Interview: Diseye Tantua on inspiration, creation and more

Afro Pop artist, Diseye Tantua, is easily Nigeria’s foremost artists in that genre at the moment. Most of his work contains his signature selection of traditional proverbs made popular by headboards, bumper write-ups on buses, taxis, tricycles and street signs. Artyliving interviews Tantua about his favorite piece, inspiration and more. Tantua is showcasing art  at Aabru‘s upcoming Transcending Boundaries exhibition at Lacey Contemporary Gallery (Read about that here)

The late Afrobeat originator, Fela, is obviously one of your biggest influences. Tell us how you first began to draw inspiration
from him.

I grew fond of Fela’s music as it constantly played in my studio and it connected well with most drawings I made; the lyrics I mean. My favorite has always been ‘V.I.P (vagabonds in power)’, ‘SHUFFERING & Shmilling’ and ‘look & Laugh’.

Monkey by Grade {Photo credit: Diseye Tantua}

Monkey by Grade {Photo credit: Diseye Tantua}

You have done quite a few paintings of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Is it the man or the music that inspires you?

Both. I draw inspiration from his lyrics and the Man is also an interesting character to me; I respect his boldness to saying things as they are and not garnish it to please anyone.

AfroPop art is not a common medium of expression in Nigeria; how did you settle on that as your preferred mode of expression?

I looked up, ‘Afro beat’ but in my search for ‘Afro POP Art’, there was no such thing! It was coined by my photographer friend (Tam Fiofori) and I, as we prepared for my first solo show in Lagos back in 2008-2009. It was my choice to keep on with this as my works had become Afrocentric with a twist of Pop Art and Urban Art; mostly having calligraphic finish and write-ups of traditional proverbs and vernacular. I also was not ready to lockup my art in a box but express myself freely, this meant I had to also educate most people whom connected with my work but needed clarification on most words or sentences they found on it.

Your painting, Different different fever, gave you your best auction record, and you also described it as an irresistible image that you would create over and over. Of course, it is also heavy on Fela. Would you call it your favorite work?

Oh yes it did! I loved that painting just as others I made before it, like the ‘Wole Soyinka’, ‘Rex Jim Lawson’ and ‘African Queen’, which where all painted in that technique. Yet the ‘different, different fever’ was unique because it had a perfect title for a perfect painting with a perfect image. *laughing*

What is your creative process like: from conceptualization to production?

I take a lot of pictures. I do not consider myself a professional photographer but my perspective is always different from others. The photos I take are mostly of inscriptions on trucks, boats, motor cars, tricycles, motorcycles and sometimes, signboards, morals and so on. My interest in those signs are for reference and also proof that the proverbs on my drawings are real. I try to make simple drawings on complicated, intricate backgrounds giving my viewer something interesting to take his/her eyes around my canvas, not just to read the words and try to decode them.

Photo credit: Diseye Tantua

The Artist. Photo credit: Diseye Tantua

Do you think Afro pop art appeals to people in a way that other forms do not?

For me, what I do to appeal to people is not my goal at all, because some things grow on people faster than others. I just keep doing what I love and leave critics and collectors to do theirs.

Beyond creating these works, do you intend to make wearable art of them – there is a dearth of that in Nigeria and your works seem like the perfect fit.

I’ve always had in mind creating not only wearable art but souvenirs. To aid my limited edition art line, I started cards and post cards five years ago and it’s been working out quite well and moving to other countries not just Nigeria.

What new works will you be showing at Transcending Boundaries; when were they created and what was the inspiration behind them?

I am hoping to get feedback from my work to be shown at Transcending Boundaries, because the painting has a lot of depth in it; ‘MONKEY BY GRADE, SHOE BY SIZE’ – at first glance, it’s a simple painting of trucks and a VW beetle. The painting concerns the haves and the have not’s in my immediate environment. It is said in many ways:

‘Cut your cloth according to your material.’

‘No business no wife’,

‘No sweat no sweet’,

‘No Romance without Finance’ etc.
All these make up different ways to advice haters to work hard and not think wealth is easy to come by. Everyone may read their own interpretation from this work as the words bring different interpretations to different people.

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Categories: Meet the Artist, Painting, Visual Art

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