Tosin Akingba is a charcoal and pencil artist based in Lagos draws mostly facial expressions. In this interview, she talks about making art to speak for the voiceless, her most challenging piece, and more. Excerpts:
How did your journey as an artist begin?
I discovered I had the talent to draw as a child. It was my hobby and I became well known for it in primary and secondary school. Even in my neighbourhood. I was always excited when I got Fine Art home work from school.
As a child I would plead for my mother to draw things for me just for my amusement. I saw drawing as a way of getting away from anything that was troubling me, because at that time, I was the only child and had no one to play with. I always played alone and drew from magazines, story books, and newspapers, almost anything with a drawing in it.
I was discouraged about pursuing an art career by people around me because they felt it wasn’t rewarding financially. I was told to focus on my studies and graduate with flying colours, which I did. So I abandoned art and gained admission to study Mass Communication. I graduated and worked for some years, before quitting my job in 2018. I picked up the pencil in that same year, developed my drawing skills and it has been blissful ever since.
What has greatly influenced your work?
My greatest influence has been my personal struggles and experiences, especially those things that affect women like myself in the society. I channel my expressions and feelings into my work, which I feel is the best way to speak up, tell a story and reach out to as many people as I can. I draw mostly facial expressions, as this can tell how we really feel at a particular moment. It could tell our emotions and struggles. A lot of women in our society go through various kinds of harassment, emotional torture, and abuse, and many don’t speak up. These have influenced my art a lot.
How would you describe your art and work process?
I see art as a way of expressing feelings, thoughts and ideology from one’s soul, making depictions with pencils and charcoal in such a way that is understandable and relatable. My art is such that strikes the inner core of its audience and brings realisation about things oblivious to the society. I choose to work with the pencil and charcoal medium because I stand for the beauty and meaning that black art gives.
Which work do you consider your favourite and why?
My favourite work is the one I call ‘Anguish.’ It is a reflection of the struggle women go through in the society, which includes molestation, abuse, domestic violence and rape. I made the drawing to serve as voice for the voiceless against all the negativity that is targeted at women, especially those who are scared of voicing out what they are going through.
How challenging has your career as an artist been so far?
At the beginning it was very challenging for me as a young woman in terms of finance and getting the right materials I needed to make my drawings. I quit my job and worked at developing my skills in drawing. Everyone knows how difficult it is being jobless, especially in Nigeria, let alone quitting your job on purpose for your passion. People thought I was crazy because of the state of our economy. It was very challenging getting recognized by people and there was a lot of trust issues. People didn’t want to trust that a woman could make beautiful drawings. They never believed I was the one making the drawings but I persevered and it is paying off right now. I’m glad.
What is the most challenging piece you have worked on so far and why?
My most challenging piece is ‘Anguish.’ I had to reach deep into my soul to harness the courage to speak against abuse of children and women in the drawing. It stands for all the trials and tribulations women go through. It speaks for every child, teenager and woman who has ever been marked negatively, molested, and abused. All of these things and more were what I had infused into one artwork.
What is your most memorable experience so far?
One that stands out was a mail I got from a young lady who came across my drawings on social media, ‘Anguish’ in particular. She told me that after seeing the artwork, she felt connected to the drawing and drew courage to open up to her parents about the abuse she suffered some years back. She also explained why she was afraid to come out and expose the perpetrator. She suffered from depression for a while since that incident and had thoughts of committing suicide because she felt worthless. This touched my heart so much and gave me courage to forge ahead.
What are you working on presently?
I am making many art pieces at the moment. I am, however, working on having my first art exhibition later in the year.
What is that advice you got that stuck with you?
A wise man once told me, “If you have a talent, love it, nurture it, and turn it into a business. Give it a year and it will eventually pay off.” This has really helped me in my choice of career.