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  • By Folu Oyefeso (K-AiR Guest Writer-in-Residence)

The Fantastic Mind of Uthman Wahaab

Updated: Apr 24

In the vibrant realm of Nigerian artistry, we count ourselves favoured to experience the gifted mind of Uthman Wahaab. An everly curious artist, his work shows depth, fostered by an unending imagination that keeps him in a constant state of learning and creation and because of this, Wahaab is able to effortlessly explore a myriad of mediums as he weaves his creative tapestry.

Today, we have the pleasure of having Uthman in Ibadan, as a guest of the Kobomoje-AIR program. He took us to where his journey started; a 4 hour drive from Ibadan, in the ancient city of Ilorin, Kwara State. His hometown has strong Islamic influence, and this has shaped the foundation of his artistic practice and cultural identity. Spirituality is a big part of Wahaab’s life and he embeds it into his practice. At K-AIR, Uthman created a few works which emphasise his faith. This trip was an essential refresher for Uthman but it also benefited us in many ways. We were warmly welcomed by his community, given context about his background, and were able to bask and absorb the collective knowledge hidden in the historic walls.

Here we learnt about talismanic practices. A concept which involves ascribing magical or religious powers to inanimate objects for healing and protection. These objects are spiritually charged and often have Arabic calligraphy on them; an idea which Wahaab uses in a number of his works. During his time in Ibadan, he utilised this concept in a number of his works, the first of which is a tapestry he calls “    ”. This installation, comprising a number of “compressed Qurans' ' is an example of the deep role that spirituality has to play in Wahaab’s practice. Using a blowtorch and some metal sheets, Uthman inscribed Arabic words into some metal plates which hang daintily from a tree in the Kobomoje garden. In the wind, these rock and sway and add a spiritual and calming aura to the green space, adding to the work of the founders and creators of K-AIR who share the same faith. 

The story of Wahaab’s evolution would not be complete without mentioning his time in Lagos, at the Yaba College of Technology where he studied fine art. Here while being exposed to a variety of mediums, he learnt the technical aspects of being an artist, sowing the seeds of brilliance that he is reputed for. Perhaps spending some of his formative years in Lagos engrained a certain ‘hustle’ in Uthman or perhaps he’s just gifted in that way but he stayed quite busy while in Ibadan. Talent often takes centre stage when the career of an artist is discussed, but skill (bolstered by repeated practice) is the real star of the show. 

He demonstrated an in-depth understanding of light, form and colour in his series of fat women, which he continued at K-AIR. His experience came to play in the delicate manner the voluptuous curves (complete with cellulite) are depicted, because they showed a certain softness in texture and colour, much akin to real flesh. These forms these women depict show an exceptional amount of grace and spark interesting conversations about body positivity and sensuality as they exist within the Nigerian society. It is uncommon to see larger bodies celebrated in this manner, as the body type is associated with an unhealthy way of life, but Uthman reminds us to come as we are, and take part in the elegant dance of life

Uthman wrapped up his Kobomoje stay by gracing us with an Arabic calligraphy installation in the residency mosque. In a show of dexterity and poise, he scribbled inscriptions across the interior walls of the holy space in graphite. The process was gruelling, but the effort was well worth it when Wahaab gave a spiritually charged performance during one of the K-AIR open house sessions.

These installations and drawings go beyond being mere interesting visuals for Uthman because they explore complex themes and breathe life into abstract ideas. They create immersive experiences for those who encounter the work and provoke thoughts, ideas and conversation. Uthman himself is nothing short of a work of art because he is able to demonstrate the limitless potential the human mind has. As long as one stays open minded and open to learning, the scales of limitations just seem to fade away and that attitude is an inspiration. The Kobomoje family is quite excited about Uthman’s journey because it is marked with depth, diversity and daring creativity, and we are honoured to be a part of it. We will anticipate with glee what else the fantastic mind of Uthman Wahaab has in store.


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