Yinka Elujoba: Can you say a bit about how you became an artist and what informed your decision to work in the medium you’ve chosen?

Eloghosa Osunde: I’ve always written, but I got my first camera at sixteen. A used film camera from an old store in Brighton for £200, and not because I wanted to be a photographer. I got it because I’d discovered how unreliable my memory was, and was scared I wouldn’t remember what I felt at the time were my best years. I can hardly recall my childhood, so I fill that space with stories, even now. I didn’t want to do that with the rest of my life; I wanted to have photographs and albums to show to loved ones. You know when you visit an older relative and they have albums in their living room? That’s one of my favourite feelings — looking through photographs with edges browned by age; seeing someone you love in new light, looking at a side you’ve never met, moving through page after page of them playing with friends, graduating, laughing, drinking juice, getting married. Proof of aliveness. Proof of youth. Proof of age. I like remembering things as they were. I like opportunities to remember myself and others; to be able to say: this is what I liked wearing back then, this was my favourite hairstyle, this is who I was with in 2002, this was us against our university’s gate. Memory softens people. It transports them. And photos are a way of persevering memory. Pictures make things solid. Pictures hold facts. Photos last. That’s why I started. Or why I told myself I started. When asked by curious adults why I was taking photos, my answer was “so I can remember.” They got that. People get that, because that’s what we’re all saying when we take the time to document moments, to immortalise memories. We’re saying: I’m living a life I want to remember.

But it became more than that. I became more than someone who forgets or who wars against forgetting. At nineteen, I admitted the beauty of my own eye and started a website for African artists to share their work. I didn’t like that there was no *one* place online to go to find the best paintings, hear new music, read poems, watch dancers, meet chefs, etc, from the continent. It grew faster than I expected (people submitted work from many countries), but became impossible to maintain with school and work. By the time that folded, I had gotten used to looking at literally everything from behind a lens. Now, it was for more than a camera and an album. I started an instagram called The Forgetter’s Eye for my documentary photos of Lagos, just to test and stretch myself; as a way of putting down some of the thousands of photos I'd taken, of archiving what I’d seen, of filtering all my passions through the lens of memory. I got my first exhibition from that. 2015. That same day, Shapes - a selection of vignettes I wrote - was published by CNA. At my exhibition, people kept asking “when is the next one?” And I remember standing there thinking: it’s me they’re talking to. And then repeating that when I got home in a way that sank in: it’s me they were talking to. And it fit.

YE: Do you think your practice as writer influences your practice as a visual artist? If so, how so? If not, what do you think is responsible for the separation in approach?

EO: I realised over time that what I was really looking for in a photograph was a story — a what-happened-here — so documentary wasn’t going to be a final form. I had thousands of photographs, but I still felt limited. I realised that I didn’t want to be a photographer, necessarily. I wanted to be an artist and I knew that if I could paint, that’s what I’d be. So I thought: how do I make a story out of a photo? How do I pull the same feeling out of someone that I get when I look at a painting? With paintings, there is more room. There are doors and windows you can enter. Your imagination can stretch beyond what’s in front of you. You can go inside them and breathe. And why? What’s the difference? I realised it’s because paintings care more about possibility than they do about facts, so details are less granular. Time can melt, settings can blur, and whatever is precious is what remains. I wanted that in my work. I wanted air and vastness. So I made my own style. Even now, it thrills me when people can’t tell that all my work starts with a photograph.

Writing shapes my visual art in the sense that I care about story more than I care about reality. I have an actual faith in the magic of stories, because they can do anything. Stories mould us; they shape our self esteem, our dreams, our faiths even. We already know what the world looks like, but with stories, you’re asking questions, even the ones you don’t mean to ask. What if I can take what is there and make you imagine what isn’t or what could be? What happens when fiction overlaps with photography? That’s a question I asked myself. And well, my work is an answer.

YE: Which artists are your influences?

EO: I don't think of influences in the conventional sense because my best work comes from listening to myself and my own experiences, but some artists who have taught me better ways to see: Toni Morrison, Akwaeke Emezi, Arundhati Roy. Victor Ehikhamenor. Salvador Dali, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Lynette Yiadom Boakye. Frank Ocean. Florence Welch.

YE: What are the core themes your work has engaged so far? How do you think people have received these themes through your work? What do you want people to experience when they engage your work?

EO: Home. Intimacy. Familial and intergenerational cycles. Neurodivergence. I can’t choose what people experience, but I hope the work moves people in the way things do when you know you have to address them. So far, I’ve noticed that some people turn away from my work because it’s uncomfortable and ‘heavy.’ And I take no offence whatsoever, because I understand these are not topics we were raised to discuss openly. But the ones who do lean in remind me why I bother at all. I’ve had all sorts of reactions from a hug to a letter to a confrontation. I learn from all of them. I hope my work always has enough weight to make someone feel something. I’m not interested in changing anyone or making anyone think in a specific/pre-specified direction. I’m alright if it makes you feel or think something new that you hadn’t considered before or if it makes you want to start a conversation. My favourite moments at exhibitions are when I see strangers trying to make sense of the work by asking each other questions, or people introducing themselves to each other in front of a piece or when someone says “thank you” and nothing more. I understand that.

YE: What do you think has evolved in your work since working with Rele Gallery and in general?

EO: I think with every new project, I’m pushing style. Now my work also involves paint and will stretch to include other materials like hair, like blades, like thread, like chalk. I’m adding texture, making it more alive. Most recently, I worked on an art story for Orange Culture's SS20 collection. Watching the clothes move down the runway was a bit surreal and made me even more curious about all the forms the work can take. I like that I always surprise myself. This year, I'll be living in book two and other stories, playing in film, working with fabric, taking the borders off everything. Is there a place where art meets music meets fashion meets language meets film? That’s where I want to go.

YE: What do you think are some of the challenges of working as an artist in Nigeria today? How have you overcome some of these challenges in your work?

EO: Making art in Nigeria is as thrilling as it is frustrating for various reasons. It’s the most alive place I’ve lived in and it’s the place I understand the most — all my work is set and made here — but the lack of structure gets in the way sometimes. That said, we’re currently living in a time where the possibilities are endless. There’s been so much work done over the years to improve the arts in Nigeria. It feels good to have the Lagos Biennale, Rele gallery, ArtX, Art Summit, etc. Something is shifting and I’m thankful to be a part of that shift.

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