Chiamaka Ozulumba writes that Emmanuel Okenwa, a talented visual artist popularly known by his stage name ‘Sly Megida Jnr’, uses the beauty of art to draw attention to the threat hard drugs pose if left unchecked
Emmanuel Okenwa, popularly known as Sly Megida Jnr is a visual artist who was born and raised in Lagos although he hails from Akpugo in Nkanu L.G.A Enugu State. With a BA. in Business Management and Computer Science from the University of Winsconsin Accra, Ghana, he owns and manages his art brand known as Coke Spice.
On how he coined Sly Megida jnr, he said: “It was coined out of two names, my English name, ‘Sylvester’ and my father’s nickname ‘Megida’, which he got from his many trips to Northern Nigeria, he spoke fluent Hausa and people there called him ‘Megida’. Sly is an acronym which means ‘Soon Leaving Yesterday’, a name I was quite popular with back in secondary school and it stuck even after I left school.”
Insight into Art Foray
On how his foray into the world of art began he said: “I have always been in love with Arts since I was a young boy. It came to me naturally, I never studied Fine Arts or did any course pertaining to Arts in school, I just knew I was naturally creative. Drawing was a part of many creative skills I developed although I stopped drawing for a while after my secondary education until 2015 during my undergraduate days in Ghana when I started drawing and painting.
“It was then I realised that it was what I loved doing and decided to take it up as a career. I express my art through still-life, hyper-realism, expressionism, cubism, futurism, geometric and tribal art in oil and acrylic on canvas. In 2016 I organised my first solo exhibition with my team tagged ‘Never Mind’, the turnout was very impressive and ever since there has been no looking back.”
On his role models he said: “My art has been influenced by pop visual artists such as Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Michel Basquiat and Roy Lichtenstein who are characterised by their portrayal of any and all aspects of popular culture that had a powerful impact on contemporary life. I refer to myself as an ‘Afro Pop Artist’ and I believe to have up the mantle of legacy made by these legends in my own disposition called ‘Afro Pop Art Culture’ Movement hence, my determination to take Africa Art to the world and also get Africans more familiar and in tuned with Art from the rest of the world”
Inspiration to Fight Drugs through Art
On what inspired him to use art as a tool to expose the effect of using hard drug he said: “I always endeavour to always pass a message across with my art in whatever form I use to express, and the subject of my works are based on the prevailing influence of human behaviour in social and cultural environment. The issue of drug abuse has been a recurrent strong influence on human behaviour in our social and cultural environments all over the world and the negative effects are overwhelming.
“It’s my belief that everyone on earth was created for a purpose which is to try and make the world a better place, we can pass messages across and address social ills with our talents, mine is Art. Art is life, it washes off the dust of everyday life. I realised that other than being applauded and celebrated, my works could tell true life stories and I could reach out to more people.
“‘Drug of Art’ is my own preferred medium to contribute my own quota in the fight against the illicit use of hard drugs and help create further awareness and solution by transforming such negative vibes into positive vibes through art and creativity.”
Alluding that his fight against hard drugs stemmed out of personal experience he had with someone, he added that “the message the painting depicts is the harsh effects the use of illicit drugs has on human beings. I have met a mother who lost her son to drug overdose, before we started the campaign and her story moved me to use my art to spread word about the hazardous effect illicit drugs has on its users. I tried to channel the pain and hurt the mother felt while she told the story into the painting called ‘Drug of Art’ and I am very impressed with the outcome”.
Campaign to Schools
On his campaign against hard drugs in secondary schools and universities he revealed that “the
‘Drug of Art’ painting was created because we felt a gap in the society that needed to be fixed and we took it as our social responsibility to do so. As a brand, we felt it was right to create a platform that could give the opportunity to further spread the underlying messages through our painting.
“The campaign was taken to schools because allurement and cravings begin at the early stage where they are faced with different choices that can make or mar their lives. High school is the foundation of the life of every youth and bad vices set in at this stage.
“Children can be ‘bended’ but not adults, so that’s what fuelled our campaign. We decided to focus primarily on secondary schools and universities, we recently had an event at the University of Lagos (UniLag), dubbed ‘The Drug of Art’, where the painting was the focal point and used to impact knowledge”.
Although he would not physically weigh the outcome of his work and how far he has come along he said: “The achievement so far has been a gradual progress as it’s always an upheaval trying to push for change in a free world, it has been a good gradual process and I am hopefully that it will be a continuous process. It isn’t easy to change people’s opinion or perspective on things so easy, but that’s the challenge and it has been an interesting one so far despite how daunting the journey has been.
Touching on whether he has ever felt that he was fighting a lost battle against hard drugs he said: “I am an optimistic person who tends to see things from a positive point of view, I learn from my mistakes and only see challenges as steppingstones.
“Of course, there have been days when I feel that I am losing the battle but whenever I visit certain places and I hear people say, ‘Oga say no to drugs’, I realise that my message is being heard and word is being spread. My motivation is that I understand that it takes patience and hard work to create value so on dark days when I think all hope is lost, I remember to look back and count my blessings and keep looking forward to better days.
“Whenever I feel downcast, all I need do is to start a new piece as it gives me an out as very piece comes with its own flavour. I always tell people especially the youths that nothing in life is worth losing your dreams for. God did not create junk, everyone has a purpose in life and so they should make that gift their drug, ingest the drug of art and unveil their true potentials without the aid of hard drugs.”