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How does Tochukwu Henry Kandudi promote dialogue on equality between people through art

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi — a young Nigerian artist, who creates his paintings in a hyperrealistic style, believes that art can help change the human mind. Due to the fact that our life consists of the information that we surround ourselves with, everything we see, hear and feel ultimately shapes our perception of life. Tochukwu seeks to fill the world with art, thereby changing the life of everyone for the better.

The life stories of people he knows as well as the fruits of his own imagination are hidden behind his hyperrealistic portraits. His artworks are symbolic, reflecting the deep meaning that the artist puts into them. When he lacks a visual image, the artist complements his works with words.

How does an artist promote dialogue on equality? What do Tochukwu and fabled Nigerian musician Fela Kuti have in common? How has music influenced the formation of the artist's personality? You can read all about this and much more from my conversation with a talented African artist, Tochukwu Henry Kandudi.

Yuliana Arles: Your work is striking in photographic clarity, it seems that it takes many years of practice to create such hyperrealistic artworks. Tell me, how long have you been doing art, and why did you choose such a complex, scrupulous direction in painting as hyperrealism?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: As long as I can remember, I have been drawing in my notebooks when I was in primary school at a very young age. I started creating comics, and then I felt myself driven to get the real resemblance of images as they appear. But professionally, I started in 2018 after my graduation from Yaba college of technology (Lagos), where I completed my engineering degree in the department of mechanical engineering.

In fact, I didn't consciously choose hyperrealism. It was by chance, I just wanted to get a semblance of photographs in the picture. Since then, I have never stopped creating art, and I still practice to further improve my skills.

Yuliana Arles: What materials and techniques do you use to create your art?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: To create my artwork, I use several types of materials, for example, pencils, charcoal and graphite pencils, a mixed eraser or a mono eraser for small details. I also prefer stump shading and sometimes tissue paper. All the above materials are used when I work on a pencil project. In the case, when I create a painting project, I then use acrylic and oil paints.

I love to draw with pencil on canvas.

The moment I'm drawing, I feel like I can control the canvas more than the paper. Then, when I have finished the project, and I feel an inner satisfaction knowing that the canvas will last much longer in this world even after I leave it.

Yuliana Arles: Hyperrealism, like the associated photorealism, emerged in the late 60s due to the significant expansion of photography in those years. Then, with the advent of digital photography in the early 2000s, there was a second wave of interest in this direction of painting.

Are you interested in photography yourself? In your opinion, why in our time, when the possibilities of photography exceed even the most daring expectations, the interest in hyperrealism does not fade away?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: I do not consider myself a photographer. The only interest I have in photography is to capture my ideas and the emotions of my muses. I do not want in any way to criticize the art of photography, I believe that everyone has a right to the means of self-expression that they decide to use. In my case, it is painting and drawing.

As I said, I have not chosen this aspect of art (hyperrealism). It started all of a sudden because of my desire to display exactly what I see in the photographs. For me, the main thing in this process is my expression and inner satisfaction, and the fact that it is relevant in modern society, or not, is already secondary and insignificant.

Yuliana Arles: Do you have any favorite artists who create their art in the direction of hyperrealism or photorealism? If so, who and why do you like their art? Are there any African artists you admire among them? What African artists would you recommend following?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: Yes, of course, there are several artists who inspired me to pursue art professionally. One such artist is Mike Dargas. His art conveys reality so clearly that his work can be mistaken for photographs. When I first saw his painting on his Instagram page, it was incredible. I admired the art for a long time and doubted that this was a painting, not a photograph. Mike is undoubtedly a good example for me, one cannot fail to note his great professionalism and organization.

If you take my brothers from Africa, I must definitely mention Arinze Stanley, Ken Nwadiogbu and Kelvin Okafor. I call them pencil wizards. I would recommend you follow them on Instagram. Guys are doing incredible things, see for yourself, and then you will understand why I mentioned them here. I think they are the best and definitely inspire me.

