Robert Oniha, born on the 9th of July 1999, is an upcoming Nigerian artist who specialises in surreal and contemporary portraits and figures done in charcoal and fabrics. After his secondary school education, he took a gap year to intern with “Tender Arts ng”, a charity art foundation, where he polished his art skills. During this time, he tutored younger children and took part in various charity projects affiliated with Tender Arts ng, and had his works exhibited at the 2017 “Arts for Sustainable Development Goals” exhibition in the United Nations Information Centre, Lagos, Nigeria. He uses charcoal, paint, pastel and various fabrics to create artworks that force the viewers to remember the beauty, significance, and complexities of Nigerian history and cultures like; hairstyles, dressing, art, etc. that seem to be dying out as result of colonial influences. The after-effects of these influences have made the average Nigerian blur the line between cultural imperialism and development. This causes Nigerians to think that certain aspects of our culture are primitive and inferior. The message behind his works isn’t to induce hate for western cultures; since they do have their benefits, but to explore the possibility of both cultures peacefully existing side by side
Several parts of Nigerian culture are slowly being forgotten. In its peak stages, colonial influence conferred inferiority on aspects of Nigerian culture and relegated them to the background. The after-effects of this cultural imperialism have made the average African blur the line between imperialism and development. Certain aspects of the “new order” did not make sense to the established system. Unfortunately, these were accepted without much resistance from the greater part of society at the time. A classic example is the generally accepted ‘formal hairstyles’, which all involve some form of sleek updo or another hair texture that is alien to natural African hair. My present focus as an artist is to use my work to remind both Nigerians and non-Nigerians across the continents about the beauty, significance, and complexities of aspects of our cultures that seem to be dying out. My works are heavily inspired by great Nigerian artists like J. D. Ojeikere and Yinka Shonibare. One of the unique features of African textured hair is its ability to be sculpted and moulded into various shapes and forms. I am currently working and plan to keep working on hairstyles from across the continent. My process includes drawing on primed canvas with charcoal, clothing my subjects with bits of fabrics that have African connections; painting the backgrounds with vibrant colours; and weaving and twisting synthetic hair directly on the canvas.
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All photographs courtesy of Robert Oniha.
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