An Artist in the Time of Quarantine

Samuel Ajobiewe shares his thoughts on the pandemic as it affects Africa and artists living and working on the continent

Art has always been a part of Samuel Ajobiewe. His love for art makes it that everything around him serves as an influence and inspiration for when he is creating works. He began with documenting aspects of daily life and his environment, often having his wife – (who is also an artist) and his children – serve as a muse for a lot of his portraitures.

Right from the onset, Ajobiewe explored art as a means of documenting history. Over the years of his long practice, he mastered his craft, documenting the daily life of the everyday man, and then evolved into a social critic. The artworks he has produced lately addresses issues of insecurity, political turbulence, human rights and other distressing issues that have eaten into the fabric of Nigerian society.

In these times where the world has found itself in an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ajobiewe shares his thoughts on the pandemic as it affects Africa and artists living and working on the continent.

What is your artistic outlook on life?

Samuel Ajobiewe: If you look at science, technology and medicine, you will find everything there relates to art. Art gives life to that being. If you look at the beginning according to the books, a creator created and things came to life, without art things will not come into existence.

Medium?

I used oil for several years, later I stopped and switched over to acrylic, while we were in school, we were taught the use of different materials – acrylic, pastel, charcoal, oil, tempera, all sorts of material.  While in my ND (National Diploma), we worked with clay and fibreglass.

I have worked with watercolour, I have worked with oil, I have worked oil pastel, I have worked with chalk pastel, currently, I am working with acrylic, I worked with experimental material, I used the extracts from watercolour. I enjoy using different materials.

It depends on the mood. Major of my works done on canvas are done with acrylic.

What are your thoughts about the ongoing global pandemic?

The world is changing, things would never remain the same again.  It is people who cultivate the habit of using what they have to get what they want that would survive these times. Countries that do not manage their resources well will find it hard to cope. Things like social life will be altered because of social distancing, things would not go back to the way it was even after the pandemic ends.

Controversies have come along with the advent of the virus, what do you think about some of the controversies that have made headlines in various parts of the world?

I will start with Wuhan in China, where the virus is believed to have started. There are various stories that it is a biological weapon that might have accidentally leaked from a laboratory. I believe human beings can create viruses. Just look at the way they have created food that has been genetically modified.  Man-made viruses exist, but I do not know if it escaped from a laboratory. Also, there are reports that 5G technology has been used to spread the virus, but 5G is radiofrequency and not a microorganism. As an artist, I know that that the more the frequency, it could have an effect on human beings, but since we mostly consume and not produce in Nigeria, we will be forced to accept 5G because as an artist I need technology to move forward.

How has the response by African governments to the Corona Virus affected you as an artist?

African countries are responding well in curtailing the virus. Some lackadaisical attitude cropped up in some African countries, like in Nigeria and the virus escalated. Other than that Africa has been doing well. Senegal is using chloroquine and other drugs for treatment and people with the virus are responding well.

African leaders have not asserted themselves. Madagascar is busy distributing Covid-19 drugs, and there are reports of no new case after it was giving to people who tested positive. Now, the Democratic Republic of Congo has made orders from Madagascar. We have herbs in Africa that can help us fight this virus.

What are some of the Covid-19 related subjects we should expect to see?

Most artists stay in their studios and go out to refresh and get new ideas, but now no one can go out. This also means that we cannot replace art materials when they are exhausted. Even though it affects ideas it also presents the artist with other ideas. Artists will be working on themes around face masks and social distancing.

Do you believe that the Pandemic will end?

Even if it goes away, the virus might resurface, and affect people occasionally. I do not think it will completely go away.

What is your projection for artists post-COVID19?

Things will never remain the same as I said before. Artists might be needing coronavirus vaccination certificates before they can travel to other countries for exhibitions or art fairs. This will mean that vaccines for the virus will become an important part of travelling. Also, some artists will take recording moments in time seriously, so that coming generations know how the world came together in unity to find a solution.

Obidike Okafor is a journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria.