My name is Kosisochukwu Nnebe, and I am a 19 year old Montreal-based artist. I was born in Nigeria, moved to Canada when I was 5, and grew up in Gatineau, Quebec. I’m currently doing a double major in Economics and International Development at McGill University.
What ignspired you to become an artist?
I am most in touch with myself when I draw – art is something that has inspired me since I was a child, and has in a way become a receptacle of my thoughts, my dreams, and everything else that makes me who I am. Thus as a child I dreamt of being an artist, but as it often happens, the dream began to fade away as I grew up and other things began to take precedence. It was only after turning 19 that I decided to rekindle and refocus my passion, and try to make something out of it. I’ve always had a hard time using speech to convey my feelings, and so art became my main vehicle for self-expression, an exploratory tool – a way to analyze my pe
rception of the people around me, to revaluate and redesign my personal vision and to share my discoveries.
How do you use your work as an artist to tell stories?
I was never the most eloquent child, so from a very young age, I depended on pen and paper to express myself – be it with short stories, or with sketches. My stories would always revolve around one character, and were in large part merely portraits and glimpses into their conscious. In many ways, my art follows the same theme – my portraits tell the story of the numerous black women that have inspired them. It is the story of strong black women (but not “angry black women”) who are challenging the mould, challenging a society that time after time questions their beauty. The portraits, be it of black women, or of black men as in the floral series, serve to put forward a new/different image of what it means to be black. It’s the untold story of the everyday black individual who is not a welfare queen, the typical Jezebel or Mammy, a sassy diva, a hyper masculine, misogynistic boyfriend, an absent father. I use my work as an artist to tell my own story and that of the wonderful, beautiful and black people who surround me.
Your work features rich colours and layering techniques, do you feel this relates to themes of your heritage?
With my oil pastel works, I have a tendency to stray away from realistic colours, and rather paint the women I represent, and myself, in brighter and richer colours. The reasons for this still escape me, but I think that subconsciously, I want to emphasize “the other”. Being black is much more than just the skin colour, – in fact the entire issue of race is about more than just colour, but is rather about what is different. In painting these black women various colours I’m trying to draw out the fact that no matter what shade, no matter what hue, it is the fact that we are different that makes us who we are– women of colour. And one thing we must all learn is that there is beauty in the other, in what is different.
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
If you really want to know what I’m listening to, you should check out my soundcloud “kosisochukwu” –you’ll find a lot of goodies by numerous producers from all over, including Kaytranada and Dr. Mad from Montreal, as well as anything and everything from record label Soulection. I’m currently reading Chihnua Achebe’s ‘Things fall apart’, a must-read for any African, and particularly, as in my case, any person of Igbo origin. Not going to lie, I haven’t been watching much as of late, apart from old episodes of the Boondocks when I get back from work. I would nonetheless recommend any web-series from youtube channel blackandsexytv. Roomieloverfriends and The Couple, in particular, are my favourites. They both offer a refreshingly real example of what black love really is.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?
The greatest challenge I’ve faced would most likely have to do with my own self-esteem as an artist. In many ways, I still have a hard time conceptualizing myself as an artist—I feel as though I’m still just playing around and pretending to be something I’m not , which makes me so astounded every time someone talks to me about my art and calls me an artist. This inability to accept myself as an artist stems in part from my lack of technical training– put in a group of artists and I would be at a loss as to what to say. I have little knowledge of techniques and terms and possess very limited knowledge of art history. This all means that I have a tendency to undervalue my work be it just while speaking about it or trying to price it. In my mind, I’m still the little girl who always dreamt of becoming an artist but never really thought it would happen.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
1. Get inspired
After my first vernissage, I was approached by a young school teacher from, who invited me to teach/participate in an art festival he had organized for his students. I went there not really knowing what to expect, and unsure how credible anything I said would be to these kids who in some cases were only a year or two younger than me. But in the end, I was able to tell them one thing: “Find out what inspires you, and let it be your drive”. I talked to them about my own personal muse, the black woman, and discussed and discovered each of their individual muses, be it Skrillex or animals, or fashion. Art comes from inspiration, and knowledge of what inspires you and fills you with awe and motivates you, is an essential part of being an artist (to me). So sit down, look around you, get inspired, and put it down on paper.
2. Change your mind set
Everything and anything is possible, you just have to believe in yourself (as cheesy as it sounds). You need to challenge yourself, motivate yourself and cheer yourself on. The biggest obstacle for me was (and it remains so to this day) actually believing that I could be seen, understood and accepted as an artist, especially while still in a very academic university program. But I’ve managed to juggle both my studies and my art career in a pareto efficient manner –that is to say, my artistic and academic career/studies don’t stunt/stifle each other, and rather, have been developing side by side.
What’s next for you?
I would love to lie and say “I don’t know, I just go with the flow”, but as one friend pointed out, we always have end goals, no matter how vague or (un)realistic. In a dream world, I would have an artist’s studio in Brooklyn and would be best friends with Solange. How feasible that is has yet to be determined, but I’m hopeful. For now, I’m setting up a new artistic platform called Coloured Conversations focused in part on collaborations with artists of all genres. Just recently, my artwork appeared on Mick Jenkin’s latest track “Cross Roads” ft. Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. I’m hoping to work with a few more people and amass enough new artwork to have an official launch of Coloured Conversations in the next couple of months.
To stay up to date with Kosisochukwu’s work check out the following: