Diseye Tantua is an experimentalist who is renowned for creating unconventional artworks. The proponent of Afro-pop art speaks of his brand of art and what we should expect from him in 2018.
By Adefoyeke Ajao
What is the Art of Diseye Tantua?
Like every other artist, I am an artist and there is nothing special about what I do. I experiment a lot as an artist. I am an experimentalist who is not restricted by the word[s] ‘painter’, ‘sculptor’ or ‘ceramist’ – I am an artist.
You’ve carved a niche for yourself as an Afro-pop artist; what attracted you to this genre?
There was no such thing as Afro-pop art, what we had was Pop art, and then, there was Afrobeat. A lot of what I was doing at the time had to do with the words used in Afrobeat. Afrobeat had the street slangs and different vernacular words that I was using in my art and I was experimenting with pop art by combining it with Afrobeat. I came up with the term Afro-pop art when I was having my first exhibition on that experiment with a good friend of mine who is called Tam Fiofori. He is a photographer, but he actually curated my first exhibition. We came up with the idea of calling what I did Afro-pop art since we were combining Afrobeat and pop art and coming up with something unique. I don’t think the word existed before then -that was around 2008 – even though a lot of people now use it.
Has it been widely accepted within Nigeria’s creative community?
When I started the style where I was mixing pop art with street slang, vernacular and Pidgin English and had called it Afro-pop art, it didn’t really matter to me if it was accepted by society or the art community at the time. I was just doing Afro-pop art because I felt I wanted to do something other than the norm. Calling it pop art was not enough for me and that was why we called it Afro-pop art. I didn’t care if it was going to be accepted or not because there are really no yardsticks to [judge] the different genres we have in Nigeria. In Africa, you can’t apply the golden rules applied to Western art because our art is not documented to the point where we can classify works as modern art, traditional art, or contemporary art. It’s still a struggle documenting African art because there is so much, it’s so different, the ideas just keep coming and we are still digging up the past. So, it wasn’t really my aim to fuse it in what we had; I was just doing my thing.
Can you describe your creative process? What is it like when you are creating something new?
It depends on what I’m doing. Sometimes I prefer to have total silence because I’m actually fighting with myself to get something out. I’m fighting in my head and at the same time trying to describe what’s going on, on my paper or canvas or whichever medium I choose to use. When I get to a point where I know what I’m doing, or I know where I’m heading or I have experimented with something more than once or twice, I have the freedom to play music and do what I like. I can even have people in the studio watching me. When I’m being serious with work I want to do for the first time, you see me working in silence till I get what I want, but once I’m used to doing it over and over again, I really don’t mind what’s going on around me. I can play loud music while I’m working and even leave my daughter to play around.
What are you currently working on?
I recently designed some functional structures with Arthouse Contemporary; I had bought different classic cars, cut them and made them into chairs and couches. For next year, I have two exhibitions I’m planning to do: one is my photography exhibition; I’ve been working on it for the past seven years now and it’s called ‘Artists & Studios’. When I first bought some books on art and artists in their studios in America, London and Paris, I was shocked to see that they were really documenting their artists. The ‘Artists & Studios’ is going to have different artists from Ghana and Nigeria because I saw that in the western world they had different books on artists in their studios, where you can see the artists in their raw states. Here, we really don’t have documentation on our artists – there hasn’t been any comprehensive one and if there would be, it would be incomplete. I started off with mine seven years ago, and I’m hoping that by next year I will have an exhibition which will be the first series on different artists; from master artists to younger artists who are doing new and creative things. On my Instagram page, I’ve started uploading one-minute teasers for people to understand what I’ll be doing. It’s a photo and video exhibition, and I have videos of the featured artists as well as photographs of them as they talk about art. It is something for younger artists to learn from and be inspired by.
Which other artists inspire you?
Most of the master artists I’ve been documenting: Yusuf Grillo, Kolade Oshinowo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nike Okundaye and Demas Nwoko. As an artist, what is the best advice that you have received and what advice would you give to aspiring artists? The best advice I’ve gotten was from a Ghanaian artist named Ablade Glover, when I was in secondary school, about to get into the university. He said to me “go to school and study the basics”. When you get into school to study art and you understand the basics the next thing for you is to break the rules.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Be yourself, keep doing what you are doing and the sun will shine for you. If you had not become an artist, what would you be doing instead? I don’t see myself as anything other than an artist. Art completes me. Art will always be my first, second and even third choice.
If you were to be one of your artworks, which one would you be?
That’s like asking a parent if she has a favourite child. All of my artworks are extensions of my being and contain elements of me. They all reflect who I am.
*Diseye Tantua’s artwork is available on Art635. You can visit his website or follow him on
Photos courtesy of Diseye Tantua
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this article 600Total views