Egbeichi Egwu Okoro is an award-winning Nigerian fine artist with a background in law. Her insight and experience have been invaluable contributions to the conversation around contemporary art, as well as her perspective on the importance of art exhibitions. She has explored various themes through her body of work, showcasing her ability to work with various mediums. As the CEO of Zinn Arts Gallery, Okoro, in this chat with Ferdinand Ekechukwu, shares the idea behind Zinn Arts Gallery, the most significant achievement and recognition of her career as an artist and how it impacts her work and aspirations
Can you take us through your journey as an artist with a background in law, and how you have managed to excel in both fields?
My journey as a fine artist with a background in law has been a dynamic exploration of creativity and legal acumen. Balancing both fields requires discipline, time management, and a deep passion for each pursuit. My legal background has instilled analytical skills and attention to detail, influencing my artistic process. To excel in both, I’ve maintained a structured schedule, dedicating focused periods to each discipline. The legal knowledge has enriched my artistic perspectives, allowing me to navigate complex themes. Simultaneously, the artistic creativity infuses a unique perspective into my legal work, fostering innovative solutions. Networking and staying active in both artistic and legal communities have been pivotal. Engaging in exhibitions and legal forums provides exposure, builds connections, and contributes to success in both realms. Ultimately, the synergy between law and art has been a source of inspiration, fueling my continuous growth and recognition in both fields.
What inspired you to become a fine artist? Were there any specific influences or experiences that shaped your career?
Becoming a fine artist was a natural evolution, rooted in a familial legacy of artistic talent. Growing up surrounded by parents and siblings who were inherently skilled in fine arts, I absorbed their creativity and developed an innate passion for visual expression. This familial influence, coupled with my own inherent love for the craft, laid the foundation for my artistic journey. Today, running a fine art business allows me to carry forward this legacy while navigating the dynamic intersection of creativity and entrepreneurship.
How do you balance your responsibilities as a lawyer and an artist and do you find any synergies between the two professions?
Balancing roles as a lawyer and an artist involves meticulous time management and prioritization. Both professions demand a high level of creativity and attention to detail. My specialisation in international trade law complements my artistic endeavors by providing a unique perspective on global influences. The legal discipline fosters analytical thinking, enhancing my approach to conceptualizing and executing artworks. While seemingly distinct, these dual roles enrich each other, contributing to a holistic professional identity.
Take us through some of your works. What messages or emotions do you aim to convey through your art?
While I have explored various themes in my body of work, I’d like to highlight two pieces that hold particular significance. In my painting of Chadwick Boseman after his passing, the aim was to capture the essence of his impactful legacy. Through deliberate brushstrokes in a palette dominated by brown, black, and white hues, I sought to convey the emotions surrounding his life and contributions to the world, serving as both a tribute and a reflection on the lasting impact of influential figures. As for “The Futility of Life,” this piece delves into existential contemplation. It depicts a family returning from a journey to their far-away home, now engulfed in flames, with birds flying away from the burning building and a human standing with hands on her head to express shock. Through this visual narrative, I aim to provoke viewers to reflect on the transient nature of our journey, emphasizing the impermanence and ephemeral aspects of life. These works, while distinct in theme, share a common thread of evoking emotions and encouraging thoughtful reflection on different aspects of the human experience.
Can you talk about the themes or subjects that you focus on in your artwork?
Certainly! My artistic endeavors traverse a spectrum of themes, each telling a unique story. The “African Traditional Hairstyle Series” captures the cultural depth and beauty inherent in African hairstyling traditions. “Grateful Heart” visually expresses sentiments of gratitude through the artistic rendering of human figures. “Masking” encapsulates the resilience and adaptation demanded by the COVID-19 era. The portrayal of a rumpled naira note serves as a poignant commentary on economic challenges, symbolising a struggling economy. Meanwhile, “Read My Mind” delves into the intricacies of non-verbal communication. These diverse themes collectively form a narrative that reflects my engagement with cultural, societal, and personal facets, inviting viewers to contemplate the layers of meaning within my body of work.
What has been the most significant achievement or recognition in your career as an artist and how did it impact your work and aspirations?
