It’s one thing to be an Artist that creates a masterpiece, and it’s just another thing to be an artist who is a masterpiece. Jacqueline is both! She thrives so effortlessly combining her family life and her career as an artist. Definitely one of those who make it look easy while they put in all the hard work, passion and consistency ‘behind the scene.’ Here’s to a Queen who combines all these with a heART for real time impact!
Join us on this special Anniversary ISSUE- As Jacqueline shares on her awe-inspiring story and a truckload of inspiration on her journey as a versatile creative.
Enjoy and Stay Inspired
We see your works as Art in its own class. The depths even from their titles to their interpretations. The stories they tell. The enlightenment they bring. The emotions they stir. Everything. Can you please share some highlights of how you began your creative journey as a multi-disciplinary artst, and what you consider most fulfilling about it right now?
Anytime I’m asked this question, I’m short of words because just the sheer ability to be able to do what I love and succeed at it is a beautiful thing for me. That’s a thing that’s worth mentioning. It’s actually quite humbling because there are so many people that go about their lives and they don’t have this feeling of fulfillment because they’re doing things that they’d rather not be doing and I think it’s a rare privilege to be able to just do what I love and be happy and successful while doing it.
Then the second thing for me which is also very important is being able to impact people with the work I do. I started drawing at the age of five, that’s my earliest memory. When I was pursuing the idea of becoming an artist full-time, I didn’t think of doing it because I want to impact people’s lives; I thought about doing it because that’s what I love to do but somehow along the line you realize that people’s smiles, people’s purposes, people’s visions are tied to yours and the more you come into the fullness of yours, the more they come into the fullness of theirs. And I think that’s been the most humbling thing about my career, just being able to impact people knowing that there are people who look up to you and who get inspiration from the work that you do. Even across diverse fields, so it’s not just people who want to be artists, who want to toll your line of profession, there are also other people who look up to you and say ‘If Jacqueline can do this, then I can too’. So these for me are the two things about my career so far that have been very impactful and humbling if I could say so.
If I would say highlights, there have been many highlights, but I think the first one that’s worthy of mention would be deciding that I wanted to leave traditional art practice and be a ballpoint pen artist. I’ve always just been someone who follows my heart, I’m unapologetic about that. If I feel like there’s something I should be doing, that’s what I do with all my heart. So I went to school and I trained as a painter. I mean when I was going to art school, I didn’t think that I was going to art school to learn how to paint, I just wanted to draw and then when I got there, they said ‘oh you’d have to choose a specialization’ and painting was the closest thing to what I wanted to do. And after art school, I came out and I was confused because I wanted to be drawing and it’s like once you come out of art school and you’ve not followed your passion, you’d be confused for a while. I think I finished art school in 2010 and then in 2014, after four years of being confused in the market as to what my identity should be, I decided that I don’t really care, in Nigeria, we say ‘all die Na die’…at this point anything that wants to happen should happen. I’m just going to do what I love. And I remember all the voices at the time, people, senior colleagues, respected colleagues, friends, and collectors telling me how that was a bad idea. At that time, there wasn’t Instagram, nobody was drawing, and people who were drawing were drawing sketches for their paintings or for their sculptures, nobody was drawing the way people are drawing now and it looked like an untracked territory and a place where bad things will happen if you go there, but I decided to follow my heart and follow my passion and then maybe link up with also people who are doing something similar to what I was doing because I’m sure at the time we were not up to seven billion people on the planet but then we were quite a number and I’m sure that I wouldn’t have been the only one wanting to draw. So, deciding to be a ballpoint artist was a very significant moment in my career. It was one of the highlights of my career because I moved from doing what everybody else was doing to doing what nobody was doing at the time. There were people who were drawing with a ballpoint pen but their drawings were really tiny and when I started, my smallest drawing was bigger than everybody’s own. And so that was another point of confusion. ‘Why are you drawing these big drawings, who’s going to buy them?’ and now I look back and it’s funny to