Henri Moweta: I’m an Artist with Answers to Nigeria’s Economic Crisis

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Henri Moweta. Have you heard that before? Those are not Latin words. If you are a regular visitor to Anthony Village, you will likely understand those words. Still in doubt? Well, that’s the name of an artist –a Nigerian artist, who exudes confidence as being one of the best artists around. His aura attests to that; so do his works. Moweta can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is and force a viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be. He can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo to see and feel that “the girl” in the old woman is “still alive,” imprisoned inside her aged body. The artist can make you feel that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than 18 in her heart. An excitable person, Moweta only sees and understands life through paintings, sculpture and carvings. Reality does not impress him. He only believes in intoxication, ecstasy and when ordinary life shackles him, he escapes one way or the other. Moweta tells Adedayo Adejobi about his priceless love for the arts, his view of riches and how art made him fall in love with a woman

Living in Anthony Village
Adebayo Mokuolu is one of the major streets running and connecting through Anthony Village, a suburb in Lagos State. The Oworonshoki express road end of the street is crammed on one side with an array of storey buildings, and on the other with a busy mechanic workshop, a massive white four storey building housing a highbrow hotel and a long, low, wooden shed occupied by a food vendor; there was also an electrician’s workshop and other small-scale businesses. For anyone driving through the expressway to visit the renowned artist, empty cans of various sizes, torn clothes, shredded vehicle tyres, squashed fruits, crushed cardboard cartons and trash of every kind which have formed a plateau of rubbish are usually the welcome sign one will see. The heap of rubbish runs down into a yawning gorge from which the Anthony-Gbagada hills could be seen rising in the distance. For Henri Moweta, the area serves as his house and art gallery.
On a normal day, you would find him standing by the roadside, facing the putrid garbage, gazing at the spectacle of smelly, sprawling trash and the lush greenery of Gbagada hills in the distance. Sometimes, he is with his son. At other times, he’s alone working. The artist, who has lived almost all his life in Anthony, loves the quietude and peace the environment offers to his mind and artistry. More so, it allows him the privilege to interact with different classes of people – the rich and poor. Anthony is a good place to live.
Moweta, the owner of the studio, Henrimoweta African Art Centre, has lived in Anthony since 1989.

His Priceless Love for Art
The artist no doubt cut his teeth in the arts by studying at popular Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State. He had National Diploma and Higher National Diploma certificates. “Because that’s what I have passion for, that’s what my training is based on. I went to school and studied Art, and I had to passionately pursue it to the very level that I want, which I am now. I am enjoying it (more) than every other profession. My love for the arts is priceless. I couldn’t be doing any other thing than the arts,” Moweta pointed out.

His Memory of First Pay
For a man who has spent over 30 years practising, eating and sleeping art, his consistency, resilience, growth and penchant for the job says it all. Tracing his trajectory on the job, he was swift to admit that, “I can’t remember my first pay cheque and the first job precisely. But I know for sure that, my first pay was not commensurate compared to what I did, even as a first-timer. If you look at art, just a few people can really afford to pay for a good work. But thank God we are moving on. I knew I collected some money for the first job I did, but I can’t remember who bought my first well-priced job.”

How He Overcame Trying Times
Reliving his growing up experience, he described it as “great and perfect.” Though there were trying times, when such occurred, he found grace to overcome, “because I believed my experience was a challenge, and that things will be good.” According to Moweta, what has helped during those trying times was for him to sit down and take a stock of “where I have been; where I’m coming from; where God has taken me to; what He is taking me through; I thank God and I expect a better me and a better inflow of life and what life throws at me.”

His Art, His Wife and His Home
About his profession, he said, “Because I like and love art, I have been able to engage in an interplay with it. But my art still comes into the family because my wife understands that when I am home, I am totally home. When I’m talking, I’m making sketches and she has understood me to that level where my heart plays into the marriage. They are able to appreciate and see from that aspect of life.”

He Makes Enough Money
How much does he love money? Can Moweta ever be satisfied with what he earns from his great works of art? He has this to say, “As an artist, I make considerable amount of money to meet basic needs and more. But no money is ever enough. No matter the amount of money you have, it can never be enough for you, as there is the basic instinctive human desire to earn and make more. If you know the amount of income you earn, you should learn to cut your cloth according to your material. That’s just the principle, because there is no amount of money or resource that can be enough if you are the lavish type. So I think it’s very important to be prudent at all times, and give attention to your scale of preferences which is very important.”

Art – It Runs in His Family
While he may be the main artist in the house, there is something about other members of his family one can’t ignore. “My first child is a graduate and an engineer with so much interest in the arts.  He might not necessarily be drawing, but he knows every rule guiding the art procedures. He is planning to hold an exhibition for upcoming artistes and for those who want to be artists, to encourage them. My wife is into art also; and that’s one of the reasons why I married her because she sketches. Even when I run out of ideas or concepts, my wife gives me ideas to work, on and that’s the complementary part of life. You know, I always say that young people should be patient enough to look for their second half,” Moweta said.

How His Love Story Began
Even though he claimed that he couldn’t vividly remember how he met his wife, the Anthony Village artist recalled: “My wife, Gloria, is a good woman. I honestly don’t remember how we met. But she’s been so wonderful to me. You know when I say she is a good woman, she really is. She is a designer; very busy and committed to her work. So one day I went to her workplace, saw a sketch and I was forced to ask who drew it. Later, I discovered she was the one who drew the sketch. I met her, and from there I developed interest in her. At that time, there were no mobile phones. I visited her without prior appointments at some point. Afterwards, she asked me some questions which I did not hesitate or stammer to answer. I was fully prepared. We got talking; from there onwards we began our love story.

His Readiness to Apologise
With marriage being a bed of roses and thorns, Moweta noted that his marriage has its own fair share of marital disagreements. But who apologizes more – he or his wife? “Between my wife and me, I don’t know who offends the other most. But I know for sure that I can do a mouthful of ‘I am sorry’. Even when she offends me, I will still apologise to her because it doesn’t cost (me) anything. When you find it very easy to say ‘I’m sorry’ you will move on,” Moweta said.
His Friends and Disappointments
Hear him as he talked about friendship and disappointment: “I am a very private person; I don’t keep friends. I have been disappointed by friends severally, so I took the decision not to have close friends. Not that I don’t have them, but I don’t keep them. There is nothing in this life; I have seen it all; both ups and downs of life. So it makes me to be myself all the time. However, what I do is a little unwinding particularly on Sundays after overworking myself during the week. Besides, I need rest, so the flow from within translate into new and fresh ideas. My Sundays are usually free for me. I don’t do anything, not even a drawing.”

Fulfilled as an Artist
“I can boldly say I am fulfilled as an artist; besides, it written all over me. I’m very cool and calm. I can’t say I’m the best but one of the best. My imprint in the world of art cannot be pushed over, because I have done so many things; mentored and raised so many people in the industry and today they are able to stand on their own. I love to promote African culture through arts by ways of assembling art pieces, collection and exhibition, and expressing what I do in my community and what others do in their various communities,” he said.

The Artist as an Economist
Nigeria’s economic situation begs for answers; but one will hardly expect an artist to attempt to provide solutions to the country’s economic woes. Moweta thinks differently. He explained, “As an artist, there is something I’m painting right now that will answer the economic questions bedeviling our economic status as a country; on where we are and where we’ll be in the next five years. The painting will give suggestions to Nigerians to make them understand we have a lot of resources and not to focus on oil alone. The painting will be launched in August. By the grace of God, this year will be better than any other year. I have an exhibition programme I am working on, within and outside Nigeria. I have one coming up in August and another one in the first week of September.”