Shared Journey: Interview with Raqib Bashorun By Uche James Iroha

Uche James Iroha
Houston Texas. January 2022
“Studies show that identification with all humanity is more than an absence of ethnocentrism and its correlates more than the presence of dispositional empathy, moral reasoning, moral identity, and the value of universalism” – S. McFarland

Culled from a citation on Ola Rotimi’s Humanity as my Tribesmen

Plate 1. Afefe Yeye. (Flamboyance)

Born in Nigeria, sculptor Raqib Bashorun studied at Yaba College of Technology Lagos before coming to the University of Missouri for his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Art Education and Master’s in Fine Arts. His own studio practice has, for decades been accompanied by a teaching practice, his exemplary career as an artist and teacher is marked by significant exhibitions around the world and the quality of a younger generation of artists whom he has influenced. Issues of waste, recycling, and environmental sustainability have engaged the artist for decades, underscoring a preoccupation with found materials, which he skillfully reworks as objects of outstanding beauty.

Coming in contact with the work of multidisciplinary artist Raqib Bashorun for the first time, the viewer immediately connects with his devout attention to detail and the impeccable treatment of material which could be wood, resin, auto parts or anything at all. His collection seems to declare no set limits to choice of materials whatsoever.

Deconstruction and reconstruction of pre-existing forms in Bashorun’s work is also heavily associated with Yoruba culture and tradition, wherein the notion of Destiny interacts with the creation, destruction, and evolution of beings.

The process Raqib likes to describe as grapho-sculpture presents us with the meticulous fusion of the rigidity of sculpture and the fragility of drawing. The conscious manipulation of textures in materials of diverse sources invites his audience to go beyond form, much beyond aesthetics and onto content.

These beautifully recycled materials inform us of their gratitude of being reused and given another opportunity of relevance not only as mere aesthetic objects, but as icons and motifs of critical information that bear the fruit and the burden of identity of that which express the need to articulate progress as far as the continent of Africa is concerned.

Raqib’s pieces create a new visual language that is not only poetic but also bears a strong aesthetic appeal that is laden with connotative messages that speak boldly to the issues of culture and displacement, launching us deep into negotiations that only art can instigate, inspiring conversations that politics is often reluctant to engage.

Bashorun has clearly defined himself as a creative who is consistent in his career that has spanned over thirty years. He started teaching from the early 90’s at the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos Nigeria and mentoring a brigade of young generation artists who will always never fail to mention his very unorthodox methods of knowledge sharing where he regularly launches students straight into the heart of practicality, giving them real life assignments not just to score and pass examinations but also to solve design problems in a real world that await them.

Plate 2. Egbeje Irawo. (1400 Years Stars)
Wood, Aluminum Resin

This is a very informal conversation to elucidate his creative process and the methodology of his artistic practice. The artist sheds light on things like training, travels, Nigeria and his experience of teaching and interactions in the diaspora.

Q1 U.J.I: Why and when did you arrive in the United States?

R.B: I had just finished my education at the Yaba college of technology in Lagos in 1981 where I studied visual communication design and then I was posted to serve in the Kainji Lake Research Institute this is a part of the mandatory one-year national service required of every graduate at the time, so I was illustrating there until I got a job in an advertising company called Centerspread. In 1982 I got a scholarship to study in the US at the Agriculture and Technology University in Greensboro, North Carolina so that’s how I showed up in the US in the fall of 1982.

Q2 U.J.I: Back then in the 1980’s can you describe the local art scene in Nigeria and what were the prospects for artists?

R.B: It was the oil boom years of prosperity In Nigeria. I would always carry a portfolio of my work with me wherever I went, I was ready for any opportunity or job interview. We had a healthy art scene in middleclass Nigeria. In fact, an intimidated studio manager once turned me down at a job interview but luckily, I was re-interviewed by a creative director who promptly hired me so I worked there for a while.

