By Isioma Usiade
Many people associate the ballpoint pen with writing, but not Jacqueline Suowari, a Nigerian-born artist whose foray into the art world started at the tender age of five.
”I love the ballpoint pen, especially the black ballpoint pen because it’s easy to create layers upon layers with crisp, clear strokes and also because it gives me a precise level of contrast when I’m shading.”
For her, it is a magic wand that helps bring her fascination with human interaction to life. One which ensures she keeps ardent collectors and art lovers alike totally enthralled with the stunning and magnetic pieces she produces through it.
As a child, Jacqueline couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be an artist, a poet, or a dancer, so she combined all three into the Jacqueline Souwari experience and having influences from creatives helped make this decision. ”When I was growing up, it was not common to find people outside traditional professional courses who were financially comfortable. Naturally, my parents, especially my Mother, were concerned about me studying a course with unpredictable financial rewards. However, with the passing of time and influence from my Father’s friends who were also artists, Late Mr George “Uncle Geelee” Aken’Ova and Prof. Jerry Buhari, things got easier.” she says in an exclusive with Thisday Style.
Her dramatic artwork combines detailed drawings with expressive Afro-urban painted elements in bright, bold colours. Her art also explores the fetishisation and condemnation of indigenous Nigerian aesthetics. For Jacqueline, it’s all about destigmatising subjects that are often taboo in the country, such as depression, grief, and shame. ”I am deeply fascinated by human communication. I like to study how it is influenced by identity and body language. Believe me; it’s interesting what a person’s body language reveals about them when you choose to look behind the smiles or the charade.”
These masterpieces, which may stand up to eight feet tall and involve months of meticulous drawing, are complemented by poetry and performance art.
Suowari’s works are as inspirational as it is aesthetically pleasing. She uses her every stroke to convey hope and empowerment to people, especially encouraging Nigerians to embrace vulnerabilities. During the Endsars movement, she used her drawing of a woman wearing a traditional Ankara wax print dress and loosely styled dreadlocks to show how the Nigerian police stereotyped people based on their appearance. “In Nigeria, if a policeman should find a woman dressed like that at night, they would say she’s a prostitute.” Her large-scale portraits depict the faceless and voiceless masses. She uses it to empower minority and marginalised people by telling their stories. She believes that everyone is born with a specific blueprint. “We can’t make up this beautiful picture if everybody’s the same,”
She recently began importing papers since each time she draws; her work grows larger than the previous one. She wants them to be large enough for others to notice the details.
When you examine her work with a magnifying glass, you will notice that it is in layers. She compares our various experiences to the layering process. You see a person with whom you can identify rather than a beautiful person.
Suowari has had the opportunity to participate in various art fairs in America after being represented by Avant Gallery, which helped to expose her work to broader audiences and experiences. Currently running an exhibition in Abuja. She has also appeared in books like Ben Bosah’s “The Art of Nigerian Women.”
Her favourite piece of work at the moment is “How to Scream So No One Can Hear You.” She adds that she enjoys every aspect of creating the art, including the various intricacies of the tones on the skin and the play of light and colour. Not only that, but the work highlights the unspoken challenges of people suffering from depression and mental health issues due to the stigma society has placed on the condition. It also explores the hypocrisy of those who claim to care.
Jacqueline Suowari is not your regular artist; however, every artist has a distinct style. With Jacqueline, the ballpoint pen is more than just a writing tool; it is a magic wand in her hands. Suowari, like any other artist, wishes to be known for her huge drawings and attention to detail. Most importantly, the message underlying all of her work. ”I would love to be remembered for my larger-than-life drawings and my attention to detail. But more than that, I’ll like to be remembered for the message of my work. With everybody of work I begin, I am addressing issues that affect our everyday living and hopefully proffering solutions that make life easier.”
Finally, everyone possesses exciting facts that many people are unaware of. Jacqueline enjoys both dancing and good food. She has a white fluffy pet dog who is nine years old. She is a plant mum with over 21 plants in her home and enjoys Alté music from Nigeria and hip-hop tracks from the 1990s and early 2000s. She also has a peculiar manner of laughing. For Jacqueline, ”The ability to see and experience life differently and also bring a thought to life through lines and colour” is what keeps her going.