We prefer to call him Akanji! And we stay in awe of how much passion and brilliance that escort each masterpiece he creates. Akanji is an ICONIC artist that thrives on the beautiful vulnerability to speak his truth and share his story via the works he creates. Beyond his dynamic creativity, Akanji is able to paint pictures with deep and powerful concepts most relatable.
Join us on this special annual ISSUE- As Akanji shares a truckload of inspiration on some of his works, the meaningful conversations they stir and other glimpses of his journey in entirety.
Beyond beautiful, your works are everything. How they carry very relatable messages within. How they speak to the heart at a glance. All, reflecting a deep thought process behind them. Can you please share some highlights of how you began your creative journey as a visual artist?
Actually, I’ve always been a very visual person. I love to look, I know that sounds very, very bored.
Yeah. When I was much younger, I used to like to sit in class and just watch my classmates. I would watch the shifts of their faces, how their bodies move, how their faces move, everything was so interesting to me. And I needed to capture that. So over time, I taught myself how to draw because, you know, where I grew up, being an artist wasn’t so wanted or fancy. I wouldn’t say shameful, but it wasn’t glorified.
That is what they’re like, look at that guy, he’s not smart, that’s why he is doing Art. So I needed to do that while not being the butt of jokes or anything. I didn’t go to a class, I had to teach myself over time slowly and that was when I began, honestly. I found myself just continuing to draw people’s faces over and over again, celebrities, my friends, this person, that person, faces I found interesting, people I found interesting.
So yeah, that was how I began and I chose the use of a pen because, you know, it was the most easily available material for me. It was just a hobby and then when I grew up, it was just this thing that I always do.
What would you consider to be the major influence of your works?
Oh, okay. I think one of the strongest influences that I would say, affected me personally, was when I was in my JSS1 and I had a very nice teacher. She gave us this practice. She put out food on the table and she was like, oh, you guys have draw this. Class draw this cooler. Everybody drew the cooler. I drew the cooler. But after I was drawing the cooler, I realized my cooler looked like the cooler. Everybody else’s cooler looked like gloves of shit. I’m sorry. I don’t know if that’s really scary. But, you know, so when I handed my cooler drawing to the teacher, she looked at it.
Everybody was looking at the time. It was that moment I realized I would have to actually draw.
Do you have any special story behind using the ballpoint pen for your works?
It was just the cheapest thing I could find honestly. I know it sounds like a lot. The cheapest
thing I could find at the time was a pencil. For them, pencils were really bad because they didn’t give enough darkness to the drawing.
What does Art mean to you?
Art is spiritual, it’s everything, it’s the beginning. It’s the narration of all the history and it’s the calculations of all the physical, everything is art. Think about it, everything, each and every thing is art. The planet we live on is literally hanging at a very specific point in space just far enough from the sun to get to sustain life. That’s hard. That’s beauty. That’s uniqueness. It’s everything. I am out. You are out. We are all out.
We are grateful to have you onboard this special ISSUE with the theme- Girt, in celebration of inspiring men in the creative industry, also to mark the 2022 International Men’s Day. We understand the growing need to build a culture where men can express emotions like shedding tears without the fear of being looked down upon. The need to create spaces where men can be their most vulnerable selves with family and friends without the fear of being seen as or called a weakling. Do have any personal related experience to these? Can you share any quick tips that could help to normalize mental health related issues for both men and women?
What I can say is, there are very very few people who understand the depth of the suffering that our generation is currently going through, especially young and women from the age of 23.
We had depressed. We don’t know what the future is. We cannot trust the past. We cannot trust what our friends told us. We’ll go to school, get an education. Well, that doesn’t work anymore. We don’t understand TikTok. We don’t understand what’s funny anymore. We don’t get the music. We literally don’t know what we’re doing.. We literally have the most confused generation. We have no idea what we’re doing. Because we can’t trust what the past told us and we don’t know what the future holds for us.
Everything. The persons I know over 25 less, than 30 are very scared. So yeah, we need to find something, I don’t know, find a way to talk about that. You know, I mean, people are lost. It’s all right. I don’t know. Just maybe.
From how it reflects your thoughts and feelings during a past moment of extreme depression, to how it serves as a form of self therapy, your project the ‘Dead Mind, Red Mind Series’ say it all. What’s the inspiration behind the title of this series?
The minds are dead. They are extremely, extremely hungry. Everybody’s hungry. The secret is, you want to read that one? I’m trying to describe these emotions in a way that everybody can understand them, because they will be able to see it on paper. This is the mind of my generation, I think. I don’t know if I’m getting this right, but at least the minds of people I have talked to, the people of my generation that I’m speaking to.