me because now I’m doing drawings in 10 feet. My drawings are 10 Ft by 5Fts but then it was like really small and to other people it was big. It just goes to say don’t let anybody put you in the box. They coined the name ‘Queen of the ballpoint Pen’ for me because I was doing what nobody was doing with the skill that nobody had. So that’s a defining moment in my career, deciding that I’m going to just draw. And then the second deciding moment in my career was last year when I told myself that I’ve been a ballpoint artist now for 10 years so I want to go into the fullness of the expression of my potential as an artist. You already know that I do poetry, so I have inspiration for poetry, for performance, for short films, for sculpture, and in art school, you do a little of all of these.I had the inspiration to do stuff like that but I told myself not to do it because I’m a ballpoint pen artist but that was fear talking. So I decided that I would relaunch myself as a multi-disciplinary artist, ballpoint pen art is still the love of my life but there are other loves of my life now that I have to also nurture. So I decided to branch out into all these other genres of art and it’s been amazing. At some point, I was afraid that I would lose my voice but I’ve been able to see that the genres of art are like different expressions of a language, I’m speaking English now but there are different versions of other languages that say the same thing. So I’ve been able to find a way to create that harmony. I think I’ve answered all the few other questions in the future. But yeah, I’ve been able to create that harmony, bringing everything together and making them one voice. Making them my voice. So that’s the second highlight of my career. Maybe somebody else might have referred to the highlight as an achievement, a financial achievement, or recognition, but for me, these two things have been the highlights of my career because it took a lot of boldness and ignoring people’s voices and standing up for myself to say I know nobody is doing it but that’s what I want to do and the results have been very fulfilling.
What ignited your love for the ballpoint pen?
I love to draw, I already mentioned that, but for me, the ballpoint pen does this thing where it helps to highlight contrast, some kind of contrast that I don’t get from other mediums. So when you draw with a pencil, the details get lost because at the end of the day, it will smudge but with a ballpoint pen it doesn’t smudge. The lines are crisp, you have to actually see my works physically to understand what I’m saying. When you look at my work from a distance you’d think that everything is smooth but the ballpoint pen allows me to leave all these fine lines. At the same time, there is a rich blackness that it has. So the ballpoint pen allows me to do this level of detailing that sometimes is very painstaking but very rewarding at the end of the day. It allows me to build layers upon each other layers like I said, If I was using an ordinary pencil or charcoal or pastel, they will smudge and those details will be lost. So that’s one of the reasons I chose to draw with the ballpoint pen.
Then the second thing I’ve been able to do through the years is to create some type of analogy or metaphor linking the ballpoint strokes to live experiences. I like to look at life as a combination of experiences. So we have similar experiences but what makes them different and unique is how they relate to us. Both of us can be born and raised in Nigeria, born and raised under similar circumstances but we turn out to be different people and the reason why we are different is because of the way the experiences are layered upon each other. So I probably got bullied in school but I didn’t get bullied in school until I was fifteen so I could stand up for myself.
Somebody else might have gotten bullied in school but they got bullied in school when they were five and six and they couldn’t stand up for themselves so they grow up being some type of way and I’ve grown up to be some type of way. So these are experiences that are layered upon themselves and across humanity. We have similar experiences, someone somewhere in the Northpole can relate to being bullied in school. Somebody somewhere in China can relate to being bullied in school. The human experience is the same. The experience of laughter, of joy, of shame, is the same. It’s just how these experiences layer upon themselves. So I think the ballpoint pen has also given me the ability to express these ideologies of how I can also layer different lines upon each other. It’s like a web kind of thing; it’s almost like a webbing when I’m drawing so when you look into it if you use like a magnifying glass you can see different layers of it. Everybody’s layer is different so if I’m drawing two figures for instance the two figures will have different types of layering on them which goes further to talk about the uniqueness and the significance of how we are as human beings. So I think that’s the second thing I wanted to add there.
What does Art mean to you?
