‘ART IS THERAPEUTIC’ | Interview with fast-rising Nigerian artist Kunle Adewale

ArtBeats (or, in full, ArtBeats MEDIA)
is the former brand name of
Bravearts Africa until Jan., 2015


Kayode Taiwo Olla conducted an exclusive interview for ArtBeats art blog with Lagos-based Kunle Adewale, a fast-rising and ambitious artist achieving a number of media-capturing children art events in Lagos metropolis, Nigeria.

Kunle Adewale is the curator of Tender Arts Nigeria , a registered art enterprise in Lagos, Nigeria. He holds a Diploma in Painting and General Arts from Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, Nigeria, as well as a Bachelor degree in Fine and Applied Arts from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

Kunle is also a performance poet, a published author, and an art tutor. He is as well a nominee for the UK-based Global Teachers Prize Award.

In this exclusive interview he shares with Kayode Taiwo Olla on his engagement with children art projects and with literature/writing. He also shares his views on modern art, on painting which he specializes in, and on photography, as it concerns art. Read on.



AB: You are the curator and the creative director of Tender Arts Nigeria, an art enterprise with peculiar focus on grooming and showcasing children and young adults in art. Tell us a bit more about Tender Arts and the art events you spearhead.

KA: Well, Tender Arts, registered with Corporate Affairs Commission Nigeria—we have done a lot of art workshop projects like ARTIVATE, ARTIVITIES, ARTITUDE, ART WITHOUT LIMITS, among many others; and have collaborated with NGOs and government organizations to organize special art programs for children and young adults for enlightenment, for education, for empowerment, for entrepreneurship, community development, among many others that I have done.

AB: I learn you engage specialized therapeutic art workshops for children with challenges. One such I learn was that ‘ARTIVITIES,’ organized in collaboration with the Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. Can you describe the occupational therapy from the interest and responses of the participant kids? Do you think therapeutic art is worth it in actuality, from your own involvement?

KA: Mother Theresa said: “Spread love everywhere you go; let no man come to you without leaving happier.” I believe that art is therapeutic. For me it has yielded a lot of results. Being able to make children and young adults happy—you know, changing their perspective, giving them a new look for life from the direction of art, knowing full well that many of them have been rejected and neglected, and that many of them are left to their own fate. So a therapeutic art involvement for me is a fulfilling one and I still have a lot of projects to do more on that.

AB: Hmm, wow. All right… you’ve enjoyed collaborations with great establishments and equally endorsements and media publicity from a host of more—talk of Committee of Relevant Arts (CORA), Advocacy of Human Rights through Arts, Terrakulture, Nike Art Foundation, the Lagos State Ministry of Education, and even still more. Tell us a bit about your collaborations and endorsements—briefly, how did the start up look like?

KA: All right—collaborations… I’ve always believed you can never succeed in isolation—it’s not possible. You need people to get whatever you want to do in life achieved. And most organizations that endorsed the projects I have done, I had the opportunity of meeting them and discussed my vision with them. Most often they are organizations that have the same value system with what I do in my organization. And some of them are my mentors, some of them are big people that I had opportunities to do something with or for in times past. It’s their way of encouraging me to continue doing what I do. And they may not have rewarded me cash-wise, but their support is there. And I think, for me, that is paramount.

AB: I’m curious. Tell me about your talented protégée who won the Peace Award in Abuja last year as a 10-year-old for her brilliant painting work for Nigeria crisis situations Peace in the midst of the Storm. Talking of Ayomikun Omoyiola. Now, where did you first pick interest in her and how did you come to groom her up? And how did the award come?

KA: Okay, regarding that… I met her first when I resumed working in Queenland Academy in Lagos—that was 2012. I was her art teacher. She’s just like every other normal child… pupil, in the classroom. But then, when I give them assignments I discovered she performed excellently and I believe there was more to her than what she was doing in the classroom. So I told her to inform her parents if they would like her to be groomed, mentored outside the classroom such that she could dedicate more times to doing artworks, as it were. Okay, the mum got to meet me in 2012.

So then… we started working together precisely August in 2012. Go to her home… we work, we do paintings, we do different kinds of art and we worked hours. She started from A4 papers; from crayon to other different mediums of expression in art, using them is very key and fundamental. So, to a great degree it really helped her in developing artistic skill and exposing her to imagery and pictures of works done by great artists; and visiting art galleries, museums and art exhibitions plus shows; seeing works that have been done in the past and the present times too, so that they could really hone her creative ability and spur her into limelight.

Ayomikun presenting a painting work to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja: Kunle Adewale presenting her to the President

Ayomikun presenting a painting work to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja: Kunle Adewale presenting her to the President

So, it’s part of what really groomed her to be what she’s risen up to be. And as such, these reflected in the philosophical depth of these paintings she made. And looking at her age and her artistic renditions, you know, it called the attention of the elite and then the people in government and they decided to reward her; and that is how she became Nigeria Ambassador for Peace—they gave her the Peace Award. She became an ambassador at age 10, and she is regarded to be the youngest recipient of the award in Nigeria to date.

She’s doing very well, and I think she deserves it. And she is also an inspiration for all other children and pupils in Nigeria, that whatever potential you have you need to maximize it and also get a mentor too, to help get you to where you need to be in life.

