SYLVESTER AGUDDAH: TURNING CARDBOARDS TO CASH

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Guests at the Artcycles event

Yinka Olatunbosun

With roots in Badagry, Lagos, this corporate guru turned full-time studio artist, Sylvester Aguddah takes purposeful strides towards art when he quit his job at a leading telecommunications company in 2016. His winning medium is the cardboard, hardly used by most contemporary artists from Nigeria. Without a formal training in art, it could have been a risk for Aguddah to depend on art for a living but still, it was a risk worth taking.

For 25 years, Aguddah had walked through the corridors of art, starting with his drawings as a child. He would later attend a secondary school with emphasis on art subjects. Growing up in Kano, he was enrolled at the Kano School of Business Studies and later gained admission to study Business Administration at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and specialized in Marketing. Since he graduated in 1999, he had enjoyed posh life, international flights to choice destinations for business, and occasional time at his private corner where he does his art.

At the last exhibition with the theme, “ArtCycles’’ held in Lagos at the Renaissance Hotel, GRA Ikeja, this reporter sought him out as he spoke freely about how he left the lucrative corporate job for his passion: art.

“I started my career with Procter and Gamble in 2000. I joined British American Tobacco in 2002 where I worked as a trade marketing representative and grew to the rank of area manager for seven years and I got the opportunity to work with Globacom as Senior Sales Manager and I was there for eight years until 2016 when I decided to chase my passion,’’ he revealed.

As a corporate staff at a multi-national company, Aguddah did his art marketing quietly within close associates. But his talent was boiling let the hot steam from a pressure pot, fighting to be let out.

“While I was in British American Tobacco, during one of our regional meetings, I was asked to bring along some of my works. A lot of my colleagues then found out that I was into art. I use cardboard sheets of different sizes and thickness to do my works and it is different from what most artists do today. I also do pencil sketches, photo art charcoal and photography. People wonder how I manage to work with the cardboard as a medium because I had no formal training in art. It is just a gift I have,’’ he said.

His work is essentially collage art with drops of abstract and photo art. Although he never really understudied any artist, he is enthralled by the works of Crosby Akunyili. His works are created to appeal to the eyes and mental disposition, soothing the mind and telling a story.

“Some people buy art works because it relates to what they do,’’ he continued. “Today’s exhibition is about two special passions that I have: art and cycling. I love cycling and I do it on weekends. As a cyclist if you want to ride you have to be seen for safety reasons. I use bright colours so as to be seen. Cycling also keeps you healthy.’’

Aguddah may not necessarily belong to a prticular art movement but some of his works are avant-gardist in nature and content. His subject matters are varied between the contemporary and romantic. He romantises nature with skylines’ depictions and treats human emotions to reach a vast audience.

“I like variety. Coming from my background in brand marketing and merchandising, this is about segmenting the market. I want to cut across all ages and social strata. I want the average income earner to be able to afford an art work and be able to give it as gift. I believe that art is priceless. You can’t really put a price to art,’’ he said over the background jazz music wafting through the ground floor of the hotel.

He finished some of his cardboard pieces with several layers. For instance, one had 18 layers of cardboard sheets showing believable sunset with cast of trees appearing at dusk.

“In this abstract work, I try to show a man who is confused about which woman to marry. Here you have two ladies, one light blue and the other is darker blue and a gentleman. The man is in dilemma as the two ladies seem to have met his criteria,’’ he explained as he walked through the works inside the exhibition hall.

The excitement conveyed through the bright colours in his works exemplifies the spirit of a cyclist for it is very rare to see a sad cyclist. Incidentally, the Minister of Sports who saw some of Aguddah’s pieces at this exhibition thought the body of works was a good propaganda for sports development.

Asides doing art, Aguddah’s lifestyle promotes African culture for he sports African fabrics religiously. Perhaps being born of a mother who is partly Togolese may have been instrumental to this pan-African worldview.

Once, he had an opportunity to show his works in UK at a private collection and he went with just 10 pieces.

“It lasted 30 minutes and I sold out. I went with only 10 pieces,’’ he said. Having learnt his lesson, he prepared no fewer than 125 art works for the “ArtCycles” exhibition. He created the first 53 works in three weeks. In response to whether he had an assistant, Aguddah narrated an interesting story of how he got an assistant who worked with him on this last project.

Aguddah usually fixes bicycles at the close of work. One boy had been watching him. One day, Aguddah was tired and left one bicycle to be fixed the next day. By the time he got there, it had been fixed. The young bystander had fixed it. So, when Aguddah started his own company, he decided to engage the young man, Abass as his assistant.

“The boy is also into fashion because I usually give my staff a day off work to learn a skill. What I find exciting about my pursuit of art is the exposure. I have met government officials and celebrities. Although I have not got any sponsorship except Renaissance Hotel, I look forward to more opportunities,’’ he said.