Art to me is an expression of self. So, it’s not limited to the traditional description of what art is or the traditional aesthetics of what art is. Art is a way of expressing yourself as a human being because everybody’s expression of themselves is unique. You can tell ten people to come somewhere and say the same lines in a sentence and they’ll all say it ten different ways you know, so art is for me the expression of a person, the expression of their unique selves. So how you choose to express that is a genre of art. I mean there are different genres of art. Some of them are professionally recognized, and some of them are not. Somebody can decide that they are going to start sleeping in a particular kind of way and are going to document how they sleep for the next 100 days and put it in a movie and some people will watch it and say ¨oh my goodness, this movie should get an award¨ and the movie will get an award and you wonder because it’s just somebody sleeping. But it’s the way the person was able to express themself, how they were able to package the idea. I mean that’s what made it art.
So, I think I’m done with that definition. I think I’ve done justice to that.
Jacqueline Suowari. Your name is beautiful. An Art in itself. Do you mind sharing the meaning? Also, what was growing up like?
My name is Jacqueline. It’s French. It’s originally pronounced as ‘JACQUE’, it has the ‘CQUE’ going on there. But yeah, my name is Jacqueline. Jacqueline is the female version of Jacob in French, and the meaning of Jacob is “the supplanter’’ so when I was much younger, people used to tease me because Jacob was a deceiver. If I could remember, they used to say, ‘Jacqueline are you sure you’re not a deceiver?’ But there are other positive meanings to the name, Jacqueline. It means to be in front, to lead, to overtake, or to replace. Somehow, the meaning of my name has always just followed me. I’m the first child so obviously, I’m in front but I’m finding out a lot of the things I’ve been called to do are almost like frontier things. Things that require shifting mindsets and shifting Ideologies and changing the status quo. So, yeah, I think I’m living up to the meaning of my name.
Suowari means “a house for everybody’’, basically it’s an Ijaw name. Ijaw is in Bayelsa state and it means a place where everybody can come together, and feel welcome. So that’s the meaning of Jacqueline Suowari.
My growing up, I grew up in Zaria in Kaduna state. Family, I won’t say we were nomads, but my dad’s work took us around the country pretty much. He worked in a university environment, so we used to travel a lot because he’d get appointed here, and appointed there, but for the most part of my childhood, I was in Zaria in Kaduna state. It was a very beautiful experience you know. A lot of people who think that they know Nigeria maybe do not, because Nigeria is different in every part of the country. If you grow up in the North, it’s a different reality, if you grow up in the South, it’s a different reality, and so on and so forth. It’s all a different reality. People don’t understand this. People who don’t travel around Nigeria and live in different places around Nigeria don’t know this and that’s people in Nigeria, not to mention people around the world.
So, I’m from the South, my dad is from the South, my mum is Igbo then I was born in the North. So that kind of gave me some kind of orientation of how life can be. I mean the only life I knew was life in the North, I understood their values, their principles, and the kind of people that they were. Then when I was a teenager, we relocated to Port Harcourt in the South of Nigeria and it was like a rude shock because everything was different, the people’s mindsets and the way they behaved were very different. Like in Port Harcourt, you had to ¨shine your eye¨ for the most part. In Zaria, it was a very chilled, honest, naive life. Although things have changed in the whole country now for the most part that’s what it was.
And then when I got to Port Harcourt, I realized I was too trusting, I had to be careful whom I trusted, people weren’t who they said they were, and it’s pretty much the same in other places. In Lagos, I mean places that are very busy. It’s like moving from a rural area to an Urban area. Urban areas are packed with different types of people. And so, my childhood was pretty much like that. I got into school pretty early. I finished university when I was 20. So, for most of my teenage years, I was in school as an undergraduate but I was traveling up and down. At some point we were living in Port Harcourt, at some point we were living in Benin, at some point we were living in Uyo in Akwa-Ibom. So, we lived basically everywhere and it has given me an appreciation for people and for Nigeria basically. I’m detribalized as it stands because I don’t have any soft spot for any tribe even where I come from, do you understand? I look at everybody the same way and I think that is the way we need to look at each other as Nigerians.
The more people are like me, the more Nigeria will move forward as a country because one of the problems is loyalty to the tribe as opposed to loyalty to the country. So, growing up kind of gave me that general experience. I used to joke about it with my friends at the time when the IPOB was really a thing and they would ask me, ‘if Nigeria should split where will you go to?’ and I would say that I’ll be on the Nigerian side because I don’t have any place to go to. I am fully decentralized as a Nigerian, so that’s how my childhood was and I think it has influenced the kind of work I do. It has influenced my work and my art. I’m very fascinated with seeing how the mind works and what influences people to behave the way that they behave and why people act the way that they do.
