Last year, CBC Toronto launched the Brampton Bureau to explore and elevate the stories important to Bramptonians and to highlight the wealth of talent that can be found in the city.
In partnership with the Brampton Public Library, multidisciplinary painter and sculptor Abiola Idowu has created a unique work of art that is inspired by and serves her community. Below, he explains how, as a Nigerian artist, he draws inspiration from the intersection of cultures that can be found in his city and offers insight into the next generation of Brampton-based creatives.
How did you get into art and become a creator?
I have loved drawing and making art for as long as I can remember. From the age of 5, people saw that I liked to draw. I used to walk several miles from my house to buy comics. I used them to practice drawing techniques. I loved seeing people’s reactions to my comic book character designs. When my fifth grade teacher once told me that if I kept making art I could sell it and it could be my job, I was shocked and excited. There was no turning back after this point. Since that day, I haven’t stopped creating, that’s what I do.
What is your artistic style/philosophy?
Generally my style of painting is abstract figurative or abstract expressive, but I don’t have a style that is really my brand – and that is my brand! I like to create new techniques that I imagine while working on a painting. I often use this technique for a while and my followers will see a series of similar paintings, then I’ll just switch and it’ll be like this. Sometimes I’ll reintroduce a technique that I haven’t used in a long time. My painting style is constantly changing and that’s how I like it! I tend to create art depicting women. I feel compelled to highlight women and their wonder, their strength and their light.
I love creating realistic sculptures of people because a statue captures a piece of our history and makes it last forever in communities, and that’s something I do really well. A statue – especially in bronze – can last forever while our faces change and eventually disappear from the earth.
I also do other types of sculpture – abstract and otherwise. I’m always experimenting with different materials and tools to create 3D art. I am a multidisciplinary artist.
Another thing about my work is that I don’t feel the need to make big political statements with my designs. My subjects are simple, as I believe life is simple. People all over the world have simple needs, we need love and connection with each other. If we find those things, it seems like everything else is taken care of and that’s the foundation of all my work. I connect with you by sharing my love, and people can feel it.
What have you been working on lately?
Things were quiet during the pandemic, but I was still painting. Everyday. I shared my paintings on social media and connected a few people to the paintings during this time. At the end of 2021 – the day after Christmas, I decided to organize a day-long exhibition and invite people to come and see some of the works. I called the show “Colourology” because my work is so colorful and I was told it had healing power! I invited people to come and enjoy a year-end healing with me. Because I had been very busy during the winter, I had over 50 paintings to share in this exhibition. It was fun.
I also recently created a life-size tiger in metal and plexiglass. I did this to help the city of Brampton celebrate Lunar New Year. This year is the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar. The work is called “The Colors of Courage” and it is lit from within so that it glows in festive colors.
How has living in Nigeria and Brampton helped shape you as a person and as an artist?
I grew up in Nigeria, in a traditional Yoruba family. The Yoruba represent one of the traditional ethnic groups of Nigeria. We have a rich, peaceful, artistic, deeply spiritual and very colorful culture. Being exposed to these things early on helped shape me into the person I am today. Keep in mind that Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups and each has its own cultural fabric. Together they form such a dazzling mosaic.
I have always been moved by the differences between cultures and where they overlap. I found ways to explore the different cultures in Nigeria. One thing that was clear to me is that they are so different and yet the same. It has always been one of my passions and it is reflected in my creations. Switching to the GTA really reinforced that idea for me. Toronto – and especially Brampton also has so many cultures, and the way they complement each other is like the colors themselves. It makes me so happy. I have the chance to be part of this community and to express my point of view through my art.
What was the thought process behind the ‘Reading Girl’ statue, created for CBC Toronto and the Brampton Public Library?
I wanted to make a piece that people would feel compelled to interact with. Whether they want to hold the girl’s hand or sit on a book, I want them to connect. I also wanted the piece to have a classic look, so I made it look like bronze.
What story does the play tell?
“Making Connections” has taken on so many new meanings with technology in the picture. Especially at the height of the pandemic when connections were almost all virtual. This piece reminds us that simple “old fashioned” connections are hard to replace with technology. The girl reaches out her hand to bring you closer, so you can read together. Books are a place to sit with a friend, where you can share your stories. It is these connections and places like libraries that we need to heal and thrive.
What would you say to the next generation of creators coming to Brampton and beyond?
I would tell them to work hard and produce as much as possible, so people know you’re serious about your craft. Work every day, even if you sometimes have to have another job, just keep creating. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities out there! There are grants, scholarships, free training, competitions, exhibitions, etc. Just stay alert and keep working hard. Never give up. WORK AS IF YOU WILL NEVER WORK AGAIN.
The CBC Brampton bureau, led by CBC reporters Ali Raza and Nav Nanwa, was launched in November 2021 and has since produced several stories such as: