Johnson Eziefula, a final-year pharmacy student at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, is a self-taught artist, who expresses himself in a technique he calls contemporealism – a coinage from contemporary art and hyperrealism. Art, for him, is a medium for addressing socio-political issues, he tells Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
Another regular day found Johnson Eziefula trying to realize his long-nurtured idea. This was sometime in March this year, in one of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital’s hostel rooms. At his instance, an informal photo session was held for his friend and contemporary, Obinna Martins.
It was one of the photographs that he used as his reference material to produce his subject in a form that evokes 3D on a 2D surface. What eventually came out of his effort was a 40 x 48 inches charcoal and the acrylic hyperrealistic portrait he titled “Entirety Interrupted 02” – a sequel to another work exploring the same theme.
The theme? Eziefula had long come to the conclusion that: “We are all cultural hybrids”. Having spent all his growing up years in Lagos, he had encountered and interacted with millions of people with different cultural backgrounds. These interactions, he soon realized, left their indelible imprints in his psyche. “How can I say I am typically and completely Igbo?” he mused. “No, that’s a fallacy, sentiment in play again subconsciously. I dress English, eat Igbo, sing Yoruba, watch and digest American, communicate in Pidgin. How then am I totally Igbo?”
The same conclusions, he added, could be drawn about Africans in the diaspora. They, like everyone else, are products of cultural hybridization. A blend of diverse cultures makes them who they are.
In an earlier work – a 56 x 40 inches charcoal and African wax-print on paper painting – he titled “Entirety Interrupted 01”, he tries to integrate the concept of cultural hybridization with the theory of human nature. This, he explained, was to bring about a well-detailed visual illustration and evaluation of this analogy. Therefore, he hopes through the work, to depict the process through which the society molds individuals into its creatures and thereby interrupting the so-called cultural entirety.
“Relative to the visual representation of this piece, I made use of the African wax-print (also known as Ankara),” he said. “Of course, the African is in quotes, because of the history of the wax-print. Its multiple flat colors are my artistic stamp of identity. I find it quite interesting that it is widely perceived to be originally African while its history stems from the Dutch, then moving on to Indonesia and finally to West Africa. This further buttresses my point about the interrelationship between different cultures and tribes across the world.”
Eziefula adheres to the aesthetic canons of an artistic movement he calls Contemporealism – an obvious coinage from Contemporary art and Hyper-realism and named after a method devised by Ken Nwadiogbu. The so-called Contemporealism is not quite the same thing as Contemporary Realism, the movement that emerged out of New York in direct defiance to the then-popular Abstract Expressionism.
Like Nwadiogbu his mentor, Eziefula – a final-year pharmacy student of the University of Lagos – is a self-taught artist. Driven by an obvious passion for drawing and painting, he is known for his charcoals, pastels, acrylic and African wax-print fabric on paper and canvas as well as for installations. His works, which are usually hyperrealistic depictions of human subjects, draw their inspirations from contemporary socio-political issues. They are distinguished by their conflicting, but soothing, blend of colors.
“I create art out of love, pain, anger, frustration and a desire for things to get better,” he explains. “The society of today is in a state of dystopia. Hence, I employ art as my instrument to voice out [my feelings], and influence whoever is paying attention.”
Born in the Lagos mainland neighborhood of Surulere, he had developed an interest and love for art during his childhood years. He recalled drawing and painting on every surface that caught his fancy and which he deemed suitable. Then, there was also his eldest brother, who used to paint and draw as well. He recalled watching with excitement as his brother created comic characters and soon followed in his footsteps. “My love for art was already in existence. But, I would say he helped usher me into the practice.”
Of course, his art practice did not start immediately. His years as a secondary school boy, during which he found himself swamped with school work, had first to flit by.
Even as the third born among his parents’ four sons, he felt their solicitude as intensely as he was the only child. They, like his siblings and friends, encouraged and supported his interest in art.
The zeal for art was rekindled between 2014 and 2015 after he had graduated from secondary school. This was when he had the eye-opening encounter with the works of the British hyperrealistic artist of Nigerian descent Kelvin Okafor and the Italian realistic artist Emanuele Dascanio. He was also drawn to the works of Ken Nwadiogbu, who had been a long-time family friend. Over time, he became more proficient and soon ventured into art practice.
On October 11, he teamed up with Rukevwe Ettoh, a friend who shared his passion for art, and the duo Emmanuel and Brammy Agbarakwe to hold an art exhibition, titled RadX, in a popular hall in his university campus, called the New Great Hall. This was probably the first official art exhibition to hold at the University of Lagos’s medical school.
“It was quite a successful and great experience, starting from the period of planning till the day of execution,” he reminisced about the exhibition, which featured young artists like Vincent Obinka, Tobiloba Talut Kareem, Adesina Adegboyega, Victor Ubah, Emmanuel Odumade, Emmanuel Agbarakwe, and Nnoli Chidinma, among others and was concluded by musical performances.
The idea of holding this exhibition was first mooted sometime in 2017. This was when he was in his second year. “I was unable to execute it due to several circumstances,” he explains. “I was my first year in medical school. So, I had to get a grip on the new environment before any other thing. Of course, there was also the problem of finances.”
Two years later, the exhibition became a reality with the help of team members, family and friends and, of course, the Grace of the Supreme One. “The idea behind the exhibition was to connect and/or expose youths to art, by bringing it directly to them as close as possible. It was also intended to serve as a platform for young artists to showcase their works.”
So, why then did he choose to study pharmacy instead of fine arts? He believed he was misinformed into believing that art, as a profession, wouldn’t be lucrative enough to sustain a hoped-for future life of financial stability.
Now, drawn between pharmacy and art, he fears his passion might eventually gain the upper hand. But, – who knows? – he could still successfully combine both vocations.
Meanwhile, his hyperrealistic works are attracting a Pied Piper-like retinue of fans. He recalls being often stared at by admirers as though he had mystical or superhuman powers.