1, in 2014, and needed to represent the Garden of Eden. I chose to do this with paper flowers. I got books on origami and searched for ways to make them on the Internet. I literally taught myself to make them,” she explains, smiling.

   “I find that I’m drawn to foliage and flowers. I’m still in the process of figuring out why, I think I may be attracted because, though they may have no ‘voice’, they, that is, plants, show when they are affected by environmental or other factors. They respond clearly for instance, when they are well nourished or when they are not. This is very unlike man who is usually able to mask his thoughts and emotions. I have since continued to experiment with paper, creating a variety of flowers. I find the making of flowers therapeutic and gratifying. And the beautiful thing about paper flowers is, they can be used for anything that one would normally use real flowers for. The possibilities are endless.” Some of her paper flowers can be found at Zona Zichi Handmade Paper Flowers. 

   She says, “as someone who has worked in various capacities as graphic artist, animation artist, non-linear video editor, and dabbled as a writer, along with being a mother and wife, I find that all my past lives have found a way to merge in an ever evolving blend as a video artist, in particular, and as a visual artist in general.”

   Udenta continues, “I am influenced by past experiences and the subconscious theme throughout most of my work is the passage of time, its documentation and its effects on us and on all around us. People, their mannerisms, their reactions, and their stories also fascinate me. I am therefore never bored when with people especially if I am allowed to observe without interruption.”

BORN in Lagos to parents, who hailed from Ozalla, Edo State, she attended Queen’s College, Lagos, and trained as a graphic artist, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial Design from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. She also has a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Lagos.

    What led her to fine arts?

   “I have always enjoyed drawing and when I was about eight years old, I knew I wanted to be an artist. When I asked myself what I enjoyed doing the most, I discovered it was art,” she says, lightly.

   Any reaction from her parents?

   “There was none from my parents because I never told them my plan. I changed my O’level subjects at the very last minute so that the only course I could study in any higher institution was fine art. I did not leave them or myself for that matter, any choices,” Udenta says, half joking.

   The most power influence in her career is her mum. Udenta says she forges and burnishes ambitious flame in her life. According to her, “as a child, I was a total daddy’s girl, but I must admit that most of what I am today is because of my mother. I often tease her about what I refer to as her ‘State of Constant Restlessness’. I have come to realise that most creative people are somewhat restless because you create only when you do, and you must do to keep sane. She is over 70 years old, yet still strives to learn or do something new every year, no matter what it is. Last year, she learned to make hats. I like to say that sometimes I ‘see’ scenes, which may come in the form of a video or an installation, and I work with various materials to be able to achieve some of the three-dimensional work that I do. I continue to explore new ways to express myself and I am thrilled at every new opportunity I get to do this.” 

WHEN she graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University in 1989, she went into television post-production as a graphic artist/animator and video editor. She worked on projects such as The Star Wheel of Fortune, Maltina Moments, Single and Married with Bimbo Odukoya and numerous other TV commercials. “It was an exciting time because each new brief brought challenges,” she says with a charming and disarming gesture. She, however, adds, “after working for a little over a decade, I took an eight year break, during this break, I did contribute articles to the Just Life column of The Guardian Life magazine, which was another exciting period in my life, this time, because I was given the opportunity to voice my thoughts on various issues.” 

   Her renaissance began in 2009, when she returned to work as lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology. “It took some time before I got used to it.” 

   Udenta, who is the current vice-chairperson of Arterial Network (Nigeria), and a member of the Society for Nigerian Artists (SNA), doesn’t miss a bit when she discusses her fashion sense.

   “I dress primarily for comfort, most of the time,” she says. Black trousers are my favourite fashion pieces. I have loads of them, yet they never seem to be enough. I also love hoop earrings. Depending on what size they are and what they are made of, they can dress-up or dress-down any outfit.” 

   What will she not be caught dead wearing?

   “An all-white ensemble, especially when I am not the bride,” she breathes.


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