Justus Ojinnaka is the creative director at Justus Arts, a Lagos based arts centre. In this interview with Toyin Komolafe, he opens up on how Nigerians perceive art works and why he is so passionate about the arts.
Why are you so passionate about the arts?
Art to me is a way of life. When I create any piece of artwork, I have the capacity to leave a better world for those who come after me. I love what I do and I love to express my stories, emotions, love, advice and encouragement through my works. I feel so fulfilled when I create artworks for my clients. My passion for arts has contributed to my success story, it has kept me going, and it has always created the quest for innovations and professional development in me.
Does your upbringing have anything to do with your chosen career?
Yes, my upbringing generally enhanced my art career. Though, my parents being teachers always wanted me at a young age to do more of reading than drawing, especially when they sight me sketching on my drawing book and painting with crayons. But I will say they also guided and encouraged me to work hard to uphold any of my chosen career with diligence. So I really tried to balance my academics between the theories and practical but I never loosed focus on my passion in arts.
What artists inspire you?
Just to mention a few out of many great artist who have really inspired me both locally and internationally, the works of late Ben Enwonwu have always standout to represent his true art proficiency; he was indeed a great Nigerian artist. Also internationally, Kevin Hill in recent times, through his great artworks and painting skills had stirred a lot in me.
What is your favourite experience as an artist?
My favourite experience is representing my team to handle and play a major role in presentation for a proposed art project to the arm of the Imo State clean and green initiative in 2008 as a young artist. That has been a notable step for my career.
What obstacles do you think artists in Nigeria face in making and exhibiting their works?
I think the major challenge facing Nigerian artists centre is their inadequate financial strength and lack of proper support from the necessary agencies and other art loving capable individuals to produce and exhibit their works. Other obstacles could be due to lack of accessibility of some art materials, tools and modern arts equipment.
Do you think Nigerians are really passionate about arts?
Averagely, Nigerians are passionate about arts because they do admire good works of arts, but I think the issue rests on their general patronage and utilisation of artworks. In other words, an average Nigerians admire a displayed artwork in the street but feels disinclined to acquire the same piece of artwork for his home unlike in the Western countries where the utilisation of artworks are substantially more.
Is setting up an art studio very capital intensive?
It is a very capital intensive project and depending on one’s disposition and commercial/client’s target. Basically a good space with necessary utilities is very important, followed by furnishing and equipping the space with relevant tools and materials for the various kinds of works to be engaged. In and all, these basic needs are not financially available to an average artist in our society.
Who are your typical clients?
My clients begin from any art loving individual, art collectors through galleries and museums, other corporate organisations which include corporate business offices, hotels, hospitals etc.
Do you think Government pays enough attention to this industry?
The government has really done quite a lot in the industry through the National Council for Arts and Culture. Arts development in our country also takes on the peculiarities of the diverse culture and traditions that make up our nation. Each of these cultural entities had developed and sustained different techniques and way of arts presentation that formed part of their adaptation to their immediate environment.
In the contemporary sense, some innovations have undoubtedly been made by individual artists locally, but their output still falls short of the requisite standards for not only domestic patronage but international competition as well. As much as this competition is inevitable, owing to globalisation, good steps must be taken to improve the standards of locally made arts, encourage the local artists and ultimately create the enabling environment within which arts can thrive.
Therefore, I think in order to revive the arts industry, it is imperative for society to first appreciate and acknowledge the economic and cultural significance of our arts. Lastly, the government can pay more attention in contributing to the basic framework for upgrading of the local artists through various forms of financial support.
How rewarding is the arts?
Subjectively, arts have been very rewarding to me in so many ways. Firstly I feel so fulfilled when my clients embrace any piece of artwork with satisfaction, it motivates me and creates more passion to my work. My arts serve as means of positive communication, which have also earned me some good recognition in the society and that is one of the good steps to a successful life to me. Lastly, the financial reward from the artworks has been reasonable and encouraging to keep me on track in the industry.
Do you think artists are given enough recognition in Nigeria?
Not enough recognition so far, but I know so many things come with development and civilization. I surely believe that there is hope for adequate recognition in years to come. However, consistency and professional development are part of the basic keys to draw that recognition.
What advise can you give to beginning artists?
Nothing good comes easy in life and pursuing a career in the arts isn’t always an easy road. Thus, my advice to beginning artists is that you must love what you do, you must also be focused and determined. Also, learn and improve from genuine critics but don’t get distracted. Keep an open mind and don’t ever be satisfied with yourself when it comes to arts. You can settle down into obscurity. There is always something new to learn and no one person knows it all. We acknowledge the fact that sometimes some things work out and sometimes they don’t. So if you truly believe that you are passionate about arts and want to follow the career, then stay on course.
What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future?
I am currently working on a couple of new projects for galleries exhibition in Lagos and also attending to my individual client’s works. However, my future plans include, but are not limited to owning an operational 21st century art gallery for artworks production, artworks collection from other artists, displays/exhibitions and sales to our targeted clients.
Can you tell us about you?
I am Justus Ojinnaka, born in Umutanze, Orlu L.G.A., Imo State of Nigeria. I have demonstrated skills as an artist at a young age, spending time as a boy sketching drama pictures in the pages of my drawing book. I completed my primary through tertiary education in Imo State before I moved to Lagos State to commence work.
I had one year intensive professional art training in Owerri under my mentor, Onyema Ukaegbu before my admission into Imo State University in 2004 and I graduated in 2009. During this period till present, I have been involved in different arts activities ranging from group artwork shows, exhibitions, mostly in Owerri, also production and sales of my works to corporate and individual clients.