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‘Why I’m comfortable with dark art’

‘Why I’m comfortable with dark art’

Barry Yusuf is a visual artist who loves to express himself with charcoal pencils, paint and also through sculptures. Here, he talks about his style, how he became an artist, and more. Excerpts:

How would you describe your type of art?

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I try to achieve realism in my art and capture a person as much as I can. The only way you can do that is if you focus on the persons face. This is the reason why my works are basically portraits.

Apart from portraits, what else are you drawn to?

I do abstract art, but my major style of art is expressionism. I prefer expressing myself without following certain rules.

One of your portraits is that of a woman, titled ‘Daydreaming Deborah.’ What inspired it?

It’s the story of an African woman. They go through a lot and hold a lot in their hearts. One minute she is having a good time, the next she is lost in thought. She is thinking of her husband, kids, and how to take care of her family among many other issues. There is also the thought of getting older. I was trying to capture all that.

Another of your paintings is that of a boy titled ‘Little Silhouette Boy,’ and like ‘Daydreaming Deborah’ and several of your other works, it has a dark background. Why is this?

It’s a depiction of what African children go through. They experience a lot. It could be peer pressure in school, pressure from their parents and so on. Sometimes there is no room for them to express themselves. They find themselves living a fantasy where everything is imaginary. This is something I went through. Basically, I was trying to achieve realism, there is so much of it in the world. Dark backgrounds make me feel comfortable about my work. The best way I can describe the boy in the painting is as an almajiri. He is far away from his home and people always wonder why he begs.

How did your journey as an artist begin?

I took art seriously in 2017 when I made a portrait for my friend. I had moved out of my parents’ house and I basically had nothing to do. I was aware that I could draw at that point, but I never envisaged that it would take me far. My friend was excited when I presented the portrait to her. At that point I knew I had a future in the arts. I thought that if I can put a smile on peoples faces, then it’s a beautiful thing. From then I started following artists on Instagram, joined art groups and had my first exhibition in 2018.

Barry Yusuf
Barry Yusuf

What was your first exhibition like?

It was an exhibition organised by Action Aid themed ‘Art for Development.’ I showcased three works. One of them was a sculpture titled ‘I’m An Extrovert.’ The exposure pushed me to work harder in order to take my art to the next stage. So, from June last year when it took place, I have had a total of twelve exhibitions, and the thirteenth was at the Abuja Literary and Arts Festival.

I call myself a free-spirited artist. I don’t like to be put in a box. I simply enjoy creating whatever affects me or what I love and connect with. My style is called Kolo Art, Kolo in pidgin English, meaning madness. I once took my work to a gallery and it was rejected because it was too dark. So, sometimes my works are selected carefully because they are very dark. But that darkness is like home to me. We are all connected to different things. People connect more to a certain number or colour. I draw well in the night. Sometimes even with a torchlight. It’s my comfort zone.

What is your biggest dream as an artist?

I don’t want to get famous as a person, but for my name to be well known. I want people to give my art the value it deserves, and also to be able to fund children in the arts. As a kid nobody ever encouraged me in the arts. I had to motivate myself. I sometimes wonder how far I would have gone if I was encouraged. I would like to help young children explore their potentials, because I believe every one of them is an artist. Those who aren’t haven’t really found themselves. At that stage, aside drawing they somersault and figure things out for themselves. If not for art, perhaps I could have been somewhere else wasting away my life. But I thank God.

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