28 July 2019
Reimagining paternalistic narratives of Africa, Alexis Tsegba's Afrofuturistic collages challenge preconceived notions of the continent and its diaspora
I grew up in a small town called Makurdi, Nigeria, where I have many great childhood memories. There was lots of tree climbing, eating fruits under trees with our friends, playing video games or Lego, and doing drawing competitions that we organised ourselves. I moved to Abuja for secondary school and after that I studied Law at the University of Reading. I then went on to do a Master’s in Creative and Media Enterprise at the University of Warwick. Now I’m freelancing between Nigeria and the UK.
It’s difficult for me to pinpoint a specific time when I got into visual arts because it has always been a part of my life in some way. My father is an architect, and I was often very involved in his projects. I would look at his sketches of buildings, and, months later, I would see his vision slowly materialise. I started learning how to sketch from a very early age. During secondary school, I picked up painting. I picked up photography while doing my undergrad degree. Then, while writing my master’s dissertation, I began making digital collages.
I draw creative inspiration from other forms of art like architecture, photography (both landscape and portraiture), abstract art, and twentieth century art. However, the greatest inspiration probably comes from the experience of life as myself, the learning and unlearning, all the emotions and phases that I go through in this experience, and my translation of reality.
I often listen to lots of R&B and Soul when I work. Currently, when I want to connect to something, I listen to the live sessions of Amanda Black or Samthing Soweto. I think they’re brilliant. At other times, I listen to very traditional music like Zule-Zoo or Getish Mamo. I wish there was more of that out there. Watching others win in their own fields also inspires me to put the work into my own. I enjoy watching sportsmen and sportswomen doing their thing and celebrating their wins, especially footballers. Seeing the amount of effort that they put into what they do and how diligent they are with practising and training, it shows me the importance of combining passion with hard work and consistency. I try to apply this ethic when making art. Wherever there’s passion, I want to be there, I want to watch. It’s always sure to inspire me.
I make most of my digital collages starting with a portrait, either one I’ve taken or one I’ve found online that really speaks to me. If it’s a portrait I took, I will usually edit it with VSCO or Lightroom. I then proceed to use Pixelmator for collage making. Sometimes I have a very clear idea of what I want to achieve before I start creating, at other times, I have to sit in front of my screen and wait for something to happen. After looking at a portrait, I usually know what elements I’d like to include in the collage. These could be natural elements like trees and birds or man-made elements like prints and textures. I am currently collaborating with a few portrait photographers who are taking portraits specifically for the purpose of turning them into collages.
Most of the time I hope my work communicates love, hope, joy, and positivity. At other times, I am trying to challenge the viewer’s perception of what they thought was ordinary so that they reflect on themselves, what they think is normal, and why they think the way they do. I try to show ‘difference’ in a new, relatable light. I believe making others see something that they thought was so different in a personal way helps them relate to it and change their negative perceptions of it. Ultimately, I would like the viewer to feel something so strongly for someone or something that they have never met or seen before that they create their own stories around each piece.
I’m interested in theology so religious themes and symbols often appear in my work. Theology has given me a means of reimagination. I reimagine everything: what could have been and what wasn’t told. Theistic stories formed the foundation of my imagination as a child, and now I tend to build upon it or dig deeper to find roots to which I most connect. I am always twisting and bending the stories that have been told in a way that most reflects love in the present day.
I think Afrofuturism contributes significantly towards redefining the narrative of Africa as a dark continent in need of saving. It is an art wave by Africans and the African diaspora that is positive and empowering. I also see my work as contributing towards changing perceptions of how African people, especially men, express affection towards one another. I believe it is important to change the narrative that being openly, physically, and emotionally affectionate is ‘un-African’. I’m constantly trying to imagine what life could be like for African people at a different time from now. Afrofuturism is special to me because it allows me to show what my ideal Africa could be. For most of my Afrofuturistic works, I often know exactly what I want them to look like before I start. Most of the time, I’m trying to convey a very personal and interlinked relationship between African people, technology, culture and nature. One where we are kinder and more considerate of one another while relying on technology for our mutual benefit or to enhance aspects of our culture that still enrich us as a people.