When we stand before a piece of art, we may find ourselves pondering with curiosity, eager to understand why the colours and lines run across the canvas the way they do – we look at shapes and textures, and wonder how they were fashioned into the forms that we experience as art. Our thirst for meaning is boundless, and it guides us down the path of understanding with hopes that we might find satisfaction in knowing what the message behind the medium actually is. Sometimes the message is universally understood and other times it is a personal letter that we can claim as our own and relish, knowing that we finally have the answer to the fundamental question; what is the artist saying and why?
There are many magnificent pieces that allow us to simply enjoy them as a symphony of beauty, but in the intricate world of creativity where the understanding of art can transcend the medium that sits before us, knowing who the artist is and what their motivations are, can unravel multiple layers that create a deeper understanding of the art that we consume – because for artists like femi.the.god, the motivation behind the art, is the art.
The story of Femi.the.god begins in the city of Lagos as a young boy named Ojei Omogie, journeyed through the social structures of lower-class Nigeria. Amid the slums of the city, he found his inspiration in the tapestry of Mile 12 kiosks clustered beside community canals. He witnessed the unwavering brotherhood of people, reliant on one another for an honest living, despite the riots and power-driven killings influenced by the ruling class – he marvelled at how these divided groups could still find it in their hearts to continue living with each other without holding a grudge on past events. The happiness that thrived amongst the ordinary man was of great inspiration to femi.the.god, and he wanted desperately to tell those stories to the world however he possibly could.
“Growing up in that place, and in those situations, didn’t just inspire me artistically; it inspired my character as a human being. It gave me a great understanding of empathy and love, and inculcated within me values such as integrity and a profound understanding of the kind of joy that comes from earning a living from working hard and having a persistent can-do attitude. As a child I wasn’t the smartest kid in school. I wasn’t the most talented, in fact at some point I couldn’t draw to save my life. But I knew that I had something because I could see the world differently. I could see it for what it actually was, and most importantly I could see the beauty in the little things that others just didn’t care for. I wanted to be an advocate for those things and that vision was what drove me into manifesting my creative abilities and modes of expression. It wasn’t exactly easy, I didn’t have it in me to read a lot of books, but I would pick one up every now and then, read a few lines from a poem or a story and I would understand the writing styles to the point where I could write multiple poems of my own. And this applied to everything else I took an interest in. it’s a thing of genius when you really think about it.”
This advocacy for the seemingly mundane is evident in a lot of his works, along with a versatility that he says, was generated by the necessity he felt to express his creative visions. He is well known to employ a vast array of visual, literary and auditory styles to create a unique perspective as he shines a spotlight on specific subjects. As a critical part of his evolution, he has also dedicated his art to unravelling untold stories and retelling the stories that have begun to slip into inevitable oblivion of fading memories.
In his 2022 solo exhibition, “Up from Nothing,” femi.the.god showcased a line-up of over 20 pieces, rendered in fascinating mediums and textures. Audiences were enraptured by his storytelling prowess as they experienced an unconventional style that paired the art with poetry.
One of the pieces that stood out with its compelling and enlightening narrative was a piece titled “Mgbedike” (the time of the brave), which tells the captivating story of the Igbo people who survived the Nigerian civil war, and how they were all subject to a compensation of 20 Nigerian pounds, regardless of what their financial status might have been before the war. These compensations were made pending investigations into their actual bank balances, after which the monies would be returned to them – but these investigations never took place.
The collage depicts a small child wearing an ancient warrior-spirit mask native to the Igbo people, carrying a stack of ammunition on his head as he assists Biafran soldiers on the battlefield. The accompanying poem then goes further to portray the Igbo people who survived this ordeal, as having an inward spirit that imbues them with the power to come back from even the most dire circumstances.
“I’ve always seen it as a very interesting part of Nigeria’s history, and I believe very strongly that it speaks to the peculiar nature of the Igbo people as we see today. Because really, when you are a people that are forced to start over from practically nothing, it’s only natural for an unprecedented brotherhood and solidarity to occur within such a group. Moreover, even though the Igbo people have always been known for their progressiveness and fearless pride, I think the pride that we see in them today is also a by-product of their ability to have succeeded in the face of such adversity, because of their capacity for hard work and cooperation with one another. I would definitely be doing the history of Nigeria a great disservice if I didn’t tell that story.”
These audacious themes run through a lot of the artists’ work, with an emphasis on celebrating various elements of society and history. Femi.the.god aims to unravel powerful narratives that are vital to cultural identity and spark a desire for historical truths that haven’t found their place in popular culture. He also hopes to inspire other creative individuals with his visual art style, as he emphasises the importance of communicating the message over mere aesthetics. He believes that there are creative people who have very compelling ideas to share but cannot develop the confidence to express themselves because they fear that they lack the acceptable skill level or track record that other artists might possess.
“I think if anyone has a story to tell, they should just go ahead and tell it. Doesn’t matter if all you can draw are stick figures, doesn’t matter if the words don’t rhyme. Seeking mastery is very important, but the lack thereof does not make the idea ineffective. And if people don’t accept your work, because they expect to see something spectacular rather than the simple truth, then you just have to be patient because in the end the truth always prevails”
Amongst many things, femi.the.god presents himself as an advocate for the underrepresented and a catalyst for social change. His visual expressions leave a timeless mark in the hearts of audiences, and the stories that evolve from his personal experiences stand as an inspiration to many. One can only wonder what other great ideas will come to light, and where next he will go on his journey of unearthing untold and forgotten stories.