Bridgeman Studio Award 2019 Winner: Ken Nwadiogbu Interview

Ken Nwadiogbu (b. 1994, Lagos, Nigeria) creates innovative drawings on various surfaces as he challenges and investigates Black socio-political structures and issues while engaging in multidisciplinary modes of storytelling. Inspired by issues relating to those around him, he began creating works that reflect their struggles, with hopes of making a change in his community.

Ken Nwadiogbu photographed by Margaret Otoikhine / 30.12 Photography

Popularly known as KenArt, Nwadiogbu is credited for beginning the ‘Contemporealism’ movement, a fusion that is primarily centred around Hyper-Realism and Contemporary art. His works can be found in collections like The Dean Collection, owned by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Alicia Keys; TheWASP Rugby team, The Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, as well as the collections of other esteemed personalities.

In 2019, Nwadiogbu was awarded the Future Award Prize for Visual and Applied Arts and was recently named by Guardian Life as one of the most “Outstanding Personalities of 2019”. He held his debut solo show ‘CONTEMPOREALISM’ (2019), in Brick Lane Gallery, London, and has also participated in local and international group exhibitions and fairs including Insanity (2016), Lagos; Artyrama Art Exhibition (2017), Lagos; Art X (2018 & 2019), Lagos; Moniker Art Fair (2018 & 2019), Brooklyn and London; Empowerment Exhibition (2018), London; Afriuture (2018), Canada; Anti-Trump Art Show (2019), London; LAX-SFO (2019), California; LAX-MSY (2019), Lousiana; LAX LHR (2019), London and so on. Ken Nwadiogbu is constantly revitalising his practice by challenging modes of Black representation. His oeuvre encompasses various forms of drawing using charcoal, collage, acrylic, and most recently photography. For him, art is a safe haven, devoid of restrictions, boxes and boundaries.

 

Thy Brother is Not Thy Brother Indeed, 2017, Charcoal on Paper / Ken Nwadiogbu

 

You studied civil engineering, what brought you to art?

My art career began by chance. During my first year studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Lagos, I saw a drawing by someone and dared myself to draw something better, and I did, though, in a very amateur way. As time went by, and I honed my skills, I realised that art had become much more than a hobby, and that I could do more with it. I further honed my skills, especially as I became inspired by issues relating to my peers and those around me. This led me to challenging and investigating socio-political structures and issues, in hopes of making a change in my community.

What is your favourite time of the day to be in your studio?

All the time. I pretty much live in my studio and I must say, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. It has helped me to take my craft seriously and to continually find new ways of expression.

 

Everybody is a Fucking Hypocrite, 2019, Charcoal and Acrylic on Canvas / Ken Nwadiogbu

 

You established and are credited for beginning the ‘Contemporealism’ movement. Explain what that is?

“Contemporealism” is largely centred around the fusion of hyper-realism and contemporary art. It is a welcome deviation from the traditional hyper-realism movement. My work has since evolved from hyper-realism, as I infuse elements from contemporary art into it, hence, “Contemporealism.” This can be seen in series like ‘The Headline,’ where I use newspapers, charcoal, acrylic, collage, and photo transfer to shed light on issues overlooked or ignored by the Nigerian press.

One of my core focuses is to inspire young creatives, and I am very happy that artists like Emmanuel Odumade, Lekan Abatan, and a few others have embarked on this journey with me.

 

Witnesses, 2016, Charcoal on Paper / Ken Nwadiogbu

 

You started Artland Contemporary Limited and are the co-founder of Artists Connect NG, the largest artist gathering in Nigeria, created to foster creativity, collaboration and community. How did this come about?

A core focus for me has always been to inspire and encourage young creatives, as I am a firm believer in empowering the younger generation to do better. I initially began with public speaking (like TEDx) but I eventually realized that I can truly make more impact by creating Artland Contemporary Limited and co-founding Artists Connect NG to help young visual artists strive for greatness and attain it, thereby making African art to be accepted globally and not stereotyped. I also provide mentorship and artist management, where I  currently train and source exhibitions and platforms for young creatives like Emma Odumade, Wasiu Eshinlokun, Lekan Abatan, Aina Yusuff, Bomi Bajo (Bomisax), Andy Obi (1Milzofficial), as well as many others. I currently have my studio, Kenart Creation in Yaba, Nigeria, where I house a few artists who come to either get inspired or learn.

 

The Value of Nothing III, 2019, Charcoal on Paper / Ken Nwadiogbu

 

How will winning Bridgeman Studio Award help with your practice as an artist and what does it mean to you?

No doubt, it is a dream come true but more importantly, it assures me that I am on the right path. In addition, I believe winning this award will be reflected in my artistic practice as a result of my desire to continuously evolve my practice and be the greatest version of myself. Additionally, it means more people will connect with my work, which in turn means I am creating more visibility for African art and influencing change on a larger scale. Lastly, this will inspire a whole lot of young African creatives to believe they can do it because I did it.

Finally, if you could invite 6 people to dinner, who would it be?

Yinka Sonibare, Kehinde Wiley, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Njideka Crosby Akunyili, Kerry James Marshall and Swizz Beatz.

 

Witnesses (detail), 2016, Charcoal on Paper / Ken Nwadiogbu

 

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