Pretty much something that came out of the curiosity from knowing that everybody was different from different parts of the country.
Do you feel creatives in developed countries are at advantage over those in developing countries?
Obviously, yes, ¡definitely! The question you just asked me is almost like someone who does Uber in a developed country where the roads are good, there is security, and there is healthcare so in case there is an accident everything is ready to take care of him compared to someone who does uber in developing countries where all those things are not in place. So, the answer for me would be yes, they are at an advantage; several advantages actually. It’s not like they are better than us or anything of that sort, but I mean, you call a spade a spade, not a farm tool. The fact that they have exposure and have materials available. Let me give you an instance, I wanted to start drawing on large paper but I couldn’t get the large paper to buy in Nigeria, I had to import it and I’ve been importing paper for the last five or six years. So, imagine a creative in Nigeria who cannot afford to import paper but needs that kind of paper. I know how many papers I have given; I know how many of my mentees I’ve sent papers to. Do you understand? So, somebody in a developed country doesn’t have that to deal with. They don’t have to be looking for materials because the materials are at their beck and call. That’s why I was giving an example of an Uber driver who is driving with good roads, there are ambulances, there’s 911, and someone who is driving in one village in Akure, where anything that happens to you, you’re on your own, you know? so there are a lot of advantages that they have over us, but the good thing about being in a developing country is that it kind of boosts your creativity and your resilience because now you have very little to create with. It’s the reason why Africans will leave to go to developed countries, we go there, and we thrive. It’s because we’ve been working with very little. It’s like they tell you to cook a meal and you have only two ingredients and you cook the meal and the meal is still nice, but then you travel somewhere and they have all this abundance of ingredients and so you can freestyle with whatever you have to freestyle with. You’d be a magic chef there you know? Because you’ve been able to hone the skills with the barest minimum so when you go to where there is an abundance of it you will just go crazy with your creativity.
And on the flip side, people in developed countries are used to having these basic amenities that we struggle to have. I’m in Nigeria and in my studio, for instance, I have to think about my light, my water, my security, my own air conditioning, my everything. I have to provide all those things myself. The creatives in developed countries don’t have to provide those things themselves. All they do is pay their taxes. I still pay my tax, but those taxes don’t come back to me. I pay services, I pay light bills, I pay water bills, but the light doesn’t come, the water doesn’t come so I have to improvise all these for myself. Those things are the reality of being alive in a developing country so it’s deceptive to say that being a creative in a developing country is easier. Those people are at a better advantage. I’d like to live in a world where I’m not bothered about the generator going off while I’m working. That takes a toll on your creativity, so it’s just that we have the spirit of resilience and so we know that no matter what we have we can do something with the little we have and that pushes us to want to do more. And I think that it’s a blessing at the same time, it can be a curse because when you have too many opportunities accessible to you, at some point you become lackadaisical.
So, the discomfort is a lot of people’s fuel because of the need to have a better life, the need to have more of this life’s luxury is some people’s fuel to work with what they have to be better. Whereas in developed countries they have all those things, so they don’t really want more from life. They are content with what they have because the system works, and everything works. You have group shows, you have museums, you have galleries, and the system is already working so you don’t need to do too much. It’s not like they don’t have their own realities. They have their own reality. I’ve lived on both sides of the world. They have their own struggles too. It’s still not easy as a creative anywhere in the world but when you want to compare the developing countries, we have the things that they are dealing with there, plus the challenges of being in a developing country to worry about so it’s like double the challenge.
‘Not All of Us Are Brave.’ A deep one here. Can you share the inspiration behind this work?
