Buoyed by his prodigious artistic skills, Kanyeyachukwu (more often known as Kanye) expresses himself in bright colourful spurts of illumination and earns the laurel as the poster child for the advocacy for autism, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
Years of hogging the limelight should, by now, have inscribed Kanye’s name in flaming letters into the art industry’s consciousness. This is why his latest exhibition – which opened on Friday, April 16 and ends tomorrow (Monday, April 19) at the Abuja Transcorp Hilton Hotel – should go down in the annals of the local art scene as a landmark event. True, he is only an 11-year-old. But he found fame when he made history as the youngest and first-ever African winner of the prestigious Flamme des Friedens (Flame of Peace) award in the Austrian capital, Vienna. This was on Thursday, September 6, 2018, about two months shy of his ninth birthday. He had, alongside three other Nigerian artists, participated in that year’s edition of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) annual art exhibition, whose title was Scenes of Peace. The exhibition, held at the Museum of Young Art (MOYA), featured 70 artists from all over the world. It was in this museum that the Prince and Princess of Tuscany, The Archduke and Archduchess of Austria, conferred the award, which is for promoting peace with art, on him.
Instituted in 2007 by the Austrian non-profit organisation, Association for the Promotion of World Peace, the award has been previously conferred on such distinguished personalities as Ali Abdullah Saleh (who served as the first Yemeni president after the country’s unification on May 22, 1990), the Ambassador of Jordan to Austria, Hussam Al Husseini (who was in office from 2007 to 2012) and Atifete Jahjaga (the first female president of Kosovo, whose tenure ended on April 7, 2016), among others.
Fast-forward to November 2019. His first solo exhibition, titled Impossibility is a Myth, opened in Terra Kulture in Victoria Island, Lagos. He had, sometime in March that year, hosted an art exhibition featuring his many works alongside displays by other children living with autism and Down syndrome from the Our Lady of Guadalupe Centre for Children with Special Needs in Abuja. Months later, not so long after another exhibition held in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, he became a recipient of the Indomie 2019 Independence Day Heroes Award for his Autism Awareness Campaign.
No doubt, Kanye’s ever-fluctuating moods have found an expression in his fiery palette.
Could that be why the founder and owner of the Vienna (Austria)-based Museum of Young Art (MOYA) Dr Kolja Kramer thinks highly of his artistic skills? The latter was indeed quoted to have described Kanye’s art as “deep, highly intelligent and unbelievably very mature for his age.”
Still on the 11-year-old’s shifting moods, he like everyone else revels in his joyful and exhilarating moments. But, of course, these are interspersed with bouts of listlessness, which have been observed to be “very long and frequent”. Now and then, there are those moments when assailed by flashes of anger, he throws tantrums. And there are also times when he simply retreats into spells of melancholy.
In this conceited rationalist world, Kanye lives like an outsider. Insulated from the tyranny of a society that sets the rules, his perceptive faculties grope for meaning like antennae into realms that remain inaccessible to superficial existence – an existence that limits itself to purely earthly matters, thus closing itself to real life.
He was just about four years old when he was officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. But then, his parents (Tagbo and Sylvia Tagbo-Okeke) were already trying to wrap their heads around something else. And that was his propensity for drawing. For drawings, indeed, his abstract expressions deserved to be called – not doodles – since there was something about them that hinted at his being focused and purposeful. Because he had easy access to A4 papers, he would use up a full ream in just one day. Under such circumstances when he ran out of papers, or if they were discreetly kept out of his sight, he would begin to draw on the walls. Repainting the walls, his parents would soon find out, made no difference since he would resume his drawing on them.
If the Tagbo-Okeke couple suspected a connection between the third child’s restiveness and autism, it was because the drawings were abstract and they did not understand them. It took a discerning female visitor to draw their attention to the creative depth and potentials of these visual expressions. Indeed, it was she, who suggested that Kanye be enrolled in an art class.
But, getting an art teacher was no easy task. They were later introduced to Kokab Farrukh the proprietress of Kokab House of Arts in the Wuse area of Abuja. “The first day she met Kanye, she called me and said, ‘You have brought a genius to me,” Kanye’s mum, Sylvia Tagbo-Okeke, recalls.
On Kanye’s daily activities, his mum says they are “very organised”. This is, therefore, what his typical day looks like: He gets up from his bed, showers, brushes his teeth and dresses up very neatly before his breakfast. After his breakfast on the days that he doesn’t have to go to school, he hops from one room to the other for two hours. Then, he picks up a paper or asks for a canvas to begin his artistic activities. When he gets hungry, he goes to his nanny to ask for chicken with jollof rice or spaghetti as his mood dictates. He jumps around and plays with his three-year-old younger brother Mekalianna and afterwards with his iPad until the time of his appointment with his therapist, who arrives by 1:30 pm and leaves by 2:30 pm. His next appointment is with his basketball coach, who comes in at 4 pm and leaves at 6 pm. Afterwards, he takes a shower, eats his dinner and goes to bed at 9 pm.
Born on Tuesday, November 17, 2009, Kanye is preceded by a girl Uzoamaka, who is 16 years old, and a boy Ozichukwu, who is 12 years old. When he was named Kanyeyachukwu in Igbo – which roughly translates as “Let us commit him to the Almighty” and is now often shortened as Kanye – his parents were oblivious about the fact that they were predicting their third child’s threads of fate. The other names they gave him – Tobenna (Igbo for “Praise the Almighty Father”) and Omozee (Edo for “Because of this child, I feel accomplished”) – seem to reinforce the direction of his earthly paths.
Through his foundation Kanye Autism Foundation (KAF), Kanye gives back to society and has become a poster child for the advocacy for autism.
His paintings adorn the walls of both private collectors’ homes and institutions within and outside Nigeria. Among the institutions and personalities listed as his collectors are: the Museum of Young Art (MOYA) in Vienna, Austria, the Transcorp Hilton Abuja, the Nigerian Embassy in Vienna, Austria, the Australian Embassy, the Syrian Embassy, the Egyptian Embassy, the Venezuela Embassy, the Thailand Embassy, the Lebanese Embassy, the Embassy of Poland, the Embassy of Norway, the Ministry of Women Affairs, the Louis Edet House (Nigerian Police Headquarters Abuja), Chief Dr Ernest Azudialo Obiejesi/Nest Oil, Aiteo, the Pakistani Embassy, the Kuwaiti Consulate, the Embassy of Finland, Mr Nzam Ogbe, Barrister Mrs Jennifer Abubabkar, Archduke and Arch Duchess of Austria, Miss Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola, the OPEC Fund for International Development, Suleiman J. Al Herbish (OPEC Fund for International Development’s director-general), African Museum in Vienna (Austria), BBC Abuja and Save the Children.