Interview – Cyril Oluwamuyiwa Emmanuel – Belgrade Art Studio Online Residency


What motivates you to create? How did you start getting interested in arts?

What motivates me to create is the desire to leave a lasting impact on the world, to create a legacy that will be remembered beyond my years and pass on the creative torch to future generations. My definition of success is not measured by financial gain or material comfort, but by the ability to create art that will tell my story long after I am gone. I know for a certainty that my years are numbered, but my art will live forever, this is the driving force behind my passion for art. I started creating art as a therapeutic experience, and over time it became a way for me to express myself and connect with the world around me. Art helps me clear my mind of negative thoughts and ideas, and allows me to see and not just look.. I believe that nature is the greatest teacher for any artist, and that to truly appreciate and comprehend it, one must engage all of their senses and use their mind to its fullest potential.


How do you approach your subject matter? You choose palm oil as medium…how did you come up with this?

The creative process for me always begins in my mind, where I visualize and conceptualize the artwork I want to create. I then use references to create rough sketches and bring my ideas to life on a physical material. My artwork revolves around the idea that beauty can be found in imperfection, and I strive to engage my viewers by invoking their olfactory and visual senses. Through my work in Aromatic arts, I hope to pioneer a new trend in the art world by creating immersive experiences for my audience.

My choice to use palm oil as an art medium was initially motivated by practical concerns. I often struggled with the anxiety of running out of art materials, which could prevent me from creating artwork. Palm oil is affordable and readily available in Nigeria, where I am from, and it is a material that most people have access to due to its versatility and common usage in cooking. I started experimenting with palm oil as an art medium because of its unique properties. Growing up, I have had many experiences with meals cooked with palm oil, which is a staple in Nigerian cuisine. I remember how the oil would stain my clothes while eating if I wasn’t careful. However, as an artist, I saw the potential of using this material in my art. The bronze-like hue and texture of palm oil gives my paintings a unique and distinctive quality that is hard to achieve with other art mediums. Its manipulative properties make it easy to work with, allowing me to create textures and tones that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve with other materials. The fragrance that emanates from the oil when used in my artworks also adds another sensory layer to my pieces, reminding me of the traditional dishes from my motherland which brings a nostalgic and personal element to my work.. Overall, my prior experiences with palm oil and my passion for art led me to explore this material as a medium, resulting in my signature style of Aromatic arts.


What are you trying to communicate with your art? You often deal with local matters and tradition…

The inspiration behind my art comes from my deep cultural roots, particularly the use of palm oil in my community’s spiritual ceremonies and rituals, including infant naming ceremonies. Palm oil has always been symbolic of colonial exploitation and played a significant role in my ancestors’ fortunes during the post-slave trade era. I want to use my art to start a conversation not only visually but also through the materials I use, as palm oil symbolizes freedom. By using traditional materials that have African origins, I hope to advocate for human rights and freedom, showcasing the beauty of imperfection.

My passion for celebrating imperfection serves as the driving force behind my art concepts. I want to promote the acceptance of nature, society, and the human body by highlighting the beauty of what is organic. Society tends to limit beauty to what fits within a certain frame, making physical beauty and social status subjective and often ignoring the spiritual beauty within us. I aim to explore imperfections in nature, society, and the human body to break down these barriers and help people appreciate true beauty, which lies within our souls. The theme of identity is central to my art, regardless of one’s situation or society of origin. My work explores historical, cultural, and colonial perspectives, all of which contribute to our unique identities. By bringing attention to these perspectives, I hope to encourage dialogue and understanding, bridging the gaps between different cultures and communities.


To what extent does the pandemic influence your depiction of art? Does it generate new inspiration?

The pandemic has had both negative and positive impacts on my art. On the negative side, the restrictions on movement and social gatherings caused a setback in my previous art practice of creating fashion art and its promotion. However, on the positive side, the pandemic has helped me diversify my art style and explore new concepts that align with my engineering specialization, while being environmentally friendly. Living and working in Lagos, Nigeria, I have been able to develop a new concept of art in 2022, thanks to the pandemic. It has pushed me to delve deeper into my creative mind, and immerse myself in the works of other artists, both young and old, in order to learn and understand what makes their art unique. The pandemic has also inspired me to appreciate the little things in life that we often take for granted. It has been the foundation for me to generate new ideas by resonating with these small things. Overall, while the pandemic has had its challenges, it has also been a source of inspiration for me to explore new art forms and concepts that I may not have considered before.


How do you feel about being involved in an online residency program? How important is it to stay connected with the international art community?

I am thrilled and privileged to be a part of this online residency program, where I have the opportunity to collaborate with diverse and talented artists. Seeing the works of other artists is a great way for me to stay inspired and continue to evolve in my artistic practice. It’s crucial for me to stay connected with the art community because it provides exposure and constructive criticism, which is essential for an artist’s growth. I’ve come to understand that even though I might have a clear vision of my artwork in my mind, it’s only through creating and sharing it with the art community that it becomes visible and appreciated. This emphasizes the importance of creating, connecting and collaborating with other artists. Being part of this program has not only provided me with a platform to showcase my work but also allowed me to expand my network and learn from others, thereby enhancing my growth as an artist.


What are your thoughts about the theme ‘artist on standby’? Tell us a bit more about your project…

In an ever-changing world, the desire to avoid stagnation can lead people to settle for the available means of transportation. However, as an artist who often works in isolation, the theme of “artist on standby” is not new to me. What concerns me more are the stories of social workers who have been greatly affected by the pandemic and don’t have the means to share their experiences. Living and working in Lagos, I have come to appreciate the convenience of the colorful commercial buses called ‘Danfo’ in facilitating movement within the city. However, during the pandemic lockdown, I became deeply concerned about the survival of the Danfo drivers whose livelihood depends solely on the movement of these buses. This realization has led me to focus on movement and the stories surrounding it in my art. Through this, I aim to shed light on the time loop and sacrifices made by these drivers in service to humanity.

Being a part of the ‘artist on standby’ program is a great opportunity to explore and expand my artistic practice. It allows me to connect with other artists, learn from their works and gain exposure to criticisms that could spur my growth. However, the project also serves as a platform to highlight the plight of others, such as the Danfo drivers during the pandemic, who are often overlooked. This realization was brought to my attention by Baxx, who has been an invaluable brainstorming partner in helping me develop unique ideas to make this project a masterpiece. I believe that by sharing these stories, we can gain a better appreciation of the sacrifices made by essential workers before, during and after the pandemic, and the importance of movement in our daily lives.


What do you want to achieve before things return to normal if it is to happen? Any future plans/projects?

As a child, I have always had an interest in sculptures, and now, as an artist, I plan to explore this fascination by delving into ceramics. Along with this, I am interested in performance art and have a vision of pioneering aromatic arts as performance art. I believe this can create a powerful and immersive experience for any art lover. The future is full of possibilities, and although life can be challenging, staying focused and motivated can help us to create art that tells our story and motivates others. With these art forms, I aim to create a new kind of visual storytelling that inspires others to look beyond the surface and appreciate the beauty of art in all