This is what’s going on with us. We feel like our minds are dead, and we are just puppets, you know, money making machines. We have a society that doesn’t care about the individual. It’s like, what’s the point of everything? Dead, it feels like we’re dead, but we’re just moving through the motions, go to school, get it, then have kids, retire at 60, consume the same thing.
What’s the point of everything? The happiness, where is the search for joy, search for purpose, where is it, where is the thing that gives life life.
This is not life, this is walking death. This is what I’m trying to describe in the piece. That space between not knowing where you are and not knowing what’s in the future, also not knowing even if what you were told is true.
So, yes, it speaks a blank depth space. And see, in our parents’ generations, they didn’t notice this is the connects. They truly believed going to school, doing this routine shit is gonna give them happiness.
Oh, I’m gonna go to school, I’m gonna get a good job, I’m gonna get a good wife, I’m gonna get a good husband, I’m gonna have good kids, and I’m gonna be happy.
That’s why the country is for them. That’s why the world is burning right now. Because if they were happy, we should be happy too.
We should have some sense of happiness open. At least no one would ask what’s going to happen to our futures.
We are Nigerians. We don’t even know if there’s going to be a country after the election is done. We don’t know what’s going to happen.
We don’t know. The other, it’s a different thing for us. Right now, a lot of my friends are running away from Nigeria. They’re like, oh, what if the Israeli fights after the election is done? They literally run away. Going to the UK, going to Canada.
They don’t want to be hit. They don’t want to follow that very first step, but they don’t know what’s in the future either. This thing, I don’t know how to explain it.
I’m not talking to established people, I’m not talking to other people. I’m talking to such
depressed people who don’t know what they’re going to do or what they’re doing right now.
Do you feel creatives in developed countries are at advantage than those in developing countries?
Developed countries have much more advantageous situation than we do. Like, using myself as an example, I had to use the pen, the ballpoint pen, because I literally could not afford anything else.
That wouldn’t be the case in developed country.
Also, when I was growing up was art classes where seen for dullards, you know, you have to be dull. Conversations like ‘I’m actually in science class. Why are you in commercial class?’ These things don’t exist in the global world, in the global world, in the global country. So yeah, they are huge, huge. There are opportunities for book plays, opportunities for just having a normal life that even enables you to create art. Those factors are much more of a pretty very large gap between the two.
Balancing work time and rest time is a struggle for many Creatives. Please share a few tips on how you try to balance work time, rest time and family time?
I will be getting a zero on this. . I just draw for hours until I’m tired. Then I draw. Then I do it again. I don’t have time. It’s my priorities. At this point in time, I have nothing else. It’s my life. I just draw all the time.
What does success mean to you?
Success would be acknowledgement from the world. Success to me is just everyone seeing my Art.. That’s success. That’s all. That’s all I want. I want the world to see what I can do. No, it’s you. Oh not for that reason, not really. Not just for the education. It’s for the lost ones in society. I’m the other footless. I want the whole world to see this so that the ones who who’s feeling as much emotions that I’m trying to capture maybe can recognize it and know they are not the only ones who feel that way. Because when I was feeling this way, I felt like I was the only one in the world. So when I draw, I think about these things.
Your work ‘IRAWO’ beautifully represents a woman who glows inside out. Please share more on the inspiration behind the work.
She was, she had very dark skin. Her skin was so dark, it was almost purple. Some people were like, wow, that’s such amazing skin. It contributes to people who are dark, dark skinned.
Because I know we in Nigeria would make fun of people too. We don’t exactly appreciate that skin. Almost everybody’s bleaching their skin, trying to become lighter. Nobody wants to become darker. Here I was for those who are so dark, the sun, the moon reflects in their skin. It’s different kind of beauty. When you look at it from the artistic perspective, it takes a different kind of beauty .
Please briefly tell us something we do not know about Adedji Charles.
I don’t know what people don’t know about me. Okay. Well, I think people already know this. My Instagram is full of it. But I love my hair. I love to braid it. I love to do all sorts of Art with it.
Then about something spontaneous. I got two tattoo machines a while back. I am planning on tattooing most of my skin myself. Ha ha ha. I love it. I definitely deserve it for me. So yeah, that one is what I’m planning to do. I have the machine already.
I’m still working on the designs.
Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one color in that pallette, what would that be and why?
Black. Black. The color is always. Black is the queen. Queen King, whatever you want to call it.
Massive Love Akanji!
The ICONIC Team