If you were good, you would get a job and patronage was quite critical. I got a job that came with a house, a big house all to myself. We had a fantastic working environment, we had a great time. I was doing mostly illustrations for the advertising agency.it was beautiful.

In 1982 I got the scholarship courtesy of the research Institute to study abroad, so I arrived Greensboro in 1982 a, it was my first time in the United States. I was drenched in optimism and excitement to engage my new space.

Plate 3. Ewon ja. (Broken Chain)
Metal and found Objects

Q3 U.J.I: How did you deal with culture shock and assimilating the art scene and finding your space in the cultural landscape here in the United States?

R.B: I spent only the winter semester at the University of agriculture and technology in Greensboro. I was so uncomfortable there due to the unfriendly environment fanned by a head of department who I believe in my own opinion was racially prejudiced.
It felt quite toxic there and had to leave.

Q4 U.J.I: These social hostilities are often familiar milestone in our trajectory as critical artists.
We can remember when the military dictatorship in Nigeria incarcerated musician /activist Fela Kuti in 1983 for speaking truth to power, they didn’t know he would find the lyrics of his next album in his prison experience. What did you do with yours?

R.B: Like I said I found environment quite stifling and difficult so I left I went to university of Missouri in Columbia to study art education where I was welcomed by fantastic academics who inspired me a lot. People like William Berry and Mrs. Osinger not forgetting professor Larry Kantner, they were quite impressed with my portfolio and I went on to create some interesting pieces there and thoroughly enjoyed my experience not only as a student but also as a visitor to this great country. That was really my first real welcome to the United States.

Plate 4. Agbara Asa. (Cultural Flow)
Wood Acrylic and Resin

Plate 5. Iyanju Alata. (Spicy Courage)

Q5 U.J.I: You went back to Lagos at some point, why and how was it?

After my studies in the University of Missouri, Columbia Missouri, I traveled back home to Nigeria in 1984. I was definitely driven by the conviction that I had to give back to my homeland and share experiences and the knowledge I had acquired from the diaspora, although I wasn’t quite well received by the Ministry of education where I initially approached for employment, I went ahead and took up an offer at an advertising agency which gave me time for personal practice. I immersed myself in churning out a lot of illustrations, drawings and paintings as well.

In 1986 I got another job and started teaching at The Yaba college of Technology in Lagos where I taught Graphics. I realized it was the platform I craved since I was interested in impacting society, especially the younger generation. In 1989, I had my first solo exhibition right there on college campus. Professor Dele Jegede was gracious to curate the show as well as pen the accompanying literature. This was like my first anchor in my journey as far as career was concerned, it validated my return back home. From there went on to participate in other exhibitions and art happenings in and out of the country. My works are in the collection of patrons like Dr. Yemisi Shillon and the other notable collectors across the country. I had a very good reception back home in terms of the art community and I had a very fruitful career in Lagos

Q6 U.J.I: Walk me through your ideal work process

R.B: It all starts from the conceptualization stage. I think a lot about the work then the next thing I do; I start drawing, I make a lot of sketches looking at organic forms, working a lot with color pencils, these drawings are usually references, for me nothing is cast in stone, they guide me through the entire production process and of the work and kind of keep me in focus in terms of direction on how the thought comes to reality. The process itself is a journey that is very interesting for me, I’m as eager as the audience to see the outcome of the work. Drawing is really the nucleus of my creative process.

Q7 U.J.I: Any future plans?

R.B: Yes! I ‘ll love to expand my practice. I hope to work out of a sizable studio space, the kind of space that will help me extend my experiments here in the US. I’m really interested in putting color in wood or putting color in wood. I want to explore more materials like bronze and aluminum, just to have more fun generally.

Uche James Iroha is a multidisciplinary artist and curator, He is the conductor of the Photogarage.Lagos:

a platform that supports and instigates lens-based art exchanges between Africa and the world. He has exhibited extensively in a career that has spanned over 22 years. He was awarded 2008 Prince Claus Prize for his support and mentorship of younger generation photographers in Africa as well for his intense and captivating photographic work.