There is an imbalance in gender distribution in most professional fields, it is more intense in the Visual Arts, which for some reason many think is a domain for men only. On one’s fingers, we can easily count off the number of women in full time studio practice, and there are far less making real impact within the art circle. Angela Amama Isiuwe is one of these rare figures.
Most known for her linear figurative forms, Angela is an artist who has devoted over twenty years of her adult life to being a fulltime studio practitioner. According to her, she knew early on that she wanted to be an artist even though her father wanted her to pursue the legal profession. Born into a polygamous family with nine siblings, her father, a titled Urhobo Chief and a lecturer, was the ideal figure of an authoritative disciplinarian, whose word was final -the type that one could hardly reason with. However, Angela takes after him and recalls that she was as hard, strong headed and problematic as much as her stern father would tolerate. Without contradicting him, she secretly funded her application to study Visual Arts at Auchi Polytechnic, revealing her conviction only after she got the admission notice from the school.
Her time at Auchi was memorable and fruitful, the only female student in her class, she met her future husband in school, Emmanuel Isiuwe also a fulltime artist, with whom she’s successfully raised five children. Angela and Emmanuel both work on multiple media, but their output are as different and wide apart as can possibly be. He is more thorough and painstaking in his process, his use of colours or forms is bolder and he leans towards impasto. Angela on the other hand believes in simplicity, hence her linear forms, created in continuous freehand strokes. They were both taught at Auchi by contemporary artists such as Ben Osaghae, Duke Asidere, and Sam Ovraiti. After her formal education, she was mentored by the latter, Ovraiti; who obviously had an effect on her form, style and likeness for watercolour.
Art by Angela & Emmanuel Isiuwe respectively
Her real inspiration however, is divine in its nature. She revealed that she was inspired by the drawings in the GoodNews Bible back when she was a teen. She liked the simplicity of the forms and how they still depicted what needed to be conveyed, despite their linear nature. She started tracing these images and later based her own style of drawing and painting on them. The resemblance indeed is uncanny. When asked what she would have been if she had not opted for painting, she revealed she would still have turned out an artist. After all, she is very dexterous and creative, she toyed with the thought of specializing in Sculpting at the Higher National Diploma level, but was talked out of it by none other but Sam Ovraiti. A part of her still wants to explore the option so she bakes in her spare time which is still sculpting in a way! And when she is not painting, she sews.
Her linear forms, though simple to the eye are in fact complex. According to her, it takes a solid knowledge of anatomy and the careful analysis of body movement to create what she deems these minimalist forms. Undeniably, the scale and proportions of her figures are exact. She enjoys the solitude that a shared studio can afford her, though she rarely paints in the presence of another, not even Emmanuel with whom she shares the same palette. She works with oil, acrylic, watercolour and she’s even used strings and ropes to give texture to her works. For her, identity and uniqueness are priorities that cannot be compromised. What many interpret as simple are swift brush strokes which cannot be altered or corrected. It must be precise almost always. With the traditional way of painting, errors can be blotted out, painted over, alas, this is a luxury she cannot afford. A case of complexities in an apparently simple venture.
An Angela Isiuwe watercolour on paper next to a typical GoodNews Bible illustration
What’s more? Mrs Isiuwe is much more than the sum of all these parts. When asked why she’s stuck to these complex-linear figuration, of abstracted women -why women? She thought about it for a while as if just realizing she’s never painted masculine forms. Then she shocks me by revealing that she paints a variety of other things -self-portraits, which she dabbled into fairly recently, almost 20 years after she started painting professionally. Apparently she paints landscapes too, these are just rarely exhibited. She did exhibit her self-portrait earlier in the year at the Wheat Baker Hotel.
Born in the late 60s, Angela is now pushing at 50, but she’s not slowing down. Fairly recently, she started experimenting with what looks like celestial cosmic abstracts. No doubt, she is a skilled painter. A critical look at her new body of experimental work reveal multiple layers of oil, glazed on the canvas surface. More time consuming than what she is most known for, these never before seen works are tucked away in her boy’s quarters where she privately paints and sews when not in the mood to use the common studio she shares with Emmanuel within the house. “They are not yet ready to be seen and exhibited publicly”, she chimed in, explaining to a bewildered me, asking why she has not gone public with her interesting newbies. “They’re like babies, they’re not yet ready for the public, they need to mature”. She was gracious enough to let me photograph a few of them; though with my cellphone, which made the 50km travel to her studio/house at Abule Egbe worth it.
I had earlier inferred during our interview session that I would not be in a hurry to return to her studio, citing the distance and traffic as limp excuses, but this is one time I am sure I’ll be eating my words and gladly too.
You can catch both Angela and Emmanuel Isuiwe at Emmanuel’s upcoming solo exhibition, themed MAN, showing at the Didi Museum, Victoria Island, and running from July 28th through August 2nd, 2017. It will be featuring his paintings, drawings and mixed media works, plus it will be the first time Emmanuel will be having a solo in approximately 25 years. We can be sure Angela will not be far behind to launch hers.
Other experimental works by Angela, next to her other passion-her sewing machine