Ken Nwadiogbu Spearhead's His Own Movement Coined 'Contempo-realism'
Updated: Aug 24
‘The least empowering thing you can do for the youth is to not give them a voice’ - Ken Nwadiogbu, 2019.
We sat down with the Nigerian artist Ken Nwadiogbu to discuss his journey thus far. From his beginnings in Civil and Environmental Engineering to becoming a Contempo-realist artist, evolving his craft over time and why his art must touch on issues that affect society rather than producing work that is just aesthetically pleasing.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwadiogbu holds a B.Sc. in Civil and Environmental Engineering with no formal training or education in art. His passion for exploring art started whilst he was studying to be a Civil Engineer. He mentions how this is not the path his family wanted him to take. Furthermore, how he does not think he was meant to be an artist, as everyone wanted him to become a civil engineer. He fell into the world of realism learning techniques from the internet, perfecting his craft that we see today.
Ken will be exhibiting his Contemporary Hyper-realistic Works of Art in London from the 3rd to the 6th of October 2019 at Brick Lane Gallery, in a solo exhibition titled contemporealism which will feature more than 25 of his original works.
Before we delve into the interview, we need to understand how the term Contempo-realism came to be. Coined by Ken, the pioneer of the method, contemporealism is a fusion of Hyper-Realism and Contemporary art. For Ken, he finds himself challenged regarding how Contempo-realism can hold its own weight in the rigid world of art. Not wanting to be boxed into being just a hyper-realist, Ken notes that ‘there is a bigger world than hyperrealism, there is a bigger world out there’. Hyper-realists tend to be stereotyped because the genre of art is not as respected as other forms. Although artists are credited for their technique, it is not seen as a real art form, as there is no pure expression to it.
Interview by Natasha Muluswela
"My art shows empathy to put yourself in a young Nigerian's shoes and tells you what is going on."
What are some of the challenges you face as a Contempo-realist?
Ken: The battle of being a contemporealist is that you are misunderstood. People look at my age and think who is this young guy? There are art movements that already exist, so people are confused with the meaning of contemporealism. I am not trying to be Picasso; I am trying to be me.
How do you overcome the challenges you face as a Nigerian artist?
Ken: Nigeria is a mature country so when you are young, no-one cares for your opinion, you have to fight to be heard because you get stereotyped or police will stop you. In Nigeria, at least one youth gets shot per week by the police. The least empowering thing you can do for the youth is to not give them a voice. So, I find every restriction as a platform to show you I can do this. My art shows empathy to put yourself in a young Nigerian's shoes and tells you what is going on.
Your work looks at societal issues such as race, feminism, and politics. What does it mean to be a political artist in this current climate?
Ken: It is scary as you do not know what will happen next, but it is not intimidating. One of my pieces is a woman taking the place of a man, this woman is dressed in the regalia of traditional rulers which is taboo, as a woman can never be a king in Africa. In the olden days’ men fought wars and came back to their hometowns. Women actually fought wars and came back to their own towns and got nothing. We should crown these women. On social media, people will come after you for this which is interesting, but it does not intimidate me.
When you look back at your work over the years, how do you feel it has evolved ?
Ken: My aim was to be how hyper-realistic can I become? You cannot draw a face more than it is, so eventually, when you become completely hyper-realistic that is the end. It grew from that to trying to say something to how can I add more to it? I am trying to expand the narrative and tell a story
Do you leave your art open to interpretation or do you provide that message for your audience?
Ken: I leave it ambiguous; I like it when people debate, it creates a discussion. It gives people the ability to accept work in the best possible way. It also allows people to attach their personal experience to the artwork.
"I used to do all the behind the scenes work. Now I have the freedom to sit back and draw."
How do you know when a piece is done?
Ken: It is never done, to me I like to see my pieces as complete no matter where I stop. If I try to complete it, I can go forever. I work on one piece at a time, I like not to distract myself on different subjects.
How do you still make art your passion, rather than looking at it as a job?
Ken: One word…management. I used to do all the behind the scenes work. Now I have the freedom to sit back and draw. The good thing is having people that look out for you business-wise and creative-wise. Along the lines you learn that business always comes first, you cannot take it personally as it is just business.
What advice would you give for young artists wanting to turn their passion into a career?
Ken: Let me give you an analogy, you are on a platform separated by a river and another platform on the other side of that. The problem with a lot of young artists is that they see a pavement linking one platform to the other with people walking on it and think to jump on it. Very few people make platforms for themselves. People that follow forget that they will be at the back so, they are always going to be at the back. Hopefully, this pavement does not break due to the flow of people. My advice is to create your own pavement. You do not have to draw like me or my style, just be yourself and do it in your style.
"When you talk about the origin of blackness the first person that you think of in the art world is Basquiat."
Not only are you an artist but you are a mentor to emerging artists. How do you stop them from losing their niche?
Ken: Why I like young people in my circle is because they have not been corrupted by the system. If you can guide these people, you can save them from the system. If I can create exactly what I want to create, I think it would be amazing for Nigerian young artists. A lot of young artists in Nigeria do not think that they could be successful outside of the country. There is so much talent, they are people like me all over Nigeria. I am going to be curating a show and hopefully, it will give these artists a platform, that’s what I want to do.
Who is one artist dead or alive that you would like to collaborate with?
Ken: Basquiat. There was a point that I used to work like him, I like his presence of blackness. When you talk about the origin of blackness the first person that you think of in the art world is Basquiat. The imagery that comes to your head is this pure undiluted expression of blackness. That is exactly what I stand for, that’s why I do what I do. There is richness in blackness. If there is one thing to take away from this is that ‘there is a bigger world art world than hyper-realism. You need to express yourself in the best way you can’.
To see Ken’s work live and direct, make sure to stop by at Brick Lane Gallery in East London from the 3rd to the 6th of October 2019. Get tickets to the show here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/moniker-art-fair-tickets-62979066082
You can see more of Ken’s work on Instagram @kennwadiogbu
and website: https://www.kennwadiogbu.com/artworks