For me, a lot of the time my titles are very personal. Like I told you, I’m dealing with the human mind for the most part. So, I say I’m inspired by body language, I’m inspired by communication. I’m inspired by the impact of communication on life and on people generally. Sometimes it’s just maybe I’ve seen something or experienced something and I want to put that into writing but at the same time. I don’t want the beauty to be lost. So, about the title, you know how you can have some experience in life, maybe an injustice and it’s so painful but nobody is speaking up against it. And that has become like a Nigerian thing, and at some point, you are annoyed and irritated and almost resentful of the people. Sometimes people that are not speaking up are people that you respect, people that you look up to. You wonder what’s wrong with these people. Somebody is in power, they should be able to speak up against this thing that is wrong, but the older I get, the more I realize that “‘not all of us are brave really’’. Everybody has the things that are their limitations and the reasons why they are not able to stand for the things that people think they should be standing up for or the reasons why their voices are not being heard when people expect their voices to be heard. And I think as human beings if we can grow some empathy for people and hold them to the kind of standard that we hold ourselves by then we will understand that there is no need for judgment and there is no need for resentment, and there is no need for the unnecessary expectation that we put on other people because we wouldn’t want those kinds of expectation put on ourselves. It’s almost like this saying in the Bible; “remove the log from your eyes before you remove the speck in another person’s eye”.
“Not all of us are brave” just takes you to that place where you realize that you too have the one that you are afraid of. It’s easy for somebody to critique the work of somebody else when they’re not the one in the shoe and tell them how they should be doing it but most of these people critiquing don’t have the bravery to come out and be in that person’s shoes. So, it’s just a call to say step aside, look at this thing this way. Imagine if you were the one doing it. Have some empathy and the world will be a better place.
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 think for me, that’s one of the earliest things I realized to be a challenge when I decided that I wanted to be a full-time artist because at that time there were very few women who were practicing art professionally, I’m talking 2009, 2006, 2008. And when I was saying I want to be this, I want to be that, a lot of my senior colleagues called me and they said “see, we had classmates that were women but they’re nowhere to be found right now, so it’s not by saying you want to be an artist. We don’t know what you’re going to do differently but all these “gra gra” is not going to take you anywhere”. And so, it kind of got me thinking, what was the reason why the women were no longer anywhere to be found, the women who were the brightest in their classes. And it boils down to discipline and planning. As a woman, I try to tie it to other professions, other fields, like women who have been able to conquer, like the field of medicine, the field of law, accounting, banking, and finance. How are women able to enter those fields that were supposedly men-dominated and conquer and thrive? And what is the thing about being an artist that is making my senior colleagues tell me that I have almost no chance of being successful because I’m a woman? What is the thing? And the first thing that hit me was discipline. A male artist can comfortably get married, have his studio in his house, work from home, and have children. He has that entire structure, and he will be able to concentrate in the studio because the children will not be running to him to disturb him while he is painting. Nobody is going to come to him to ask him “my love what are we having for lunch, or can you imagine this boy is crying and he refuses to stop”. Nobody is going to be doing all that to the male artist that is working in the studio. But once you are in the house, you are Mummy. Mummy is always mummy, whether mummy is out or not, the only place where mummy is not mummy is when mummy is in her office and mummy’s office is usually out of the house but once you are in the house, your office is in the house is being mummy and so it’s kind of hard for even your spouse or your children to understand that you are in the studio and nobody should disturb you. You’d be working in that studio and your husband will come very tired and exhausted and tell you “My love, what are we eating now, I know you put food in the Microwave, but I don’t want that one, I want something else”. You will stop what you are doing, enter the kitchen, heat up the food, and go back to the studio, before you get to the studio, the inspiration you were working on before has left and you have to start again from the beginning. And so, I was studying the lives of women in other professional fields and I saw that the first thing that these people do is this, their work is outside and not inside. So, one of the first things I was able to do was to decide that my studio would be outside of my house, it cannot be in my house because if it’s in my house I don’t have the discipline to say I’m going to work but when I get to work outside my house, I know that I must work. If it’s in the house you’d be lying on the bed looking at the brush, or going on Instagram, and by the time you realize it, the day is gone. Procrastination is one of the (…) skills of an