In Conversation: Through Timi Amah’s Lenses:

by INETSOL EYAL ORU

Timipre Willis Amah is a Bayelsa born fine art photographer, painter and printmaker whose multi-dimensional approach to art is an artistic tool and a medium of expression. He also teaches photography at the department of Fine and Applied Arts in Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State. His last exhibition – FACETS AND PHASES which held at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Lagos was a collection in which he employed, photography, painting and printmaking to express his perception about topical issues – Life, Nigeria and Hope.

In this interview, Timi Amah, while completing a series of paintings – adding colour in little triangular shapes that form a more beautiful and larger painting, spread on boards outside of his home, lends me his ears, shares his creative journey, expresses his concerns about his home state – Bayelsa, practicing art and leaves a note for young artists and creatives in Bayelsa state.

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As an artist, what exactly do you focus on and how is it important?

Art has been my medium to solve problems or to spring forth problems for people to see. I use art to talk about my region.

How do you get attention to your art?

I believe in one simple thing, consistency. It’s as easy as, releasing new music and allowing it simmer to gain acceptance.

For us in this part of the world, as in the Niger Delta, because in Lagos art is really appreciated, every month or so, there are lots of stage plays, exhibitions, and art events. They come up with new ideas; musicians, photographers, painters and so on, to sell and market their creativity and art. So appreciation is not really a problem. 

For us down here in the Niger Delta, it goes back to first of all, have we been able to appreciate ourselves as a people, not to talk of to appreciate art? I think, that’s the first problem. Yes, what’s exactly our selling point? What makes us different, unique and how can we tap that and present it to the outside world? We’ve not been able to find that out. And that will not come from the government, it will come from the private sector.

So, how did you start making art?

I didn’t have any formal training in photography, I learnt through magazines, books, online videos and kept practicing over and over. I had the opportunity to do that. But my target was higher than the platform that I had the opportunity for.

So, as an artist, how does one get into the market and what is your advice to young Bayelsa artists?

The truth is before you get into the market, you have to invest first, invest in knowledge, interactions and strategic spaces.

Knowledge is the first investment. I have continuously practiced these art forms. Majority of my clients are not here, but I have a few here that appreciate the level of art that I do.

Through repetition, consistency. Every artist needs to practice every day, so they can get to that point where they can close their eyes and do it. 

The market is in Lagos, so by interaction – online interaction and physical interaction. Do you mix with people in Lagos? How many book and art events do you go to, to introduce yourself to the market? How aware are you, how exposed are you to the little opportunities that are available.

Bayelsans are just scared of going out, they like comfort. A lot of the young ones don’t know what they want to do. It is not just by going to school and then for NYSC. What do you want to do, what do you want to do with the certificates that you are acquiring?

Parents also have a huge role to play in this scene, it takes a parent who understands the value and appreciates the future in art to push their children in the right direction.

One problem we have with young people around here, is they are in a hurry to make money. They do not have the patience to learn, they just want to do it and immediately get returns for it. 

How can we attract the necessary investment down to Bayelsa State?

If we have the right government in place, it will be easier. In the US, every child growing up knows what art and literature is, because these are key tools in teaching and educating. As a lecturer in Niger Delta University, I can tell you that we train non artists (from the scratch), because all the schools don’t teach art from senior secondary school. So, a lot of them just come because other departments are full or just because they want to go to school. And so they give us tedious work to turn them into artists, and amazingly they do well.

My first talk as a lecturer is always, what do you want to do with this? Do you want to go to school for four years and afterwards be a civil servant or what?

Art X is growing to become one of the biggest art shows in Lagos. Dak’Art in Senegal, was made possible by the government. Every 2 years the world gathers in Senegal to look at art in Africa. Here, we don’t have anything to showcase the huge talents we have. So, it is a conscious effort, if we hope to push art forward.

Look at Ox-bow Lake, what did we do with it? Is it just by building and allowing it to fallow. We can look at an aqua sport like rowing. We can even say, Local Government rowing competition, before you know it becomes a national game. Before you know, every year Nigerians are looking forward to a rowing competition in Bayelsa state or even West Africa.

I also commend, the ‘’Bayelsa Food and Art Festival’’ that was done last year. Someone did that and people now look forward to it.

So, what is your advice to young artists and creatives?

Practice, consistency and deep knowledge for what you do. You must brew your wine before you sell it.

So, the art forms that you practice, how do they bounce off each other?

FACETS AND PHASES is a collection of all of the art forms that I practice, painting, photography and print making. And all of them are somehow interwoven.

I do fine art photography, what they call long exposure and that long exposure is the FACETS aspects, smoothness, where you have smooth water surfaces and clouds like that. I have architectural photographs in long exposure too. These designs can be interpreted in architecture, because they are hard edged paintings, with a smooth flow of colours that you do not feel when they change to the next one.

In the PHASES, I have a series of paintings called “circle of life” which is an interpretation of man from birth to death. Then still on the PHASES, I have a documentary of bridges which I titled, “the bond series” which I photographed the Onitsha bridge to the third mainland bridge. Then, I have the Umbrella series, a metaphor for Nigeria. I used them to query issues in our society.

I started a series on Yenagoa – the DNA of a City – but I stopped it because of the violence. Anytime I go out to take photographs and hear gunshots and I’ll need to run. I don’t think any photograph is worth dying for.   

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Nunritecine is a digital storytelling platform on the Niger Delta exploring, expressing and redefining identities and stories through literary, art, culture and film lenses. We are a community of young and devoted creative artists passionate about distorting narratives and changing perceptions about the Niger Delta.

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