Having navigated a plethora of recognitions and achievements, pinpointing the most significant is daunting. The IU McKinney Art Event, where my piece “Grateful Heart” clinched both the best overall submission and best student submission awards was a standout moment. This dual triumph among submissions from brilliant artist professors, students, and faculty members resonates deeply with me. The event’s meticulous selection process, overseen by a discerning committee, highlighted the resonance of my work within the artistic community, and prevailing in two categories, especially considering the exceptional talent on display, is a testament to my exceptional prowess and abilities as a fine artist. Originating from a law school, these recognitions hold a distinctive significance as they symbolise a profound connection between my legal profile and my artistic pursuit, reinforcing my commitment to leverage on my legal background in navigating and exploring the intricate facets of my path as a fine artist. Similarly, being honored with the accolade of Artistic Excellence Award by the We Are Arts Group of Mid-Western America and being contacted by a representative of the Nigerian Embassy in Japan to have my works featured in their gallery based on the level of creativity embedded in my works were significant milestones. Winning the “54artistry N200k Reward Initiative” twice in a very competitive pool also stands out for me. These accolades, earned through meticulous selection and rigorous voting processes, collectively shape my artistic trajectory. They serve as affirmations of my artistic prowess, enhancing my visibility among a diverse audience and opening doors to potential opportunities. These achievements provide tangible markers of success, inspiring both myself and my peers on this artistic journey.
How would you describe your technique and style as an artist and why?
As an artist, my approach is dynamic and multifaceted, reflecting a versatility that spans various mediums and styles. My technique is deeply rooted in hyperrealism, capturing intricate details to convey a heightened sense of reality. This precision extends to my drawings, paintings, and mural work, where each stroke is purposeful. Simultaneously, I explore the realm of abstract art, allowing for a more fluid and expressive form of creativity. This divergence into abstraction serves as a counterpoint to my hyper-realistic tendencies, enabling me to convey emotions and concepts in a more interpretive manner. Beyond traditional canvases, I engage in mural painting, using large-scale surfaces to create immersive experiences. Additionally, my foray into fabric crafts adds a tactile dimension to my artistic expression. The synthesis of these diverse techniques and styles allows me to continually evolve as an artist, breaking boundaries and inviting viewers to engage with my work on multiple levels.
Which is your preferred medium of creative expression and why?
While I work excellently well with other mediums, my preferred medium of creative expression is charcoal, whether in compact form or as dust, applied on paper. Charcoal allows me to achieve a unique blend of precision and spontaneity in my artwork and enables me to capture intricate details in different shades. The versatility of charcoal is particularly appealing to me. I can seamlessly transition from fine lines and delicate shading to bold, expressive strokes, adding a dynamic quality to my compositions. Ultimately, my proficiency in manipulating charcoal—often considered challenging by many artists—and utilising it to convey a broad range of emotions and textures, creates a sense of depth and realism in my pieces, aligning with my artistic vision. This proficiency makes charcoal my preferred medium for bringing my creative ideas to life.
As an artist, how do you address (represent) cultural or societal issues in your work and can you discuss any specific pieces that were inspired by Nigerian culture or traditions?
As an artist who engages with cultural and societal issues through my artwork, I find inspiration in the rich tapestry of Nigerian culture and traditions and make drawings to this effect. One of my notable series is the African Traditional Hairstyle Series, which consists of drawings featuring four different hairstyles inspired by Nigeria’s diverse cultural heritage. Among these hairstyles, the “Shuku” and “Didi,” as named by the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, stand out, emphasizing the cultural significance of some weaving techniques. Beyond aesthetics, my art addresses societal issues. In 2015, amid Nigeria’s economic challenges, I created a piece featuring a rumpled Naira note, symbolising the impact of economic downturns on individuals and communities. My works aim to contribute to a nuanced dialogue about the intersection of culture, society, and personal experiences in Nigeria, using visual storytelling with precision and intelligence.
You’re the CEO of Zinn Arts Gallery. What’s the idea behind Zinn Arts Gallery?
