ART, FOR ANEHITA ALETOR, SYMBOLISES GRATITUDE TO HER CREATOR

Reverting to her long-abandoned childhood passion has launched Anehita Aletor on the path of fulfilment and self-actualisation, she tells Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

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Those magical moments in her mother’s studio come flooding back with the memories of Anehita Gloria Aletor’s childhood years. For that was the place where her love for art was first nurtured. “It happened to be my most favourite place in my father’s house,” the 2003 Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma banking and finance graduate discloses. Back then, her wide-eyed enthusiasm would find her goggling at her mother’s works, marvelling at how and with what they were produced. “[Ever] before I could barely read or write, I used to enjoy leafing through books with pictures of art, history and cultures from around the world,” she resumes. “I also had opportunities to visit and observe my mum at work at the University of Benin’s Department of Art, where she lectured.”

Besides, Aletor’s lineage seems to have conferred on her a natural talent and predilection for aesthetic expressions. Among her peers, while growing up, her creativity had always stood her out. Her first attempt at portraiture, she recalls, was when she was in the kindergarten. It was a portrait of President Muhammadu Buhari during his brief stint as Nigeria’s military head of state. “This got me noticed by the teachers and my peers,” the Edo State-born artist says.

Scenarios like this were frequently replicated throughout her years of childhood and youth. But they weren’t enough to convince her to take up either art or acting as a career. Neither did the fact that she enjoyed the support of her family. Back then, she was not excited by the prospects of practising the arts in Nigeria. Nor did she fancy the bohemian and eccentric lifestyle often associated with artists.

Nonetheless, the guilt of not heeding her perceived life’s true calling not only kept gnawing at her conscience but also haunted her well into her adult years. Hence, her decision to take a headlong plunge into art practice, after she had attained what she believed was “a certain milestone” in her life, became inevitable.

But ever before Aletor took this decision, she had spent years observing and studying the developments in the art world. This was until it gradually dawned on her that she could easily understand and relate to visual language.

Then, her final breakout came in 2017 in the form of an invitation from her old high school friends to a paint-and-sip event. By this time, more than 18 years had flitted by since she turned her back on art. The following year, in 2018, she discovered that it wasn’t difficult for her to get back into the flow of things. Of course, it had to start with baby steps even when she was assailed with doubts. Eventually, her experiences inspired her brand name “Anothersoloartist”. Nonetheless, it needed the thrill of overcoming every challenge she faced to bolster her self-confidence.

“My reward has been that euphoric feeling that sometimes take me back to a certain time of my life when I was pretty sure of becoming an inventor and also [there was] that liberating and awakening sense of self-realisation and actualisation breaking the barrier of conformity.”

Somehow, her art practice has to fit into her very busy schedule. And this, precisely, has to be sometime during her after-work hours. Already competing fiercely with her regular white-collar nine-to-five job is her seeing to the physical and emotional needs of her three teenage children. This was how some of her colleagues began to refer to her as “the artist at sunset”.

As for her typical days, they usually begin with prayers and meditation and her to-do list is crammed with the typical activities one would expect in a busy working mother’s schedule. “Some days I get the chance to cook a variety of meals, read and exercise at least twice a week,” she says. “Weekend afternoons are spent with my family in creative endeavours. I try to maintain an active outdoor nature-appreciating tradition that I got from my upbringing with my family. This is particularly during the weekends and holidays. Sundays are reserved for church and ensuring that the household is prepared for a new week. I [also] tend to read through my journals and personal notes on Sundays.”

However, during the recent lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot more time for creativity became available for her and her family. “Since I am not much of a TV person, I do like to enjoy my times of solitude, peace and tranquillity in my space and element with good music of any genre and fruits or a beverage while I paint.”

Before long, her efforts started to pay off and getting her noticed. And all the while she had thought she was just enjoying herself and being in her element! Curiously, she discovered that her art resonated with a lot of people to the extent that they wanted to collect her works.

Over time, acrylic became her favourite medium, even as she eagerly produced mixed-media paintings with installations to give them a 3-D effect. Acrylic paint, which she likes for its fast-drying quality, as well as for its availability and affordability, comes in different forms. Her first attempt at using it, she reminisces, was a pleasant experience because she enjoyed the fact that its fluidity could be controlled to achieve any desired tonal effect.

Six years after her graduation from Ambrose Alli University, Aletor trained as a certified aesthetician and holistic therapist from the UK-based schools: Carlton Institute in Windsor, Ray Cochrane Institute in London and the London School of Beauty and Makeup.

Yet, her parents, siblings and close friends were ecstatic about her decision to practise the visual arts. “To them, it was long overdue. I cannot honestly appreciate them all enough for their patience and belief in me all the while I had abandoned the talent.”

Seeing her draw for the first time had an inspiring effect on her children, who soon began to toe the same creative path, albeit under her guidance and supervision. Then, interactions with family, friends and acquaintances always spawned ideas and mental pictures, which upon crystallisation into visible forms sometimes appear much better than she had envisaged. Soon, she began to take challenging commissions for artworks and, in just one year, she was able to complete and deliver a total of 28 commissioned pieces, which included drawings and paintings. This was while she was building and working on her collection and home gallery.

So early in her artistic career, she had been part of several local and international group exhibitions.

Moving forward, Aletor hopes to take bolder steps in her art practice. “I will be incorporating art into other relatable ventures and collaborations like marketing and advertising, cinematography, fashion, business and information technology,” she discloses.

All in her bid to improve her skills, she declares herself open to constructive criticisms as well as opportunities to relearn her practice from more accomplished artists, curators and academicians. Participating in seminars, exhibitions, courses and residency programmes are next in her sights.

Currently, she is extending her passion for mentoring and teaching children and young adults to building up a team of young creative people.

Identifying her role models, she mentions her mother, Dr Mrs Priscilla Aletor, Nike Okundaye and Abiodun Olaku. Then, there is also the story of Michelangelo’s passion, dedication and meticulousness, which continuously replays in her subconscious.

Nudged on by the moral of the biblical Parable of the Talents (Mathew 25: 13 – 40), she seeks beauty in all things, people and situations. “Art for me symbolises my gratitude to my Creator,” she adds. “It’s like a conversation with my spirit.”

  • Aletor’s solo exhibition, featuring two series of her works (the Untold Story Series and Joker Series), opens at Aqua 27 Mall, along Chevron Drive in Lekki, Lagos on Saturday, September 12 from 2 pm.

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