Ojima Abalaka

22 August 2018

Ojima Abalaka

WE THE OUTLIERS speaks with Nigerian artist, Ojima Abalaka, about the serenity of her artwork and the theme of national identity.

How did you get into illustration?

I once had a blog called ‘The Ramblings of a Dropout’ where I used to rant about random things that happened during the gap year I took before going to university. To accompany my blog posts, I used to make these very terrible sketches that got better with practice. I stopped the rants and just kept making the sketches.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Everywhere: music, film, nature, people. I’m also very interested in the everyday and in ordinariness.

How would you describe your art?

Calming, eliciting feelings of tranquillity and slowness. I’m interested in how people occupy space, for example: how someone sits on a chair, how their body fills or doesn’t fill that chair, where they place their arms.

What tools, techniques, and methods do you use?

I usually start off with a pencil drawing on paper that I then scan and colour in using Photoshop. Most of the detailing happens with pencil on paper because I feel it gives me more control. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with colour pencils and trying to bring them into my current process.

Is there a message you want to convey through your art?

Not really, I’m very much about documenting the everyday. But I guess that in itself is a message: ordinary things are important and worth fussing over. I convey this through the subjects and perspectives I choose to focus on.

HOW IS A SENSE OF CULTURAL OR NATIONAL IDENTITY TRANSMITTED THROUGH YOUR ART?

Currently, I’d say through the topics I’m focussing on. I’m quite interested in Nigerian popular and visual culture and I’m trying to let things such as Nigerian film, music, and design inspire both the themes I’m exploring and the stylistic choices I’m making. 

Before You Became You

I was thinking a lot about when we truly become the person we think we are and if this ever happens. I think we’re always changing and it’s always difficult for one to say with much certainty that one is a particular type of person. You can surprise yourself.

Madam the Madam (with Boyz)

I wanted to focus on the Nollywood depiction of ‘madams’. These are usually rich and powerful women that are always in control – I love them. It was fun to play around with the outfits and accessories to convey who had the power. The ‘boyz’ are the madam’s trusty employees, ready to do whatever she tells them. This is an age-old trope in Nigerian movies.

What can we expect to see next from you?

I’m working on a new illustration called ‘RnB Girls’, and it’s inspired by Nigerian songs named after women. I’m making a playlist of songs, and I’ve been listening to them for a while now. I’m trying to build a narrative inspired by these songs and I’m hoping they direct the style of the work.

Can’t wait to see it. Thank you, Ojima.

You can find out more about Ojima on her website or Instagram


The original interview was conducted in English and has been edited for brevity and clarity