Nigerian History and Future through Digital Art: Interview with Davida Enara

Nigerian History and Future through Digital Art: Interview with Davida Enara

My decision to depict Nigerian history through my work, at this point in time, was birthed from an almost uncontrollable feeling of responsibility to salvage what is left of a country that I believe is worth fighting for. I suppose you could think of me as a hopeless romantic, a patriot counterintuitively enchanted by a country that continues to disappoint its people.

Davida you describe your work as “Nigerian history through digital art” how did you begin your journey into art.

I should clarify that my interests are varied and my identity is not solely tied to my nationality, so Nigerian history is the theme of only some of my work. That being said, art has always felt natural and comfortable to me. When I was younger, I spent most of my free time creating art in a myriad of forms. From making comic books, to constructing cars and doll houses out of discarded boxes, artistic expression was always what came naturally to me. Reflecting now, I suspect that the comfort art gave and continues to give me, is owing to its ability to calm my copiously vivid and curious mind. Art, not just visual, but also literary art, has proven to be a most trustworthy and indispensable companion, by helping me to distill the contents of my bustling mind and express my thoughts almost as vividly and succinctly as they appear in my head. 

Another reason I have continued on my journey with art, is because it is very giving, allowing observers take from it, whatever meaning they need, owing to its subjective nature. 

Lastly, art is truly an extension of my consciousness and sensibilities and I have witnessed how expressing my feelings through art (when I’m bold enough to share it) makes those who observe it feel related to, heard, or just simply nudged to think more deeply or differently about any given subject. 

So, for these qualities of art I have touched on, I have continued on my journey with art and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Why choose Nigerian history as a theme for your work? Why are you interested in history and what sort of stories are you inspired by?

As I mentioned earlier, my identity and work transcend my nationality.

That being said, Nigeria is a country with tremendous potential, but too little to show for it. My decision to depict Nigerian history through my work, at this point in time, was birthed from an almost uncontrollable feeling of responsibility to salvage what is left of a country that I believe is worth fighting for. I suppose you could think of me as a hopeless romantic, a patriot counterintuitively enchanted by a country that continues to disappoint its people.

Furthermore, although I have felt a flurry of sad emotions contemplating the state of affairs in Nigeria in the past, these feelings came to a head following the brutal killing of Nigerian citizens during the peaceful End SARS protests last year. In the midst of feeling absolutely hopeless about Nigeria, my almost immediate reaction was to figure out how I could celebrate it, create art about the reasons it is beautiful and rich and diverse, which is why it is worth fighting for. However, that is not how growth or progress is achieved. I have come to find, that if you truly wish to change yourself for the better, you have to take a good, long, uncomfortable look at yourself until you discover the root of the character flaws, habits and hurts that you wish to remedy, as well as celebrate the good qualities that you possess in order to build on them. Then you will make way for a much improved version of yourself to emerge. Put simply, you have to come terms with all that you are before you can aspire to be more.

Consequently, just as I would do for myself on a quest for self discovery and improvement, I decided to rummage through Nigeria’s past and history and hold a looking glass up to Nigeria’s face.

My art is the reflection from that looking glass (as held up from my unique position in the grand scheme of things). My hope is that by holding up a mirror to Nigeria in this way and confronting her with her reflection, and encouraging others to behold it, I can help contribute to the creation of a new national consciousness, one that stems from an acute sense of self and identity through developing a knowledge of our history and our past – the good, the bad and the ugly.

When we as citizens understand our history in this way, being aware of our successes and our shortcomings and developing an unequivocal sense of self as a nation and people, I believe we will make a great deal of progress in reaching our full potential.

Davida, can you tell us about the process of making your work? We want to know a little about the significance and scope of your work. How do you make your work? Are there particular tools/materials/software/technology that you use? Is there a connection between your process and your artwork’s message?

I usually start by making sketches on paper and then I transfer them to my laptop using a digital pencil and a digital illustration/animation software called Krita. I also use the software to tweak my sketches and add colour to produce digital paintings. At first consideration, it would appear that my medium and message juxtapose each other, as I use a rather modern medium to depict old stories. However, I believe this seeming juxtaposition serves to highlight the future-focused purpose of my art. Although I am currently telling stories about Nigeria’s past, I do it with the hope of securing for it, a better future.

What is African art? How would you describe “african art”? What does African art mean to you? Do you think African art is important? Do you think that Africa is reflected in your work? If/so how? why not?

If I had to describe African art, I would say it is art created by Africans, simple as that. As a form expression of African people, I believe that African art is a viable means for us to reclaim and maintain autonomy when it comes to how our stories are told, which is of utmost importance. African art can also serve to reconcile us back to ourselves, as a continent that has undergone a great deal of loss and trauma both from within and outside the continent’s borders. However, I don’t think the purpose of African art should be relegated to just a reactionary one. It shouldn’t have to have political undertones or address issues like slavery and colonization and war. On the other hand, African art doesn’t have to be overly optimistic, the kind of optimism that is also reactionary. I believe African art is simply an expression of African people, and that is enough.

Lastly, to answer your question about if I think Africa is reflected in my work. I would say that Nigerian history is reflected in my art (and not even all of it!). I think to some extent, some other parts of Africa are reflected in my work as well, simply because there are certain aspects of Nigeria’s history and experiences that are shared by other people and countries in the continent. However, my art does not reflect Africa as a whole. I think it would be rather naive of me to claim that. 

Where do you find inspiration? Can you share some of your favorite artists and why they have had a meaningful impact in your work?

I find inspiration everywhere. If I can sense it, I can most likely draw inspiration from it. 

I particularly love the written word, so in terms of visual art, I tend to be especially inspired by pieces that have a poetic or narrative quality to them. I really like Ukiyo-e art, a traditional form of Japanese art that was most popular between the 17th and 19th centuries. It’s scenes from history and folktales are particularly captivating to me, because they tell stories and have a way of drawing you into a different time and place. It’s very dreamy and full of character, you should check it out!

An artist whose work inspires me is Yuko Shimizu, a Japanese illustrator who lives in New York. Her work reminds me of the traditional Ukiyo-e art I described earlier, but she adds her own contemporary twist. I also love the dynamism and bright colours that are characteristic to her illustrations. Her celebration of her Japanese roots coupled with her own stylization reflect her cognizance of her unique position in the world and the value and promise it holds. As someone who wonders if I have the right to tell certain stories, or why my voice should be heard, I am thankful for art like Yuko’s, which reminds me that my experiences, interests, perspectives and the things that make me who I am are unique, worth sharing and have the potential to contribute something meaningful to the world.  I think when we offer new perspectives, it will serve to make people’s worlds bigger, yet all the more within their reach.

Another artist I admire is Ian Mwesiga. I believe he is from Uganda. I am in awe of his ability to not simply recognize the beauty in the mundane, but also his prowess in depicting it through visual imagery in simple, yet striking ways. I am also captivated by his use of colour and scale, as well as his defiance of perspective to create compositions that arrest your attention as an observer. His work inspires me to keep pushing boundaries with my art, both in technique and in subject matter.

Lastly, Where is your favorite place to work? Please share a photo.

My favourite place to work is outside, but the weather doesn’t always comply! So, I will show you my next favourite place to work, which is my desk. I think our surroundings play a big role in our mental state and capacity to do good work, so I like to be surrounded by things that inspire,  stimulate and calm me, hence the plant, books and not much else!

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