By Josfyn Uba
For Enifo Agodo, creativity is a family tradition and having drunk from Bruce Onabrakpeya’s rich cup of artistic knowledge, too, everything falls in place for her.
Enifo’s art is a vehicle to address issues affecting women in different areas. She recently organized an exhibition on contemporary art and avant-garde fashion titled “Adorn” at the Freedom Park Art gallery in Lagos.
In this interview with Daily Sun, she walks down memory lane on her small beginnings and her grandma’s impact in her career.
Where did you get the inspiration for the arts?
I would say it is in my genetic code. We have so many people in my family that are creatively inclined.
I have two uncles on my mother’s side that are sculptors and metal workers, Uncle Kevo and Uncle Aseve. I also have Uncle Ejiro Agodo, who is in his own right an artist. So, basically, that is where I learnt from. I started with them and they inspired me.
What was it like when you were starting out?
My mum used to be a banker and when she was busy, she would drop me with my aunty who was a fashion designer or with my uncles, the sculptor and the artist. There, I would sit down and they would engage the small girl in their midst by giving me crayons or tell me to design a dress. So, that was part of what I did while I was growing up. So, it kind of nurtured this creative side of me and that really helped.
One of your works captures your grandma. How did she inspire you?
My grandma is my champion. There is nothing that you want to do that my grandma would not support you, and that is what she does for all her children and grandchildren. If she is nervous about it, she would tell you in a loving way that doesn’t discourage you from doing it. She was a housewife but she also made clothes, she is a fashionista who loves handbags and jewelry. But one thing that she loved so much was her clothes gallery and it represented everything that she is. Everything she does is for her children; she has called me like three times today.
Apart from learning from members of your family, where else did you develop your skills?
When I was in primary school, they weren’t teaching us arts and my mum felt that I needed more in-depth education. She used to enroll me in art-based summer camps and I learnt how to knit, sew, beadwork and all that. Funny enough, I think that has helped me in the type of media that I use now. Sometimes, I use fabric, needlework and I like texture. So, I put as much texture into my works as possible. By the time I got into secondary school, I met Mrs. Idohi and she is the strictest arts teacher anybody has met. She is an artist now and was very strict. Out of the 34 students, she picked only six students to do arts. She literarily picked us and told every other person that they should leave. So, she kind of nurtured that talent and she put it in my head that arts could be a career. I never considered arts as a career despite having uncles and being creative. It never occurred to me then that arts could be a career.
Is this the only thing that you do?
I have a side hustle. I am a media consultant, I do social media management for Chuck Gallery in UK and everything I do is still art-related. To be honest, I didn’t go to any art school. I went to Roger Williams University in Rhodes Island to study Media Communication. While, I was there, I decided to take some courses in arts. I minored in arts in the university but, even then, I still wasn’t taking it seriously. I think the point at which I started taking my arts seriously was when I was with my brother in Florida. I printed something I had done and posted it online, for the first time. One of my old professors asked how much it was. It then occurred to me that I could sell this thing and I sold it to him. After that, I put more online and people were buying them; that was in 2014. Then we came to Nigeria and I wanted to move my business here but it didn’t work out that way.
However, I have learnt a lot and I have become surer of myself as an artist. I have found a way to communicate with art and I have found what elements of arts are important to me.
Most of the works on display focus on women. Is this your focus or it is in line with the 2022 IWD theme?
First, I would like to say that it is in line with the theme. But to be honest, I am just in an inspiration mood when the subject revolves around women. These include women in my family, people I meet on the streets, and I must say that women are doing a lot, especially this year. We have made a lot of impact; we have stood up for ourselves, especially in topics that we don’t usually talk about like sexual violence and domestic abuse. We are speaking out in a way that has not been seen in years. So, I just wanted to celebrate us, celebrate our gender.
In addition, I also like to focus on discussions on our bodies. Usually, when I paint a woman, it is not just because her body is beautiful, it is not meant to be sexualized in anyway. Instead, it is to start a discussion on her control. How much control do we as women have over our bodies? It is usually dictated by everybody but the woman. We never know what the line is with what you are wearing. Some people would say that you are too conservative, while another would say that you are showing off too much skin and the goal post is always shifting. So, for me it is actually a conversation.
Let’s talk about 2020 and COVID-19 lockdown. What did that period offer you as an artist?
I feel very guilty about this because for a lot of people that year was difficult. For me, it was amazing. I didn’t have to socialize, I was by myself in the house, painting, drawing and I went live so many times on social media and was so inspired by the silence. I was churning out a lot of works and didn’t feel it financially because people were doing a lot of impulsive buying because they were locked in the house. They would see it, like it and buy it.
You have said so much about your mum and grandma. Tell us about your dad?
My father is the practicality of my works. He is the reason I know how to value my talent. We also like to joke in my family that the women are right skilled, which is creative, and the men are left skilled, which is analytical. My father and my brother are very analytical. My brother would look at an item and say the price is this or that I have not priced it well, I should increase the price. They see things from the business point of view, not just creative side. I am lucky because I have a family that supports each other.
What are the other things that occupy your time?
I love travelling. I love the beach. I love my friends. Sometimes, we can just go to somebody’s house, sit down, eat and gist. I have a list of places that I would like to travel to in future.
Mentoring helps a lot. Did you get people to mentor you?
One of the people that come to mind here is Papa Bruce Onabrakpeya. He is part of the inspiration for the works. During my first exhibition, I met his aide who introduced me to him and he has been a wonderful person. I think because I have had such bad experiences with people before I met him. When I met him, he was so nice, so helpful and so outgoing compared to where I was coming from. He is such a lovely person, always willing to help and he gives you the impression that we are all supposed to help each other.
Let’s talk about women and the political space. What do you have to say?
I believe that women in politics are doing very well. It’s the same for women in technology, STEM, tech and everywhere. We should be in every single field. We should shine because we can shine. Women are creative, we are strong. We have managed to run households and organizations. We can build empires and we have really broken the glass ceiling. I think we should just continue doing more of that. Today, there are more women in tech, engineering than ever before and I am very proud of that. I think that for me is great.
What are the other areas that you are likely to go into in future?
To be honest, I really want to go into the tech space. I was just talking to someone who is a technologist about how technology is changing and we are moving to the next level. I am also watching the metaverse closely. Mark Zukerberg is breaking grounds with it and making it more realistic every day. I am looking forward to a point where I can have my arts gallery in the metaverse because it is better than it would be here because I am constrained by time, constrained by a certain group of people locally. It is digitally open to everybody, brings a broader audience, and creates arts that cannot wane overtime. I think technology is where I would like to push into next.