Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Project DONE- Series 7

In our world today, the Internet is clearly threatening to replace Television and Radio. More visible to this is social media’s capability to disseminate news much quickly incomparable with TV or Radio. Serious minded media platforms have begun to forecast the future and taken smart considerations to inject online streaming into their operations. This made possible by the Internet also provides a participatory audience as they transmit programmes. Local and International media stations now have different social media profiles for almost all their programmes. 

More often  than none, I get news updates via Twitter or Youtube. I hardly watch television anymore and only get lucky listening to radio while driving. My computer and smart phone seem to deliver all I seek. From public affairs articles to gossip, sports to entertainment, videos to audio, the Internet via my computer or blackberry provides so many websites and apps bringing all within my reach. As satisfied as I am, some friends still believe am limited using a blackberry until i get an android phone. However in all this cheap luxury, if I happen to be in Nigeria, there are two exceptions - I must have ability to generate my own power and be resident of an affluent area to get fair telecommunication signal. The average literate Nigerian has access to at least mobile Internet if these two exceptions are met and uses it to his/her contentment. 

Since the January Nigerian protests up until now, the Internet via social media has been effective in relaying people's rationalization to the standard of public service delivery. Recently, this steered up public discuss to how social media is or should be used. Government representatives claim it’s been used to spread false allegations about their operations while social commentators and opposition representatives claim to simply be sensitizing the publics of a democratic society. I would avoid this debate on here and probably have my opinion made known over my twitter handle (@dragdapperdon) or, dedicate a separate write-up to the topic and invite many people to disagree with.. Project DONE seems to have chewed up my time; i hardly debate societal issues with articles anymore. I have embraced social media whole-heartedly in line with my vision for Project DONE. It further gladdens my heart that it was what gave me direct access to our 7th and 8th participant. On this note, it’s quite obvious I would promote it as a tool for any phenomena in this contemporary world. The Internet promises to be bigger than we currently exposed to and the quicker Nigeria gets its power and telecomm issues permanently solved, the better for us tapping into its advantage. Lets drop all the non-contextual and unready policies like “electronic-much society” and focus on ability to crawl before we aspire to walk. 

Creating artistic expressions from an environment and having a lucrative business off it by the roadside is Omotayo Akinpelu’s idea of a genuine artist.  He’s been on the corner of Commercial Avenue Yaba in Lagos for over 15 years. Happily married and living in his own home, Omotayo Akinpelu gave approval after meeting him to share his story. He shared with me his daring works, overcome challenges and the concealed truth behind art and exhibitions. He features as Series 7 of Project DONE.

My name's Omotayo Akinpelu. I was born in Lagos; had my primary, secondary and tertiary education in Lagos; read fine art from Yaba College of Technology. I'm married and a highly principled person. I believe in doing the right things at the right time and have worked all my life towards success.

Q. Is this person also Teemax Concepts?

A. Teemax Concepts is different to Omotayo Akinpelu though both share similarities. Teemax Concepts is also an individual. He is a guy on his own who wishes to express himself very freely. He just wan dey…. he wan be himself…he wan live free and use the environment and society around him to expresses himself. His mission in life is to express this vision. Teemax Concepts expresses himself through horticulture, landscaping, paintings, graphics designing, fashion designs, civil beautification, sculpting, carving, plays and drama, theatre arts and so many other things. Teemax Concepts is an individual of expression.

Q. How and when did this inspiration for expression germinate?

A. It started from childhood days. The days of Super Ted, Spider Man, Incredible Hulk, Voltron and all on NTA 2 Channel 5. In those days I was a big cartoon freak. I watched a lot of TV and was always interested in animations. I used to draw sometimes also but the cartoons further sparked interest into drawing more. I found myself expressing cartoon characters in my head through drawings whenever I wasn’t watching TV. From primary up until secondary school, I was always the best fine art student. Whenever we had homework to do, most classmates brought theirs to me, pleading I help do. From there on, I begin practice small small dey develop my skills. I come from a poor but humble background and my father used to push me all the time to read my books and drop drawing. He never thought drawing could turn out to be what it is for me today. Even at the time to go to university, na Mass Communication I intend to study but my brother advised I try to nurture this talent. He said I had a great thing come very easy to me and I shouldn’t abandon it. That’s how I changed to Fine Art. While going to school I had to also look for a means to survive because my parents could barely afford it. I started first with graphics and designs on transport buses, kiosks and signs for different types of small business owners. Doing their logos and posts for them and collecting small small money here and there. From there, I started improving my skills to draw professionally. I started trying out portrait paintings and sculpting and as time went on, I got better and better and began creating all these things you see now.

