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Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do.

I am REWA, a globally celebrated visual artist, and my heritage-inspired art has been featured in fairs, museum, and gallery exhibitions across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America – notable exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in New York; Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town; Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans; the Contemporary Art Centre New Orleans (CACNO); the Nigerian National Museum.

My work has been showcased at several renowned art fairs including Art Miami, Art Expo Chicago, Art Market San Francisco, and Art Dubai. I have collaborated with global brands such as Unilever and Nike on campaigns like the Vaseline Showcase at the 2019 Essence Festival and the 2019 Women’s World Cup Nike “Don’t Change Your Dream, Change the World” campaign. My work has been featured in several episodes of Law & Order: Organized Crime, ABC Network’s Black-ish, and Oprah Winfrey’s OWN “All The Single Ladies” – three hit television shows in the U.S.A. Most recently, six of my artworks were featured in multi-platinum, Grammy award-winning, global superstar Usher’s new music video, Ruin, ahead of his record-breaking half-time performance at the Super Bowl LVIII.

My works have been acquired by notable collectors including Beth Rudin DeWoody, CCH Pounder, and the Bentata family, and also form part of corporate collections including AXA XL.

I hold a BSc in Physiology and Pharmacology (Combined Honours) from University College London (UCL) and was recognized by the Lagos State Governor on International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022, as one of the EKO 100 Women for my commendable work across finance and the visual arts.

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Can you name some other female (artist) that inspires you and explain why they do so?

Ndidi Emefiele, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby are incredibly inspiring artists and while they have not influenced my work, I am a huge fan girl!

Ndidi Emefiele’s work captivates me with its boldness and vibrancy. As a fellow mother, I deeply admire how she seamlessly integrates her life experiences into her art. Her ability to balance motherhood with a thriving art career is a testament to her strength and creativity. Ndidi’s art, with its rich textures and layers, often explores themes of identity, gender, and cultural heritage, which resonates deeply with my own artistic pursuits.

Toyin Ojih Odutola is another artist who inspires me greatly. Her intricate and detailed drawings challenge conventional perceptions of identity and narrative. Toyin's exploration of personal and collective histories through portraiture is both intimate and expansive, offering a profound commentary on race, culture, and the human experience. Her dedication to her craft and her ability to convey complex emotions and stories through her art are incredibly motivating.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s work is a masterclass in merging the personal with the political. Her use of mixed media to create richly detailed and layered compositions reflects her experience of living between Nigeria and the United States. Njideka’s exploration of cross-cultural identities and her ability to weave together various elements of her heritage into her art is both innovative and deeply moving. Her success and recognition in the art world serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of authenticity and perseverance.

These artists inspire me not only through their remarkable artistic talents but also through their resilience and dedication to their craft. They have each, in their unique ways, contributed to a richer, more diverse representation of female perspectives in the contemporary art world.

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What has been the most challenging aspect of being a woman in the arts?

The most challenging aspect of being a woman in the arts, particularly as an African, self-taught artist and mother, is navigating persistent gender and cultural biases while balancing professional aspirations with personal responsibilities. Despite progress, the art world often remains male-dominated, and African women artists face additional hurdles in gaining the same recognition and opportunities as their counterparts.

One significant challenge is the limited representation and visibility of women, especially African women, in major exhibitions, galleries, and collections. This disparity can make it difficult for us to achieve the same level of exposure and validation crucial for career advancement. Overcoming these systemic barriers requires immense talent, perseverance, and a supportive network advocating for greater gender and cultural equality in the arts.

As a self-taught artist without the supposed pedigree of an MFA, I also face skepticism regarding my skills and legitimacy. The art world often places high value on formal education and credentials, and not having an MFA means I have to work even harder to prove my worth and talent. This adds another layer of challenge, as I continually strive to demonstrate the quality and depth of my work without the backing of traditional academic accolades.

Balancing motherhood with a demanding art career is another major challenge. As a mother to a young child, I often juggle parenting responsibilities with the need to dedicate time and energy to my artistic practice. This dual role can limit my ability to participate in residencies, travel for exhibitions, or engage in professional development opportunities essential for growth and networking in the art world.

Additionally, the emotional and mental toll of constantly having to prove oneself in a field where women's and African women's contributions are sometimes undervalued is significant. The pressure to excel and break through gender, cultural, and educational barriers can be exhausting, requiring a great deal of resilience and determination.

Despite these challenges, being an African, self-taught woman in the arts provides a unique perspective and strength. It has taught me the importance of creating supportive communities, advocating for equal representation, and using my art to tell powerful, authentic stories. These experiences have not only shaped my career but also fueled my passion for contributing to a more inclusive and equitable art world.

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Could you explain more about how being a woman has affected your career?

Being a woman has had a profound impact on my career in both challenging and rewarding ways. As an artist and a mother to a 4-year-old, I often have to balance my professional ambitions with my responsibilities at home. This dual role has limited my ability to participate in residencies, which are often critical for artists to develop their work, network, and gain exposure. The demands of motherhood mean that I have to be more selective about the opportunities I pursue and find creative ways to integrate my family life with my professional aspirations.

However, being a woman has also enriched my art and my perspective. My experiences as a mother and a professional have given me a deeper understanding of resilience, time management, and prioritization. They have also inspired much of my work, infusing it with themes of identity, heritage, and the multifaceted nature of womanhood. I've learned to navigate the art world with a unique perspective, leveraging my personal experiences to create authentic and powerful works that resonate with diverse audiences. In summary, while being a woman and a mother has presented specific challenges, it has also provided me with unique insights and strengths that have shaped my career in meaningful ways.

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REWA is wearing OSI JACKET.

What would you like people to notice in your artwork?

In my artwork, I would like people to notice the profound connection to my Igbo heritage and the unique cultural narrative it presents. My work, which I refer to as Igbo Vernacular Art, is deeply rooted in the traditions and customs of the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria. This label is significant to me because it captures the essence of my art, existing outside formal academic or Western dialogues and instead anchored in the life, culture, and place from which it is derived.

My art portrays the modern 'afropolitan' woman—forward-thinking, progressive, uninhibited, and self-aware—while still rooted in the duties and responsibilities dictated by ancient customs and traditions. This duality is a central theme in my work, reflecting the balance between independence and tradition. Essential themes such as coming of age, engagement, marriage, and community roles are fundamental to my portraits, blending old customs with modern interpretations.

A distinctive feature of my paintings is the way I render the skin of my subjects, using a stained glass technique. This approach makes the complexion of my subjects agnostic, transcending traditional notions of skin color. The vibrant, multifaceted skin tones symbolize the diversity and complexity of identity, allowing viewers to see beyond racial or ethnic distinctions and focus on the cultural and personal narratives conveyed through the art. Finally on the stained glass skin, much like with Catholic churches and religious symbolism where stained glass windows often depict scenes from the Bible, saints, or other religious figures and served as visual aids to help convey stories and teachings to churchgoers, many of whom may have been illiterate in historical times. The colors and designs in the skin of my subjects, conveys cultural concepts and narratives in a visually engaging way.

I want viewers to recognize the expressive aesthetic in my work that aligns with Contemporary Modern Art, focusing on form, composition, and narrative. My art contains a unique vocabulary built on a strong sense of place and history, much like vernacular dialects are anchored to a particular land.

Ultimately, I hope my work transcends transactional interactions and becomes part of the broader art historical dialogue about Africa and Nigeria, beyond the generalized label of Contemporary African Art. I strive for my art to be seen as a distinctive iteration of customs and traditions, reflecting a specific location and people, and contributing to a deeper understanding of African cultural narratives.

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