Jacqueline Suowari on Traversing the Barriers to Creative Success

Jacqueline Suowari’s love for art sprouted as early as age 5 and was encouraged by her family and Zaria’s artsy atmosphere. In the 50s, Zaria city is recorded in history to have been a large hub for arts and creativity. Jacqueline, witnessing this era, easily immersed herself in the magnificent elements of art surrounding her. 

Her yearning was fueled by her parents’ early support. Jacqueline’s mother had a folder where she safely stored all of her drawings and her father showcased some of them in his office. But their support was not fully fledged as Jacqueline had to fight for her dreams before receiving her parents’ consent to study Fine art at the university. She has remarkably transitioned from that little girl into a protean artist who is doing undeniably well and pulling the strings of multiple creative fields.  

Jacqueline’s works have been exhibited globally with Solo exhibitions in Nigeria and Miami. Her first film, Of Lines and Layers, got her nominated for Best Online Social Content Creator at the 2022 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award. Her most recent project, The Way They See Us, was exhibited in The London Lighthouse Gallery and Studio throughout October 2022. 

Jacqueline explores themes universal to the human experience, depicting stories on gender, expression, communication, language, and identity. The aim of telling these stories is to usher her audience into their realities from her characters’ POV. “I choose themes that are centred on these contact zones or links in experiences that we share and the issues surrounding them, and I present them in a way that, while standing in front of one of my pieces, you begin to see the similarities between you and the person on the wall, and suddenly, you realise that even though that’s a stranger you are staring at, even though they have a different ethnicity, gender, or religion from you, you have the same story.”

In this conversation with The Moveee, Jacqueline defines, in her terms, the criteria for measuring success as a creative, and how she’s relentlessly striving to imprint her name in the creative sands of time. Also, with over a decade of artsy experience, she shares constructive tips for budding creatives hankering for a big break.

It’s often imagined that getting involved in multiple career fields can be overwhelming. You extended your creative hands from visual arts into the world of film, sculptural installations, poetry and performance. I’m curious to know how you juggle these forms of art. How do you create a balance or endeavour to practise each one without it affecting the other? And in cases where there’s a clash, how do you resolve it?

One of the challenges I faced earlier while expanding my practice was making sure that there was a common thread that bound all my work together. I like to look at the different genres I’m exploring and imagine that they are different languages and the expression of one idea or sentence. The trick is to find uniformity in the concept or idea and use different media to express the same idea whilst allowing for honest visibility and appreciation of the uniqueness of the form the expression takes. By doing so, I automatically ensure that there are no clashes.

Of Burdens and Triumphs by Jacqueline Suowari

You’ve been in the creative scene since 5. That’s a long time. What are the major influences that drew you into being an artist, and do you think your creative journey would have taken a different turn without these forces in place?

In my formative years, a few people and my birthplace played a major role in my decision to become an artist and pursue it full-time. I was born in Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria. My family lived on campus because my Dad worked at Ahmadu Bello University (A.B.U) as it is fondly called. Zaria was known to be home to The Zaria Art Society; a strong art movement in the 50s that had become a force to reckon with in the history of Nigerian Art. The Sculpture garden in the Department of Fine Art at the university campus where we lived always left me in awe. Zaria had a very rich art heritage. When I was a toddler, My mum would store my drawings in a folder and it made me really excited. There was also Prof. Jerry Buhari and the late Mr George Aken’Ova; friends of my Dad who were practising artists at the time and always encouraged me whenever they found me drawing at home. Lastly, my Dad; he always displayed my drawings in his office and although I found it a little embarrassing at the time, this boosted my confidence in my drawing ability. Looking back at it all now, I am certain things would have taken a different turn. It wasn’t easy to convince my parents to let me study art but I can imagine that there were factors from our environment and the constant encouragement of their artist friends that eventually allowed me to win the battle and be courageous enough to follow my dreams.

In your interview with Arise News, you mentioned wanting your work to bring people into their authentic selves. How has that journey been so far? Do you think you’ve been able to achieve that?