Q. What were your challenges while you started Teemax Concepts?

A. I had a lot of challenges starting up oooo…Hmmm. It wasn’t easy. You fit see me now as someone wey don arrive but if I think back as how things started, he reach make I cry. Before university, I once traveled to Libya in search of a better life but was forced to come back. Nothing was there for me. When I came back, I came empty handed. I had a lot of financial, physical and spiritual challenges starting Teemax Concepts but now I thank God. I thank God because I have overcome them and all is going on well. I started from the roadside in Idiroko around 1993/1994 before I then gained admission into YabaTech and moved to this corner in Yaba around 1998/1999. This place you see now na dump before. Na place wey dey dey abandon refuse. I normally passed by whenever I was in the bus and imagined the potential it had or how I could transform it. One day on the way to see my mother at Sabo Market, I decided to come down and speak with people around to allow me beautify the place and display my work. I was directed to the company that had its fence around the refuse and asked them if they would allow me modify the place and show my creativity. They said they would not pay me a dime but if I insisted I could go ahead. That’s how I started doing works here and it is the way it is now. All the works you see on this fence are stuffs done since 1998 and they still look this good.

Q. From 1998 up until now, how would you say business has been so far?

A. Well, it has not been easy but we thank God. I have come to realize in every situation that has to do with life, there would always be difficulties when you about moving to the next level. There would always be huge challenges when one is about to make progress.  I stared using this place for business in 1998 but didn’t start making profits until late 1999 or around early 2000 but from then on, I have built water fountains on several building sites, decorated and sculpt swimming pools, done interlocking tiles for various mansions, family portraits for different people, paintings of different sizes, symbols of authority for local governments and so many other things. Expressing myself through art as a business has had its challenges but it has also shown me its rewards. When I first start, nobody dey buy my work with better money. I go do solid work, spend big money on materials but people would come and price it for stipends. I noticed this very much and focused on providing that wey people need and fit afford. I went into sculpting for construction sites and doing paintings/drawings that reflected more on things one could easily relate and associate with in the society around me.  Today, from expressing myself through art, I have gotten married, built my own house, own a car rental outfit and also write scripts and assist in productions of several plays and drama. I personally chose to remain doing business by the roadside from my personal belief that the most talented and natural artists in Nigeria are local ones and found on the roadside.

Q. Who are your clients ?

A. I make jobs for any lover of art! Anyone who appreciates and loves art or expressions is a customer for me.

Q. In all that has to do with Teemax Concepts, which area would you say has been most profiting financially for you?

A. I can’t say one particular area, all has been profiting for me. Most especially when I have to do them on site work like on building or construction projects. This roadside you see me now is like the last bus stop for me. It’s like my office but I’m always travelling up and down in Nigeria doing different jobs. When am less busy, that’s when you see me here. I come relax, mingle again with people around me and fine-tune one artwork or the other have done on here ages ago. I have clients from many places and go do site work- sculpting, painting or drawing for them. I also go for months to locations when involved in one play or drama. You know I told you I also act plays and dramas and write scripts.

Q. Hmmm interesting. How did you get into that?

A. I got into acting through doing props and setting on locations. I was always getting offers to build traditional artifacts especially in our Yoruba plays and drams with fetish themes. Na me dey always design the set wey dem go use and would remain on location as the play or drama was being shot and watch the actors perform. As time went on, sometimes the Directors introduces other roles or adjust something in the screenplay that could better complement the story and use me for the role. Little by little I got interested in acting. I would play the role and also do the props and setting for the screenplay and that’s how I got involved into acting.

