BetterShared sits down with Lagos based film director and contemporary artist Azuka Muoh.
In what ways does your art reflect your personality?
I think that my style is surrealism, and I want to say that I actually live out surrealism. It shows in some of the things that I do. I like to switch things up. For example, my moniker 'arresting yellow' is quite strange. People always ask me what that means, but that was the point of it. I wanted people to ask what it means, I wanted them to be interested in it. I incorporate illustration into my medium as well, some of my work looks like illustrations. I’m very particular about colour, I think it’s because of my background in design. I was a designer for a few years, I still am, but I worked in corporate design for a while. I’m definitely a colour person. I like to coordinate my colours and approach everything that I do from a design aspect. I actually follow some strict design rules when I’m make my artworks, I very carefully calculate proportions, spaces, and colour theory, so I think that’s how I manage to put some of myself into my work.
Do you think your occupation as a film director has influenced how you make your art?
The truth is, although I was a photographer for a few years from around 2015-2018, I only actively started film this year. I used to paint, I paint very well, and I actually draw too. I’ve had a lot of galleries urge me to go back to painting, saying that the market for prints is not great and that digital art isn’t real art. However, being a designer, being a motion designer and wanting to tell stories with film opens me to the digital world and to technology. I want my art to be in that space as well. Although digital art is art, there’s some things that digital artists can do that traditional artists can’t, and vice versa. As much as everything is art, being in some spaces exposes you to different kinds of partnerships and collaborations. Being in digital tech spaces opens the possibilities for collaborating with people who aren’t artists.
I used to be into traditional art, but I think the whole technology journey started when I picked up a computer. I just fell in love with software.
"There’s so many musicians, so many storytellers, so many directors and artists, and so your message could very easily get lost in the crowd. It’s important to say what you want to say differently."
Would you be interested in moving into the NFT space?
Yeah, I actually thought of that. I tried it earlier this year. People are going crazy about NFTs at the moment, but I think it’s easy to get lost in that crowd especially as there’s only some NFT sites that are curated. Most of them aren’t curated and people are creating all sorts of things. I think that NFTs are great for 3D artists that are not going to be in traditional spaces per say. I also want to be in the traditional spaces, like in the way that you have galleries that sell art.
For now, I want to develop more as an artist first before I try out NFTs.
There are elements of the surreal in your art, many of your pieces feature tyres. Is there a reason why you have integrated this particular image into your work?
The tyres I use them to symbolise the patriarchy, so here in Nigeria where I’m from, I’m from eastern Nigeria, there’s something about our culture down there that teaches men to embrace ruggedness and aggressiveness as masculinity. There are some things that “define” a man, things like alcohol, promiscuity, houses, cars etc. I would call it a primitive culture, but it’s not so primitive because it happens all over the world, it’s just our way of showing it. I use tyres to represent all things rugged, but I sometimes I also use bottles of beer, I just use the tyres more often.
"Everybody knows a story, but not everyone can tell a story that other people empathise with. There’s a lot of power and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it. If you can tell the story, then you must tell the story."
What themes are central to your art?
My work is all encompassing, but I like too tie everything back to our perception of masculinity because with me I’ve not lived in Europe or anywhere else, but over here it’s literally almost all that there is to life. There’s a whole host of other things, but you look at it and somehow it comes back to that, it comes back to what women are in life, what men are life- masculinity, patriarchy, success, politics, sex. In some new works, I’ve been trying to instil a sense of calm, I want to show people in spaces just living life, but in their being and existing they carry the essence of the patriarchy with them. We do, women do too and it’s not anybody’s fault. It’s just the way that we’ve all been raised. The patriarchy is not men versus women, it’s everybody versus the patriarchy. I put the tyres on women, men, boys, and girls. Somehow, even though we try to enlighten ourselves we still carry that initial orientation.
Are there any cultural/ artistic movements or issues that you are drawn to right now?
For now, I’m naturally going with the flow of what whatever is around me. My most recent works are shifting from patriarchy and masculinity to something more political, they’re about the situation in Nigeria right now. I’m very much influenced by my environment, so whatever is affecting me directly or indirectly I like to create work around it.
There isn’t much that I can say in an interview about the situation in Nigeria, but the best I can say is, think of a body engulfing itself because of an illness, that’s what’s happening in Nigeria right now. It’s attacking itself; it’s trying to be purged of the sickness and as a result it’s eating up its citizens. It’s very hard for creatives and for everyday people to continue living in a Nigeria that is different from the one that we used to know. Nigeria has always been in a somewhat terrible place, but it seems to get worse as time passes. That’s currently where we’re at and we can only hope for a change.
Where do you see yourself going as a creative in the future?
To be honest, I just want to be happy. I don’t like to think too much about, of course I have dreams but at the end of the day I just go with the flow. I just want to be able to create work and have people look at it and feel as though they’re my brother or sister because they can relate to what I’m saying. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the situation where you know or think something, but it seems as though there’s no one else thinking the same thing. When you do you just want to hug the person, so I want people to see my work and feel that somebody is speaking up for them. I just want to connect with people.
To purchase any of Azuka's work click the link here, or follow Azuka on Instagram @arrestingyellow.