By Agatha Emeadi
While battling Fibromyalgia, a health challenge that breaks all body system with unexpected constant pains, Ijeoma Ogwuegbu, a University of Port Harcourt Industrial Chemistry graduate, sprout out like a sore finger and became a celebrated artist/painter. Her 60×100 massive paint named ‘Adanne’ without a formal training attracted over 150,000 likes on social media.
And following her antecedents as a pure science student to being a bright journalist, a passionate gardener and an accepted artist/painter, one would simply agree that Ogwuegbu is an all-rounder with a magic finger.
Whatever she touches becomes gold even as she fights hard to live with the ailment. In a chat with Sunday Sun, it becomes obvious that Ogwuegbu has found future amidst her pains.
How did arts/painting emerge in you from being an industrial chemist, a script writer, a gardener and now a professional artist/painter?
In 2019, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (FB), an ailment where one is constantly in increased or depreciated pain. It translates to the fact that I became a prisoner of the condition because there is no aspect of my life that it did not affect. Pains constantly comes to my joints, skin, muscles etc. I also experience other unexpected sharp pains that runs through other parts of my body. The condition and pains somehow became an all-consuming system which I am learning how to live with it. After the diagnosis, I lost almost everything I had. I lost my job; my marriage had ended before the diagnosis and in the midst of the crisis, I am constantly in bed and cannot do much. The way the illness affected me exploded my life and everything about me just scattered. Some days I will not be able to get out of bed because of pains and the brain is massively affected. I was a Script Editor with M-NET, but couldn’t do most of the work and had to let go of that job. On a certain day when I could not do much, I went online, on YouTube and saw a video of a woman making a paint. I became curious and looked at it interestingly and felt it will not be too hard and I could do it to create beauty around me and pass time. That was how I started to paint on 3rd May, 2020. When my first paint was posted on social media, I got a lot of encouraging positive responses. People called personally to encourage me in the midst of my ailment.
How did you learn how to do colour-rhymes, the canvass and the curves?
It was on the Internet while watching lots of painting videos. On another day, I saw suggestions on Lydia May’s dot sharing on Facebook. It also looked interesting, I went into it and discovered the artwork that I was doing is called dot arts. That was how I started. I started watching her videos on YouTube and Facebook. But because I did not have anything else that I can do; I found out that I can sit on the floor and do this without stressful thinking and that was it. To me, I was just learning the skill, passing time and trying to create beautiful moments around me, not knowingly the work was actually making great impact outside. While learning and painting within just a year, the appreciation, recognition, acceptance and celebration were huge for me. As I was doing it to create beauty around myself because when I am in bed and in pains, I do not think of anything beautiful. But once I get my canvass and paints, lie down on the floor as comfortably as I can; I will start dotting and never was I thinking of selling them. It was just to create beautiful moments around me. There are times, I would thought I have completed the work, but after some time, I will see what to add to bring it out better. (Pointing at the large work) She said: “This very artwork that broke the Carmel’s back on the Internet is so large and not a very common artwork. I have been checking online trying to find out if people have done this size, but have not seen. It took me two months to complete it because of its detailed nature. Honestly, painting has been a great outlet, comforter, joy, ideal which has allowed me to find myself again while living with Fibromyalgia.
How did Fibromyalgia hit you?
It was January 2019, I was at home editing some scripts and stood up as I wanted to get down, I felt a sharp pain at the middle of my back, I tried to move my back, it was as if I had a stab, I called on my sister who tried to push my hand and it was like torture. I went to the hospital and was given a muscle relax by my doctor. Two days I rested and thought I was stressed because I got a bit better, but one Monday morning, it was like electric shock that ran through my head and went down to my feet. Since then, the pain has been constant, the only times I could get a bit of myself is when I go to the hospital and get pain relief injection which I became addicted to at some point.
What are the effects and side-effects of Fibromyalgia?