artist because we are not always in the mood to work. But if your studio is out of the house, you wake up in the morning, you have your bath you know you are going to the studio. Once you get to the studio, you cannot sit down there and be scrolling through your phone. You know you have to get the work done before you can go back home, so that’s one of the things I was able to do early to get busy. I’m not even as disciplined as I want to be because right now, my studio is in my house. My studio is downstairs, and my house is upstairs but because of that initial idea of always going to the studio and waking up, dressing up, and going to work, I kind of brought it with me. So now that my studio is downstairs in the comfort of my house, I can now wake up in the morning and know that I have to go to the studio to work because I have already imbibed that idea. So that is like the trick already. And having your studio in the house is a very comfortable thing. You can wake up at 12 midnight and work. You can work from 6 pm till 2 am in the morning because your studio is in the house, it’s safe. I’ve been able to just mirror the lives of other professionals. They are able to distinguish the workspace from the home space. Maybe for women who want to get married, have children, and have a family, the first thing you’d do for yourself as a favor is find a way to get your studio outside the house even if it’s a small cubicle you’re able to get. Even if you’re renting a space or you’re sharing a studio with other artists, as long as your studio is not in your house, it will give you the drive and the discipline. And when you say you’re going to work people will respect you and know that when you are at work nobody should be calling you to ask you unnecessary questions. But if your studio is in the house in the beginning and you’ve not developed that thick skin and discipline it will be difficult. Right now when I’m working, I have a child, she is six years old. She knows that she should not come and disturb me when I’m working. So, you have to grow a thick skin, you have to prioritize, and you have to know what time to allocate to what. Like right now, because my studio is in the house, I don’t have working time because it’s pretty much the whole day. When I wake up, I exercise and do other chores, I go downstairs and I start working till only God knows when. But when my studio was not in the house I used to work from 10 am to6 pm and after that, the remaining time was family time,
So, it’s about discipline and it’s something I’m still learning to conquer and perfect but it’s an ongoing thing. Another thing that forces me to be disciplined is my work. Sometimes it takes up to 3 months to complete one job. So, if I am not in the mood and don’t work, that job that would have taken me 3 months will end up taking 6 months. Which client or exhibition is going to be waiting for me to finish work in six months? The medium also helps me to be disciplined, so I know that at least. If I go to the studio and I don’t feel like working, I will take somewhere that I know doesn’t require much attention from me and start drawing. Like I love to draw. I can draw hair in my sleep, I can draw hair at any point in time. So, I look at the work, maybe there’s hair here, I don’t feel like drawing but let me just start drawing the hair. By the time I draw the hair in 1 hour, I find myself in a delicate part and I start shading. So you have to push yourself, you have to develop your own push, your own drive, and you have to have the discipline to see it through. And then another thing that pushes me is dreams. There are so many things I want to achieve and I know that sitting down and scrolling through my phone will not achieve them for me. So, once you put that at the forefront of your mind, you can’t sleep, and you can’t rest until the thing is coming to fruition. Yeah, I think I’ve been able to answer that.
What does Success mean to you?
Success to me is the achievement of a worthy goal. So if I start out this year and I start out that I want to achieve ABCD&E and I’m able to achieve ABCD, I’ll term myself as successful this year because while people can attribute success to the achievement of things or the gaining of things, I think success is much more than that. Success is the ability to say I want this, you get this, you put another layer on top of it and say I want this, and you get it. You keep building, you keep going for stuff and getting it. It’s not a destination or place where you get to and say okay, I’m now successful. I think success is something that keeps growing. So, the more you put goals in from of you, the more you achieve those goals, and the more successful you are as a person. That’s the way I understand success.
Please briefly tell us something we do not know about Jacqueline Suowari.
I’m a plant mum. I have over thirty plants in my house. That’s one piece of information that the public doesn’t know.
Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one color in that pallet, what would that be and why?
That’s not a fair question. You’re asking an artist if she has a choice of one color what will the color be? I can’t choose one color, I’m sorry.
Okay, what about two colors?
I’ll say brown and sky blue.
I love earth colors. Brown is very versatile. It’s like a very broad spectrum. It has shades of nude; it has one shade that’s towards orange. Brown is neutral in a lot of instances, and it’s found in nature. In fact, nature has many shades of brown. And because it’s a natural color, it’s very soothing and calming for me. Then Blue because it’s the color of the sky.
Massive Love Jacqueline!
The ICONIC Team.