In his paintings, Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada seeks to respect and “deify” his fellow Nigerians

Describing his desire to create as “insatiable”, the artist uses his creativity to paint a more honest, respectful and rich picture of Nigeria and its people.

Date
19 January 2022

Doused in warm, dappled light and painted with such care and attention, artist Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada places his subjects in “an atmosphere that respects them” and “a space that deifies them in and through culture and time”. Telling us that he loves to tell stories that “reflect the passion and undying resilience of Nigerians to defy the odds and dream”, his work is a powerful means of rejecting and challenging stereotypes unjustly placed upon him and his fellow Nigerian citizens.

With his creative journey being one filled with obstacles, Ikeorah has himself defied all the odds to follow his dream. Born in Ajegunle, Lagos in 2000, Ikeorah was surrounded by a group of “very creative peers”. Creating alongside a “group of young street boys” and his primary school best friend, they would draw and sell superhero comics to be able to buy their art supplies. With their talents being quickly recognised, they had teachers asking for their help to draw complex diagrams, and on the chalkboard and they would often take on drawing assignments for younger students for a little change, or sometimes, nothing at all. Whilst the latter often got them into trouble, they never stopped, being too immersed in the “joy” of creating.

However, despite art giving Ikeorah “a lot of purpose and happiness” his mother deemed him too intelligent to pursue a creative career and wanted him to “learn a real trade that pays”. Eventually stopping his drawing due to “pressures at home” Ikeroah mourned the loss of his creative outlet. It wasn't until a traumatic event in which Ikeorah nearly lost his sister to a fire that he found himself secretly drawing again “as a means of expressing my trauma and finding relief”. Afterward, he would draw his sister as a “superhero figure with flames as a superpower” and the event remains today as a central reference point: “you will see glowing flames in my works that signify a deification of the subjects.”

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-FADA: Game of Whot!, from ‘Udo Di’ a sub-series of Maktub (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-FADA, 2021)

In the hopes of satisfying his family, Ikeorah later moved to Owerri to study Urban and Regional Planning, but the move also offered him newfound freedom. Quickly realising that the degree was “nothing close” to what he wanted, Ikeroah began practising painting alongside his studies, often turning up late to lectures in his studio clothes, covered in paint. Developing his skills and beginning to take commissions, in 2018 Ikeorah began his career as a professional artist and now, reflecting on his journey and thinking about how far he has come gives him “goosebumps”.

Describing his artistic practice as “an evolving story” Ikeorah continues to be influenced by “his personal experiences and association with [his] social environment”. When discussing negative perceptions of his fellow Nigerian citizens, Ikeorah tells us that “there is a popular stereotype about Nigerians being fraudsters”, and, wanting to debunk such derogatory and unfounded discrimination Ikeorah instead tells stories “of the hopes and dreams of Nigerians and in extension, black people [...] I get a lot of motivation from seeing how hard Nigerians work despite being in a very non-functional system.” This powerful approach is most apparent in his series focussing on a tailor. In the standout piece from the series, the tailor is bathed in warm sunlight, his face poised in calm concentration and Ikeorah’s rich colour palette vividly brings the whole painting to life. Meeting the tailor at university, his is one of the stories Ikeorah has found most pertinent. Making all of his own clothes and selling the rest to sponsor himself through university, the tailor also uses his skills to support his mother, who sold everything she owned to give him an education. The paintings, therefore, “tells a story of a mother’s love and sacrifice and a young Nigerian boy's dreams, aspirations and resilience”. Through the series, Ikeorah wishes to inspire his subject – “I hope my paintings can help fuel his motivation and trigger some sense of self-discovery or value.”

With how much of himself Ikeorah puts into his work, it’s not hard to understand why he needs such a strong connection with his subjects for his work to be successful. Most people in Ikeorah’s paintings are those he personally knows, or those who have inspiring histories. The few times he has randomly chosen models – once when everyone had left his town for the holidays and the other being people over social media during the pandemic – they have never worked out, and he has ended up scrapping the works. Sometimes however, Ikeorah tells us that he works from his dreams and memories, such as his piece Redemption. “I got the idea from a dream where I saw a regal lady riding a horse. That was all I remembered and I had to work up the composition from some found images and memory.” Viewing the piece, with its ethereal quality, it’s easy to see how it is formed around a dream, but, we can’t help but be extremely impressed that it was completed with little to no composed visual aid.

Feeling like his best work is yet to come, Ikeorah is currently working on a series entitled A Good Place: Eziowelle. Explaining the series influences, Ikeorah tells us that “due to the migration of my parents to Lagos for better opportunities – an experience similar to so many people living in Nigeria – I was born and bred in the South-West, without adequate knowledge of my history and culture”. Through the “introspective” series, therefore, Ikeroah hopes to reconnect and identity with his family's past. Infused with such feeling and significance, Ikeorah’s paintings offer new narratives that we should all be listening to.

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Holding On; Coat of Many Colours, from 'Udo Di' a sub-series of Maktub (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2021)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: The Tailor's Corner, from 'Udo Di' a sub-series of Maktub (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2021)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Behind the Louvres; In Search of Greener Pastures, Maktub Series (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2021)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Redemption, 'Stories of Gold' Series (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2022)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Feeling Funky; Pegeout 504 with Purple to match, A Good Place; Eziowelle Series (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2022)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Bosah In Gold, Stories of Gold Series (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2020)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Derrah's Seat at the Table, Stories of Gold Series (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2020)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Derrah's Seat at the Table, Stories of Gold Series (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2020)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: Made In Lagos; for the Starboys, Maktub Series (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2020-2021)

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Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada: The Tailor of Vatican, from 'Udo Di' a sub-series of Maktub (Copyright © Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada, 2021)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.

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