Odera Igbokwe is the artist behind FIYAH #16’s JOY cover. We asked them a bit about their process and the artists they’re excited about in our quarterly Artist Interview.
1) What inspired you to originally want to be an artist?
Play and creativity has always been a part of my being, whether that was specifically to express and entertain myself, or to create a practice and lifestyle as a method of survival. Drawing and painting went hand in hand with singing, dancing, reading, learning, and exploring all of my creative curiosities. Since I was a young child I’ve had access to an immense fiery energy source from within, but I would simultaneously be very shy.
So while I loved the creativity that came with dancing, singing, and physical play—drawing really balanced me and allowed me to access a meditative headspace. Additionally, many of my other creative impulses at a young age required permission or performance. But when it came to drawing, I always had access to at least a pencil and paper. This allowed me to practice consistently and to take creative ownership at a very young age.
2) What advice would you have for people looking to become an artist as a career? What are some of the highs and lows they can expect?
Get specific with your goals, your core values, and then get specific with what your definition of success is. Even as your target those specific goals, leave room for experimentation and play. And never lose sight of the joy and play of making art and whatever made you fall in love with the process in the first place.
Being an artist can mean a lot of things, and often people can fixate too much on making the choice to be an artist. But I think it is really easy to be an artist, we all do it as children when we use play as creativity. The real fun begins when you start defining what kind of artist you want to be, what kind of journey you want to have, and what things you want to create.
3) What are your own personal goals for your art? Where would you like it to be in five years?
I’m just trying to offer intergenerational collective healing, to envision new possibilities, to celebrate our journeys, and to sew together the rifts within the African diaspora. Committing myself to that journey is the goal, and I am fulfilling it to the best of my ability, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Currently I am where I want to be creatively. I am constantly exploring, experimenting, and finding the joy of the endless possibilities in the creative process. I am centering sustainable and regenerative creative energy. I am honoring my flexibility, my curiosities, and my limitations. I am creating healthy boundaries between my personal life and my career and allowing them to interact in beautiful and meaningful ways when necessary.
In five years I want to have this same mind set, but be even more consistent and balanced with my creative output.
4) Who are some of your favorite artists currently?
There are a lot of lenses that I can answer this question from. For me it is most important to highlight and boost contemporary creators and peers, and some of my favorites right now are
Ashe Samuels, she has the most luscious color palettes and lighting. The work takes on Fantasy and Sci-fi in a really fresh way.
K.L. Ricks is effortless with any medium she takes on. Her pieces just breathe so nicely. You can tell she is the kind of artist who loves to learn.
Chioma Ebinama creates works that are cosmic, otherworldly, and poetic through a visual language that is so uniquely her own.
Charles Chaisson creates illustrations that have the most beautiful narratives, and their figures are impeccable. Recently they are experimenting with more abstracted forms and environments and it’s exciting to see that range.
Other illustrators who are amazing that you should check out that I have spoken of before, Ejiwa Ebenebe (Art of Edge), Akemi Art, Pearl Low, Leland Goodman, Shannon Wright, and honestly the list could go on and on and be this entire interview.
5) What inspired the FIYAH cover piece? Was it one particular thing or a convergence of different inspirations?
Black Joy is a theme that I layer throughout my entire body of work, but once I am assigned to create a piece with that theme I have to actively think about it without overthinking. I brainstormed and thumbnailed a lot of ideas for this cover, and I kept coming back to the idea of community. It’s hard to imagine Black joy in isolation. So I started drawing specific scenes and moments of joy in my lived experience.
Are we at a family cookout? Are we all perfectly in sync dancing with friends and strangers? Did you just get a 10/10 solidarity head nod in and compliment in a yt space? Did Missy Elliott just yell out “NEW ODERA”? Is it a laughter that fills you up so much that you have to catch your breath?
Eventually I kept coming back to communal music and dance, and how it’s embedded into cultures across the African diaspora. So the idea of a parade or movement, where the spiritual, magical, and physical can all coexist, frolic, march, meditate, and bask in the sunlight really excited me.
6) If you could instantly work on any established property, what would it be and why?
The year is 2044. Beyonce & Solange are releasing a joint album celebrating the power and resilience of Aunties (that includes Non-Binary grown folks too). They hire me to do illustrations for each song on the album/compilation. As a team, this project magically creates a ripple effect that decolonizes the world as we know it, ends global warming, and creates a new world that centers empathy and healing.That sounds fun to me.
That may sound a bit ridiculous and tongue in cheek. But I think it speaks to my reality that I don’t center “established properties” in my dreams, and that I have to be careful, nuanced, and intentional with the idea of dreaming about work.
There are plenty of established properties that I know would resonate with illustrations and paintings, and that I would do a good job collaborating with. But the reality is that in this moment in history and in my career, it is most important to celebrate and uplift the work that is “unestablished”—or to dig even deeper to look within my own community and see what their needs are that my artwork can fulfill.
7) What projects do you have coming down the pipeline? Anything you’re particularly excited about?
The centerpiece of my work over the years is a collection of paintings called Dance of the Summoner which blends personal mythology with Nigerian and Afro-Diasporic deities, Orishas, and sacred traditions. They started as small portraits exploring these primal and elemental forces, but have now grown into larger scale narrative paintings based on the same metaphors and mythologies.
In my head I call them oracle paintings, because each of these paintings function in the same way an Oracle Card or divination does. I am constantly asking myself, okay how does accessing and alchemizing these spiritual practices benefit anyone? How can I make this applicable to the world I am living in right now? How can it serve me and my community?
I just finished a piece that focuses on the metaphor of the breath of life, and next up is an exploration of Volcanic rage and anger. You can learn more about these by joining me on Patreon (patreon.com/odera), which has really been sustaining not only financially but mentally and spiritually in these past few months of collective trauma and grieving.
8) Tell us where we can find you. Social media, website etc.?
My website, portfolio, and shop are at www.odera.net
You can find me at Patreon at www.patreon.com/odera where I offer a deep look into my creative process as I develop more Oracle paintings
And you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @ Oderaigbokwe
Agbo Okwudili Paul