The idea behind Zinn Arts Gallery is to establish a global artistic powerhouse, transcending geographical borders to become a hub for cultural exchange and economic influence through the arts. Zinn Arts Gallery aims to have branches in notable parts of the world and go beyond traditional gallery functions. In addition to being a center for art exhibitions, it will be a dynamic space that offers a spectrum of services, which includes art education and drawing sessions for all ages. It will serve as a unifying force for artists worldwide, fostering collaboration and cross-cultural dialogue. Zinn Arts Gallery aims to be a multifaceted institution, actively contributing to the cultural, educational, and economic spheres, leaving a lasting impact on the global art scene.
Why was it so important to set it up at the time you did?
In the ever-evolving landscape of the art world, the establishment of Zinn Arts Gallery at that pivotal moment was imperative. Global connectivity offered me a canvas for cross-cultural collaboration, while a heightened awareness of the economic influence arts demanded a platform for artists to thrive globally, considering these; I set up Zinn Arts Gallery. Additionally, the need to transition from informal to formal art contracts was crucial in accommodating my growing clientele. Recognizing the shifting paradigms in art consumption, I aimed to create a space that not only showcased diverse artistic expressions but also served as an educational hub, fostering creativity and community engagement. Timing was crucial to align the gallery with the contemporary needs of artists and art enthusiasts, ensuring a dynamic and impactful contribution to the evolving realm of fine arts.
What has been the major challenge?
Several challenges have surfaced in the process of navigating the operation of Zinn Arts Gallery. One significant hurdle has been the ever-changing dynamics of the art market, requiring constant adaptation to shifting trends and preferences. Securing sustainable funding and support to maintain the gallery’s operations and artistic initiatives, whether physical or virtual, has been an ongoing challenge. Another notable difficulty lies in fostering cross-cultural collaboration. While the intention is to create a global platform, overcoming language barriers, cultural nuances, and logistical complexities has proven demanding. Additionally, balancing the commercial aspects of the gallery with the commitment to artistic integrity poses an ongoing challenge—ensuring economic viability without compromising the essence of artistic expression, regardless of the gallery’s physical presence. Moreover, establishing a robust educational component within the gallery has encountered obstacles, from designing effective art education programs to reaching diverse audiences. Lastly, the competitive nature of the art world presents a challenge in gaining visibility and recognition amid a plethora of artistic voices. These challenges, though formidable, fuel a commitment to continuous adaptation and innovation, driving Zinn Arts Gallery to evolve and overcome obstacles in the pursuit of fostering a vibrant, global artistic community, irrespective of its physical or virtual nature.
What impact do you hope your art has on viewers?
My aspiration is for my art to evoke a meaningful impact on viewers. I aim to instigate introspection, provoke thought, and elicit emotional responses that resonate with diverse audiences. Through my work, I seek to inspire empathy, challenge preconceptions, and contribute to a broader dialogue on societal issues. Ultimately, I hope my art serves as a catalyst for positive change, fostering a deeper connection between individuals and the world around them, and perhaps encouraging a fresh perspective or a renewed sense of appreciation for the complexities of the human experience.
What advice do you have for emerging artists seeking recognition and success in the art world? How important do you think networking and building connections are for artists?
As an award-winning fine artist who has benefited from networking, my advice for emerging artists is to prioritise both artistic excellence and strategic networking. Hone your craft relentlessly, consistently produce and showcase your work. Actively engage in art communities, attend events, and leverage social media to build connections. Networking is crucial; it opens doors, provides exposure, and creates valuable opportunities for recognition and success in the competitive art world.
Share some thoughts on your perspective on the importance of art exhibitions; how do they deepen the culture?
Art exhibitions play a pivotal role in deepening culture by serving as dynamic platforms for dialogue, expression, and cultural exploration, allowing individuals to connect with different perspectives, ideologies, and artistic expressions. They encourage critical thinking. The act of physically engaging with artworks fosters a deeper connection and understanding, contributing to the cultural fabric of a community. They are cultural catalysts, offering tangible and immersive experiences that reflect and challenge societal narratives. Additionally, art exhibitions hold economic importance, contributing to the creative economy by showcasing and supporting artists, attracting tourism, and fostering local businesses in the cultural sector.
Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you would like to share with our audience? What can we expect from your future artistic endeavors?
While I’m currently in the planning stages for future projects and exhibitions, I’m excited to share that I’m exploring themes that delve into the intersection of culture, technology, and societal shifts. My aim is to create immersive experiences that resonate with a diverse audience.