Q. For me, this gets more interesting. The manner in which you are individually empowered happens not to be just for a one kind of business necessity. It compliments different settings and applicable in several business and pleasure environments. Through expressing art or rather society through art, you’ve made society itself vulnerable to what you do. You’ve made lovers of art be it for personal or business reasons associate with you in seeking services of at least one of the various things you self-empowered to do. Through your creative mind, you’ve attracted needs of different services one way or the other and to me that’s powerful. You render in service so many things expressions deals with. With art, you’ve moved into cinematography and I think that’s very remarkable. Does anyone asides you give creative ideas Teemax Concepts uses for his works, I mean do you have employees or partners?

 A. Yes. Society; I see society as my individual partner of different characters. Every character it shows turns out to be my inspiration. The things it expresses day in day out- the petrol queues, the hawkers in traffic, the fisherwomen in Makoko, the unemployed graduate, the ife and modakeke crisis, the riches in a swamp called Niger Delta, the traffic warder at ojuelegba junction, the BRT buses, our nation’s insecurity, indecently dressed young boys and girls, the single mother…. all these and much more give me creative ideas for expression.

Q. OK I get you. You’ve been doing this for 15 years, as anyone else come to meet you to learn or seek employment?

A. How person dey employ person for dis thing wey I dey do? Not being an artist now but expressions done through art. If I see anyone I feel is a genuine expresser of art or his/her society, I would never put him/her under me. It’s like clipping their wings. Expressers of art need to be free and self-driven without boundaries. I would rather motivate or support him/her to expressing themselves the way they seem fit. I would help them self-discover themselves. Yes, some have come to me to learn. I can say about five since have been here but again, you can to an extent teach art. I have tried to teach art but understood it’s not a thing you can say one plus one is two or hold tangible. It’s in-born. Most guys sef that have come have been very impatient and left not at the right time. If you want to know a real artist, he would never draw with a pencil, he would always use a brush. A banker, doctor or housewife can paint as long as they have creative minds or an eye for mixing colors, but a real artist has to know how to draw, not paint or shade; draw, and with a brush. It’s about bringing the reality out of your drawing, breathing life into it. This was the most difficult for guys that came to me wanting to learn and I always told them without drawing, you couldn’t proceed. They weren’t patient to grow to the stage most necessary, drawing with a brush.

Q. But what happens when you make mistakes drawing with a brush? Wouldn’t you have to start all over again?

A. There are no mistakes in art. It’s all about expressions, knowing and understanding how to express your idea. Whenever you seem to come across something that threatens to be a mistake, your creativity is put more to the test to turn something great out of such threat or challenge. It’s all about self-expression.

Q. Wow.. . Enlightening.  I see, so you turn the mistakes into a style. Have you done any exhibitions to show and promote your work over the years?