Yuliana Arles: Basically, you are drawing realistic portraits, presenting each image in the smallest detail. Each portrait, each image, tells its own unique life story, which can be read by the eyes, by the position of the body, or even in additional wardrobe items. Where do you find models for your paintings? Are you familiar with them? Did you really want to capture their life stories on canvas?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: Yes, Yuliana, I am familiar with most of them. However, there are several projects that I have implemented without knowing the people depicted on them. Sometimes I take images from my photography friends and use them as a guide to create and express my feelings. Sometimes I take pictures of my muses myself.

I also want to note that I did not always strive to capture the life story of my muses. The models just posed for me for a photo shoot, and then I turned on my imagination and added stories to them.

Now I am in the stage of constant growth and improvement, and I am sure there will be more to come. I think you should keep an eye on this space because my best is yet to come.

Yuliana Arles: Some of your artworks, such as “Brothers turn Foes” or “The Struggle”, clearly contain sensitive social and political subjects. Could you be called a political activist? Do you believe that art can influence social changes, as at one time Fela Kuti brought change to Nigeria through his music?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: I don't know what to call me, I just do what I think is right.

As you know, each of us has a purpose in life, and mine is to live my life out through art, as well as to constantly promote the dialogue about equality between people.

The inspiration of ‘’The struggle’’ and “Brothers turn foes’’ came all of a sudden out of real life experiences and I put it down as an art work. If that makes me an activist, then I think I must have been led by God, because I think the ideas come from him.

You may not believe it, but thoughts to this day remain a mystery to me. People become what they see and hear on a regular basis. I believe that art is a teacher, and when properly considered, it can lead to changes in the human mind.

So, imagine that the universe is filled with good art in the form of music, visual effects, films, podcasts and so on in the eyes and ears of people every day. I think that this can in a certain way affect the state of people and their happiness. Therefore, I strongly believe that art can change a person and can lead to social change.

Yuliana Arles: It is truly amazing, Tochukwu, how art is able to influence human consciousness. I recently started researching this topic, the results of which I want to present in my book. Thank you for taking part in my survey.

I also want to draw attention to another hallmark of your creativity in the use of words in painting. Many artists in the history of art have conducted similar experiments with the interweaving of words and images, but each of them had its own goals. For example, artists from the 80s such as Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer used text to convey political and activist sentiments. What role do you assign to words in your canvases?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: I believe that among the great artists you mentioned, there must be the name of Jean Michel Basquiat, who had a great influence on me. I use words to show what I cannot draw.

When I create a piece, a lot of things come to my mind, and some of them I cannot express through drawing. That's why I just write them down in words. Thus, the role that I attribute to words in my canvases is to reveal my thoughts, which are difficult to emphasize with a visual image.

Yuliana Arles: Watching the creation of your paintings on social networks, one cannot fail to notice that in this process you are always accompanied by music. What role does music play in your life and creative work?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: When I listen to music, it’s like I’m listening to a pastor preach. I grew up listening to people like Bob Marley, Jay'z, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and these are just a few of a long list of great musicians. What these artists reveal in their music helped me shape my thinking as it is today. I consider a musician to be a teacher who leads me through life with his music. They may not even be aware of it, but I am greatly influenced by their music, which I often listen to.

I still remember those feelings that arose during the creation of the piece, which was based on the inspiration I received from Kendrick Lamar, “How much is a dollar”, one of his masterpieces from his “to pimp a butterfly album”.

I listen to music when I work, because I get lost in the message, as well as in the sweet sound of the melody, I also get carried away into the realm where I just create without limits. This experience is so spiritual that I cannot clearly define it. For me, music is life, and I have a lot of respect for music.

Yuliana Arles: Can you share your plans? Have you already decided on the direction of your art, or do you have room for various experiments with style, materials and techniques?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi:I think I'm open to exploring art and the industry in general. But to be honest, my biggest plan right now is to make a professional studio where I can freely create everything that will come from within me. It will be very important to place a section of photography in my studio, where I can always capture the emotions of my muses, as well as poses from my ideas. At the moment, these goals are the main ones on my list.

So yes, my answer to your question, Yuliana, is that I leave room for various experiments with different materials and techniques.

Yuliana Arles: You are a Nigerian artist who persists in realizing your dream. What advice do you have for aspiring artists in your country?

Tochukwu Henry Kandudi: Believe in your visions that made you start and never give up.


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