The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival is this weekend at Historic Seville Square. It will feature lots of music, food, arts, and crafts.
One of the highlights of the event is the Invited International Artist.
For the first time, festival organizers have invited an artist from the continent of Africa, painter Abigail Nnaji from Nigeria.
On Tuesday, she talked about her art - and culture with students from the Creative Learning Academy.
“It was really interesting; I mean, the kids were asking me all kinds of questions,” Nnaji recalled of her interaction with the young students. “I’m sure they’ve never heard of Nigeria, some of them. But, I think after the presentation, they felt like they had seen something about Nigeria and I think they took a lot home. “
The kids inquired about her artworks, the practice she puts in, her style and what led her to become an artist. Nnaji says began to realize her artistic talents from the very young age of five.
“And all the time I had to do classwork, I always did my art assignment,” she said with a chuckle. “I always got the highest in class and that made me to like always want to draw, do more assignments.”
Nnaji continued to focus on art at the secondary level and went on to study fine arts in college. In 2002, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in painting.
With so many options, why painting?
“I’m really fascinated by lines, and color is something that attracts me all the time,” she said. “When you look at my paintings, you’ll see that they’re very colorful because I feel like the world has so much to offer and if colors is one of them, I mean I need to grab all of them at once.”
Nnaji describes her style as "urban pop," creating semi-abstract paintings with exaggeration of certain features of a human being.
“For example, when I do an Afro, I exaggerate the hair a bit make it large in size, larger than life, you know.”
Mainly, Nnaji wants to move away from the ordinary and create her own new and unique ideas.
She was inspired to travel to China to receive training in Chinese paper cutting and recently has been experimenting with the use of paper in her paintings.
“So it’s not really the Chinese paper cutting style, but my own adoption of that technique,” she explained in reference to the creation of her own paper cutting designs for incorporation into her paintings. “I’m still working on it. I’m not even done yet, I haven't even started. I’m only two years into paper cutting, so I think I still have a long way to go.”
While her technique is evolving, her themes are consistent, featuring serenity, love, beauty, and identity, often depicting the female figure, different aspects of human life and the struggle to survive.
Nnaji has been making a living as an artist for a number of years, motivated by other women in the business to step out and open her own studio practice in 2013.
“Having been in an association, I saw other women, those that advanced. I’d seen those that were still coming up, and me I was just like nowhere,” she of her career at the time. “And, I was like ‘okay, if they could do it, I could even do it better.’”
Nnaji has participated in several exhibitions, including her own solo exhibition in 2017. Additionally, she was the 2nd Prize Winner in the Chinese Embassy’s national drawing competition in 2016.
Now, she finds herself exhibiting at the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival at the urging of a friend, who happened to learn about the Pensacola event during her own recent visit to city hosted by the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council.
With the application deadline fast approaching, she decided at the last minute to give it a shot. “I just filled out the form and let it go, and finally, here I am,” she happily acknowledged.
When asked about the most exciting part of her experience as an artist, she didn’t focus on the opportunity to travel or meet other artists. Instead, she joyfully and confidently responded, “My works!” Painting, says Njaji, opens up your soul. “It gives you the ability to express yourself in ways that no one can understand.”
Painting, she adds, is an opportunity to express the best parts of her heart and she says it makes her happy.
Nnaji will be conducting demonstrations and sharing her joy for her work and her Nigerian culture at her booth this weekend at Seville Square.
The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival is Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.