 A. No. Never....and to be honest, I don’t think I would do so anytime soon. If and when I decide to display my works, I have over 30 pieces in paintings and drawing un-displayed, it would be for my own museum or gallery. I have personal and principled reasons why I don’t do exhibitions and I let you in on some. They the more reason why I had to develop ideas and re-discover and empower myself so as to do other things of expression so that I can survive just like you earlier pointed out. Such principle is quite demanding in holding on to and you must know what you doing.  I don’t do exhibitions because am not a collector, am an expresser of art! You discover real and natural expressers not through exhibitions, but in the most rural or uncomfortable places. These are people who translate their environment or whatever it is around them into expressions that create impressions holding your attention. In my opinion, most people who do exhibitions are those who understand this fact and simply turn to collectors of finished products. Most times, they are quite wealthy and influential and can organize big platforms to showcase several ingenuity purchased from the local artists but more disappointing, go as far as calling it their own.  This takes away the empowering imagination of the authentic expressers personality or environment that ought to further complement perception of the finished product. Both this and the finished product naturally ought to go hand in hand for the work to be fully appreciated. But when the finished product is hosted in an altered highly promoted platform, to me, it reduces the value of the finished product. Every expression ought to have a story that’s why during exhibitions you see artists explaining the painting or finished product to the potential buyer. Picture a scenario where it doesn’t need to be hyped or promoted but its meaning easily understood from the original environment that hosts it or which its inspiration came from. There’s a cabal in this industry…if you are not part of that cabal and do exhibitions you would only make peanuts. You’ll do exhibitions; people would come, appreciate your work and offer half a million naira in the presence of everyone. By the time they actually come for purchase, they’ll bring N50, 000. The cabal which rules this industry have certain fetish and fraudulent gimmicks that guarantee bad success for most artists- smuggling of illegal drugs in and out of countries through artworks, carving idols for sorcerers, arms racketeering and all sorts of nonsense. If you want to “quickly” appear successful, they’ll promote you and take you all around the world with these gimmicks and you’ll make money from it. How long the money lasts is the question and where you finally end up is the answer. These are the hidden rules and business agendas most successful and influential artists adopt. You see certain paintings and art works being sold for up to half a million dollars, not that some art lovers don’t afford and purchase such works but more often than none, on this side of the world and other parts, its rare; there’s often something illicit about the painting/artwork inspiring such transaction. I have my own focus and wouldn’t want anything to ruin it. Without exhibitions, I have built my own home. Without exhibitions, have bought my own cars. Without exhibitions, have gotten married, what more should I begin to ruin my future for?

Q. Hmmm. I’m a bit short of words. My thoughts are distorted; but I love being distorted because it provides me motivation to do more research and engage in critical thinking about such things happening in our society. Do you promote Nigerian Culture through you work?

A. These things I mention dey happen for our society my brother and only an artist who has the fear of God and a clear conscience would reveal these things to you. To answer your question - yes I promote 9ja culture through my work and even in my lifestyle. I express that I’m Nigerian first before Yoruba. As you see me so na traditional outfit I wear and na the second time you dey jam me like this. Not only in my work, I express myself through clothes, accessories and hairstyles that promote Nigerian culture. Sometimes I even plait my hair. I do all kinds of hairstyles- koroba, koju soko, patewo, suku and Benin ones too. Also, the traditional outfits I wear you can’t say they are yoruba. You can’t put a tribe on them except that they African.

Q. So what are your dreams and aspirations for TeeMax Concepts?

A. Thank you. When I told you earlier about my vision and focus and not wanting anything illicit to ruin it, this was the question I expected you to ask next. I’m passionate about expressions not only art. I love expressing things in society through art and my ambition and dream is to someday my own museum and gallery. Like I said, I have over 30 paintings and artwork have never displayed and all these ones you see here by the roadside or have shown you today are my old works. I plan not to display my most passionate works not until 15 or 20 years from now. I intend to build my own museum and gallery by then for people to come and appreciate genuine art and something extraordinary in value my children can hold on to. People will come to see how I have preserved these works over the years and how I have expressed my influences and environment through art. Money is a very persuading emotion and if I display these works today by doing exhibitions, I’ll have someone offer me something my flesh won’t be able to refuse. I’ll rather stick to my principles and not display these works yet so that my dream and ambition comes to past. This also is my advice to artists out there; be patient, endure, nothing great comes without pain. Keep your artworks/paintings…the older the wine, the finer its taste.

Teemax is a manifestation that shows with self-principles and ambition, nothing is impossible. The ability to create susceptible phenomena and a clever patronage from society through individual empowerment is applauding. What he now delivers as trade out of self-discovery, has transformed him into profitably doing business as an artist, graphic designer, sculptor, screenplay writer, actor, fashion designer, builder and most interesting for me, hope dealer. Yet still, his focus and ambition for the future still has capacity to guarantee survival for people in his environment and also, his generation to come. He is indeed the kind of citizen Draggnation would love to have. I have no doubt in inducting him into DraggNation. Congrats Teemax. As we continue this exercise highlighting possibilities that come with self-discovery, showcasing individuals in our society worth celebrating and laying bare hidden drivers of Nigeria’s socio-economic condition, please give room to be inspired!

Contact Name: Teemax Concepts                                                  

Telephone Number: 08035107015, 08023213504

Jide Alara.

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