The frequency of the drugs was affecting me. I was going to the hospital almost on a daily basis to get injections, sometimes I would sleep when the pain is so bad. If one rests, the system picks up and that was what I went through. There is also the fatigue that could be compared with one’s battery being unplugged. I could lie down on the bed and cry all day, at that point, I cannot even sit up because the eyes would be surrounded with pains. From January all through the year, I did not know what was wrong with me until December when I got the diagnosis. One of the terrible things about Fibromyalgia is how it subverts to other parts of the body and the fact that it has no cure. So, what one learns to do is to live with it. As I speak to you now, I am in pain. I have several levels of pain like the skin, muscle, joint, bone etc. It can be any part of the body and that is the worst thing about it. There is no limit the pain stops. It was in January this year, I was lying down and my hand and arms started twisting. A lot of the drugs that I used are also used for other ailments which have other effects on other things. It is hard to get one drug that takes care of everything because FB affects other parts of the body. If one complains of a particular part, such would be taken care of. I have taken drugs that have given me side effects and that also means I have to stay away from most drugs. That is why I say that I found joy in painting because if one is in pain, thinking of the side effects of the drugs, what next? All my dreams, aspirations in life gone with Fibromyalgia? So, as I thought of a happy worthy life, my recent discovery of painting truly comes through to mind. This is so comforting for me, especially when there is a lot of pain. One of the reasons I lie down is because Fibromyalgia does not like one moving around. I have told myself that this is what has come to me, so what next? Every time I paint, it is as if I am thinking my way out of Fibromyalgia. Now, discovering a new hidden me, painting has allowed me an outlet to subvert Fibromyalgia. When people also buy my art, it is a big bonus. Some works when I am through, I would ask; did this come from me when I am not born with? I did not study Fine Arts in school neither have I practiced it somewhere, even till now, I cannot draw a straight line with pencil, but painting is it for me.
Describe the excellent painting that introduced you to the world?
Some of the notable works I have done are named Adanne -100×60 inches, Ulumma- 80X40 inches, Maiden head – 32x40inches Goldchain – 32x40inches, among several others. ‘Adanne’ is the biggest and simply amazing. When I bought these big frames, I asked myself, am I sure I would do this? But when I started, if I had known it would have been these sizes, I probably would not have bought them, but today, it has all paid off. The most important part is the different levels of techniques and designs; I might start one and change it along the line when fresh ideas come in. I have never seen any painting as big as that. I drew the leaves first before adding the paints on them. This came out of the fact that this client wanted something much sizeable like a 60×100 inches, when I sent him the finished work, he never envisaged it could be as great, beautiful and arrests attention and we re-negotiated the price. Right now, I know, I am in pain most times, but I have a peaceful life now. On my 40th birthday, I asked myself what will my legacy be. I would never have conceived it was painting, never! Did I even know it was possible to pick a new skill like painting to the extent of becoming good at it? Someone tweeted my work and that post had 144, 000 likes. The page is based in America and not a Nigerian page. Having such good moment is almost like a validation that one is going through the right direction. I never knew I could do this because I know, I can write; but what happens with Fibromyalgia is that it will help you look into other areas of your life that ordinarily one would not consider. Dealing with the pain on a daily basis is not just funny at all. Now, I have learnt a bit of the techniques, and can talk briefly about painting now.
What are your encouraging moments?
Now, I am actually thinking of how to structure the work because there are so many responses to it. It means I will get a proper studio and arrange myself. Orders for different sizes have started coming because of the way my story has gone out. I was in a place where I wasn’t my full potential, honestly, there is no way I could think, this would be the future. Under one year, my paint is sought after in various foreign countries. It has allowed me to express myself, I don’t have to perform magic. The day Fibromyalgia did not allow me to get up from bed, I will lie down without stepping on anyone’s toes. To structure this newly discovered business; means that in a month, I will not take more than three jobs because I would not want to push myself to trigger my delicate situation.
What has happened to your gardening business?
My gardening business is still there, I still attend to it the day my health condition agrees with it, but I just have the grace to do many things.
Will you go to school to learn more?
The fact is that I learnt it from YouTube; but my own imagination has been helping me to push forward. The school is structured that one must be in class, do assignments and write examinations; that does not fit into my life now. Most friends and acquaintances who have seen me struggle with the pains of FB, but cannot do much to alleviate my pain, are excited that I can find my life again. It also means that one is transferring joy to them. My paintings have a lot of acceptance, encouragement and applaud.
How was growing up like?
One of the things I credit my parents, especially my mother, for us as young women was the idea of one’s self-consciousness. My mother drew the lines of acceptability and non-acceptability. Her regular question was don’t you know who you are? Who you are should not do certain things that give confidence that one is important, valued and necessary? Having that grounding allowed me to go into the world with a guided mindset.