Every time I have a solo exhibition of new work; the feedback I receive from my viewers and followers is always very humbling. With the themes I’m exploring, I always set out to proffer solutions and help people better understand who they are and what views could make their journey through life more meaningful. I am always in awe when I receive feedback from people; spanning through different works of life, race, gender and religion. The realisation that my work can transcend my studio and influence people enough to change, improve or alter their views and way of life has been the most fulfilling part of my work.

The Energy Within by Jacqueline Suowari

“People were saying nobody has houses with this kind of space and nobody will buy [the drawings]. But I thought to myself, my market is not just restricted to Nigeria. Yes, I’m a Nigerian in Nigeria but I’m making art for the world and the owners of these paintings will find me.” Your comments on the challenges you faced in your early years as an artist are almost relatable for every artist starting with Nigeria as their major target market. It’s an all-around lack of support from the emotional and financial aspects. What practical advice would you give to budding artists who want to have their big break in the creative scene both at home and abroad?

I would say, keep working and developing yourself and your craft. I always say jokingly to my mentees that I do not believe in luck; what people call luck is a preparedness meeting opportunity. Five people can have the same opportunity presented to them but only one person is prepared to grab it. I would call this person lucky. The problem with a lot of people is a lack of patience and the willingness to learn and grow. There is always the seed, time and harvest in the cycle of life and there are no shortcuts as to how success can be achieved.

Secondly, never make art a hobby. If you find that you need financial support, it’s okay to take a side job that can fund your passion but never make your passion the side job.

Thirdly, find a couple of mentors or people who can inspire you. For me, I am largely inspired by the journey and process of an artists’ life and work, so I am always seeking to not only know them in the studio but also outside of it.

Finally, the world has become a global village. Utilising social media to maximise visibility is something every artist must learn. Create quality content and find brilliant ways to put your work out there; you never know who is watching.

Bin Dunmou Tua Owei (The man with lots of hair) by Jacqueline Suowari

You’ve come a long way in your journey as an artist. What would you say is the standard for measuring success in your field? At what point in an artist’s journey would you deem them a successful artist? And would you say you have reached that point?

For many artists and in the art world, the standard for measuring success is money and visibility; how much you have of it, how much you sell your work, where you have shown your work and whose collection your works are placed in. I will not be pretentious and say that these factors do not apply or influence some of my ideas of who a successful artist might be.

All these things matter but ultimately, an artist who has been consistent in practice and growth through the years and has been able to find a niche where their work is respected and influential so much that the history of their time is incomplete without their name in it; this is my definition of a successful artist. Do I consider myself to have reached this point, not really, not yet. I am still working hard to attain this level.

Jacqueline Suowari

Can you describe a situation some time ago when stepping out of your comfort zone opened you up to amazing things?

Last year, when I first got the idea to make a short film for my exhibition Now I Wear Myself, it was a very scary thing for me. I had never done a film before, I had never done any script writing, basically never had any formal training in film production so I ignored it.

The ideas kept on coming really strong and I knew that it was something I had to do. Luckily for me, I already worked with some of the best minds when it comes to script writing, and production so gathering them and having a meeting about the ideas I had, and how to best bring it to life wasn’t such a difficult task. When we were done and presented the work at the exhibition, the feedback we received from our audience was really fascinating and encouraging. But the most surprising feedback was being nominated by the African magic viewers choice award (AMVCA) in the new category of social content.

This was very humbling for me and my team because like I said, it was the first time we would do anything like this and it was really beautiful to see. This helped us to realise that when it comes to creativity, it isn’t just about formal training. It’s about how well one is able to execute the idea within the boundaries of the genre you’re working with.

Mission Accomplished by Jacqueline Suowari

Looking at your creative journey, what are the things you wish you had done differently? And what are the newest things you wish to do differently moving forward?

If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t change anything. All the choices I have made have brought me to where I am now. Moving forward, I want to create my work with the realisation that no one can carry my passion better than I can and in times where there are crossroads, I am learning every day to just trust God for direction. God is always speaking, so I need to get myself to a place where I am calm enough to listen.

Red Room Dialogue by Jacqueline Suowari
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