Sometimes art just puts a smile on your face. That’s the case with the work from Uzo Njoku. The visual artist, who was born in Nigeria, creates portraits and tableaus of Black and African communities through a rich saturation of tone and texture, blended with elements of pattern-making that effortlessly capture the joyous moments of life. “I love portraying Black joy and showing, through colors and patterns, different facets of what it means to be Black,” she tells EBONY. She shares her vision through several mediums, from wallpaper and prints to clothing and coloring books.
As she prepares for her first show this summer, Uzo Njoku shares the inspiration for her uplifting pieces and the secret to winning over African parents when you choose a creative career path.
EBONY: What inspired you to pursue art?
Uzo Njoku: I've always had so much positive feedback, especially when I started. I didn't start painting until college. I was studying statistics and Arabic, then took a year off and started painting to decorate my walls. Back then, people were very supportive. I posted on Facebook and I remember selling my first painting for about $20, I was so proud of myself. One day, my statistics advisor called me to her office. She saw that I had snuck in an art class, and saw my work. She said that I was in the wrong major, so that's when I switched and started taking things seriously.
Your work feels very colorful and joyous, what motivated you to take that route?
Sometimes we get so tired of seeing movies with Black grief or a lot of violence, I feel that's not my purpose. My purpose is just to make people feel happy in their homes. I like to be part of that space.
What is the pattern-making style that you use in your art form?
Being from West Africa, we have something called Ankara. Ankara is an Indian and Dutch style, and the Dutch made it a little bit more accessible to West Africa. It’s part of fashion and homes and everything. I always wanted to make my own patterns.
You're Nigerian. How did your family feel when you said I'm going to pursue art instead of statistics?
A lot of African parents are very STEM orientated, so I didn't really have them on board at the beginning. It wasn't until I put my plan in motion and created my first products, like my coloring book, that they started coming around. My advice for anyone who wants to pursue something that their parents don't understand is to have a proper game plan and show it to them, then it shouldn't be that bad.
How has your Nigerian upbringing influenced your art?
I was born in Nigeria, but I was brought up in America, so I'm always kind of caught between two worlds. I'm releasing a pajama line, and I'm also including muumuus, the dresses you see African women wearing around the house. My design style and intricacies will be featured throughout the whole collection, so it's an attribution to my Nigerian upbringing in a unique way.
You just finished a residency where you had a chance to expand on your work?
I have a pretty big show coming up that will really be bridging everything together that I've been working on for years. It's going to include a lot of neighborhood paintings, so I needed some time to really sit down and focus. I applied to VCCA, one of the oldest art residencies in America, and for two weeks, I was secluded in the woods with other artists, writers and composers. I was literally there to just focus on creating and making—I really needed that right before the storm. We showcase at Sugarlift Gallery in Chelsea, New York this June and July.