Her award too is not without the unflinching support of her parents Mr and Mrs Omoyiola, who believe very much in her even at a tender age of four when she had started scribbling something on paper till I got to meet her when she was nine years. They’ve been very supportive, providing her materials and also paying for her tution. She also has an enabling environment, such a one that aided her development in art.

AB: You are also a poet. And you also perform poetry on stage. Now, I’m wondering something—you’ve organized a painting slash poetry competition event in Lagos for about 31 high schools as participants in March this year, and had in attendance established Nigerian poets like Tade Ipadeola, Jumoke Verissimo, Dami Ajayi and Iquo Eke. So what possible link do the two have for you—fine art and creative writing? Seems they really have something to do together for you after all, don’t they?

KA: Well poetry… (chuckles)—poetry is part of my life; creative writing it has really helped me a great deal. I do write inspirational poems. I remember that when I was in the university I started a poetry academy we called Kingdom Poets Academy. A lot of people had come around and impacted the students in my academy and also impacted me in person.

Poetry is the lyrical expression of my mind just as painting is like the visual expression of what goes on in my mind. The two are inseparable—my painting speaks poetry, my poetry speaks painting. As a matter of fact my life gravitates towards painting, pictures and poetry. Any works of poetry, any works of painting, I gravitate towards it naturally.

AB: You have a first book Why Sit We Here Till We Die?—A Tale of Four Lepers. A motivational/inspirational book, I suppose. What would you say inspired your first book?

KA: Looking at the story of four lepers in the Bible—and these are people that are nobody, people that are unrecognized in the society, people that are outcasts; but then, they are people that brought success to the economy of the nation that was in famine then. So, I believe you can be what you want to be in life; you don’t need to blame anybody for your limitations; you don’t need to blame anybody for your challenges or how your life has turned out. As a matter of fact, you are responsible for your progress—your determination, your resilence, your persistence in fundamental to your progress in life. So nobody should remain where they are. They should move on to become what they want to be in life. They not need to sit down till they die; they need to maximize their potential.

AB: To the question whether photography should be considered fine art—what is your take on this?

KA: Just like we have physics and we have applied physics, and we have mathematics and applied mathematics—we have fine arts and we have applied arts. Basically fine arts include painting, drawing and sculpture. But applied arts involve functional arts, the dimensions of commercial arts. Photography basically is not fine arts; I will see it as a kind of applied art, commercial art as it were. Photography is not fine art in any way.

AB: Sculpture—painting—photography: we see some developments—maybe adaptations, over wide historical timeline and with differing consumer appeals and scales of production in each over different ages. What could you say of or predict about the consumer appeal and the production rate of each in the art world in future ages?

KA: Well, art has diverse functions and it serves different purposes. People in the society have used art for different things. So I believe very strongly that the future of art—you know, going beyond the three dimensional art tools, are now going technological, too. So, looking at the future consumer rates for arts, I believe it is very high, because art can never die, it can’t. As long as this world exists art will still continue to live. An artwork even outlives the artist. Like even these days that some artists’ works are being auctioned for millions, artworks of Pablo Picasso and the like. So it depends on certain needs or certain trends at certain times. And some works appeal to consumers as artifacts, which were produced or purchased years ago. So either way, there’s always future in these art dimensions.

AB: All right. Just a few lighter questions though. The rule is not to take them really serious anyway. Okay… here— if you’re to paint just one last thing and then to quit painting, what would you paint? What would the subject of your painting be?

KA: (Laughs) Well, it’s just like asking me about making my last statement on earth, what it would be. So for me if I would paint anything I would paint something that will inspire people to be the best, impact lives, influence people, change your environment, touch your world, and be a blessing to someone. Something inspiring, something challenging, something simulating, something motivating, something transforming, something informing, something educating… it will centre around that subject matter of change—effecting change in the individual and in the world. So my painting will be Touch your world—through what you have.

AB: Wow! Okay then… I guess we’re hearing ‘the sounds of things to come’ from your Facebook photo updates some time recently. No, things coming on already, I suppose. So… when is it wedding bells for you and the lucky young lady now? Permit me. (Chuckles)

KA: (Laughs) H’m… yes, yes… I should be getting married this year, sometime in December this year. Well… you wanna know her? Make sure you make it to my wedding… (chuckles) all right, thank you.

AB: Wow, congrats. Fingers crossed then. And I wish you the best. Lastly, a word for young dreamers and aspiring artists.

KA: Yeah… do not compare yourself with others. Try to look to others to get inspired by it; also celebrate others but don’t ignore what you have too, develop them. Be focused and determined and don’t underestimate what you have or think less of who you are. God has a special plan for you. You are who you are, you are special and a great breed; don’t settle for less, aspire for more. Dare. Dream. Do more.

AB: Thank you for your time, Kunle. It’s been great having you.

KA: Thank you for the privilege. Keep doing the great things you are doing, ArtBeats MEDIA. I celebrate you Kayode; God bless you more. And may your pen never fade, and all the plans God has for you you’ll achieve in Jesus name. I celebrate you and your team. I wish you the best.

Kayode Taiwo Olla is co-initiator of ArtBeats MEDIA. He is the author of two works, Sprouting Again, a novel (2011) and Softlie, love poems (2013). He can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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