Meet Anthony Azekwoh

TNG: How does a typical day in your studio look like? 

A: It can get very chaotic. Sometimes there’s a meeting or I need to be somewhere or there’s something I urgently need to finish. Right now it’s 3am so you can imagine how crazy it gets managing so much at the same time between art, business, and making sure everything is done on time.

TNG: African folklore and mythology are central themes in your art. Can you tell us about a specific folklore or myth that has deeply influenced your work, and how do you use these themes to convey stories of transformation and change?

A: This is a good one. I’d say that for me, it’s of Ṣàngó, the Orisha/god of thunder, lightning and fire. Growing up a lot of the myths we heard were of Zeus and later, Thor. So imagine how giddy I felt discovering that we had our own gods, our own myths, our own stories. For me, that was like a gateway myth to get me into the world of gods and monsters and everything in between. For me, I try to give other people back that same feeling, to say ‘Look, see this? There’s so much more, so so much more than you would think. Come with me and I’ll show you.”

TNG: How do you decide which medium best suits the narrative you want to convey, and how do you see the relationship between your writing and visual art?

A: I think of creativity like a language and everything you learn, every skill or discipline is like a dialect. It’s a very guttural feeling, I’d say. There are some stories I can write better than I can paint, some that I can paint better than I can sculpt, and some that I can sculpt better than I’d direct…and so on and so forth. It’s about what’s best for the story I think, about which medium can give me the best possible impact on the viewer. My painting, Yasuke, that’s gone around the world and back now…I couldn’t have written that, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. People had to see that face, that image and understand he was a living breathing individual, and that, I think, made all the difference. 

TNG: Your work aims to connect people worldwide and share stories that have been excluded from the global conversation. How do you hope your art can bridge cultural gaps and foster understanding between different communities?

A: By telling stories, I think that gap can be slowly, but surely, one day, closed. Stories are the underlying mechanism that keep us all going and I’d say they are one of the only universal things we all share. Not cheap sensational stories but stories that get to the meat of it, to the heart of what it means to truly be a walking, breathing, thinking human being. 

TNG: Sculpting is a new medium you're exploring, and it allows you to showcase aspects of Nigerian culture and immortalize historical figures. Can you share a specific project or sculpture that holds a special place in your heart, and what message does it aim to convey?

A: Oh I think it was the first sculpture, Tinúkẹ́. I was still a baby sculptor and I really wanted to try something new and so I sculpted this woman in gele (like a headwrap you’d wear to an event) and everyone went crazy about it and I didn’t get it for a while (I never do), until it occurred to me that we, as a people, had never seen our culture like this before. So regal, so strong, and in marble no less–what some would consider very western. That middle of Africa and the west, that to me is where my art comes in, like a bridge. I have been influenced by both, after all. It’s only right. 

TNG: The concept of immortalization and platforming is a compelling aspect of your sculpting work. How do you select the historical figures and elements of Nigerian culture to represent? 

A: I read a lot already so most times it’s just waiting until a figure jumps to mind and I know I need to do something about it. A lot of my history is lost, gone, and with art, I feel like I can bring some of it back and shed some light on stories that haven’t been told properly yet. 

TNG: The Rosemary Fund is a commendable initiative to support emerging artists in Nigeria. What motivated you to establish this grant, and how do you believe it can contribute to the growth and development of the Nigerian art community?

A: The first time I made huge sums of money from my craft I felt so guilty because I knew that in my community, someone would need only a tiny percentage of that to get a new tab and that could take them places. I know it did for me. I started out with very little and I know how hard it was and if I can leave things a little better than I found them, then I'll truly be very satisfied. That to me, is why I started it and why I continue to do it: it makes a difference.