Abdulkadir Zayyad, a stickler for details, expresses himself best in realistic art forms, using ballpoint pens, he tells Okechukwu Uwaezuoke.
“Hello! I’m Abdulkadir Zayyad by name,” a youngish man in the promotional video, facing the camera, proclaims to the audience in a stentorian voice that increasingly oozes with so much confidence. “I’m among the top 100 exhibiting artists to exhibit in the Enugu Life in My City Art Festival 2022 with the theme The Paradox of Muted Echoes.”
Of course, pausing to watch videos while scrolling through Instagram feed updates is nothing out of the ordinary, for which anyone would raise an eyebrow. Yet, there is something enthralling about this particular promotional video for the Life in My City Art Festival—one of a handful lately shown—that rapidly piques the viewer’s interest.
Take the fair-complexioned artist in the video, whose pencil-lined moustache and lush goatee seem to be doing a poor job of masking his youthfulness, for instance. He waxes didactic about his quadritych photography entry for that edition of the youth-focused annual competition, which is more often known by its acronym, LIMCAF. Sounding more and more confident as he speaks, he says it illustrates the transition in time and details the stage-by-stage production process of the work, which he titled “Amen.”
Four “good” studio photographs of the same female model, chosen as the most suited for his concept from among several taken, were edited, ultimately offering themselves to the viewer for contemplation from left to right as well as right to left.
The artist worked on the resolution and altered the backdrop colour from blue to green during the editing stage. Then he introduced the dispersion techniques that show how the stages manifest—from the first to the fourth—before juxtaposing the end-products to tell his story.
As the 2021 graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, later intimates, his artworks are basically inspired by situations in time, adding, “Sometimes I produce art related to the visual representation of the human mind and how it works.”
If he affirms that the works shown in the video do not necessarily reflect his hallmark technique, it is because he has been working for some time with the ballpoint pen, with which he aims to carve a niche for himself.
Inevitably, the topic drifts towards inspiration, the driving force behind all forms of artistic expression. Books, his surroundings, photos, real-life occurrences, and even music, according to Zayyad, serve as sources of inspiration.
There is no doubt that he has been exposed to the works of more talented artists, whose techniques appear to have influenced him. Besides, his passion for realistic expressions, be they in paintings or pen and charcoal drawings, explains why such hyrealism sensations as Oscar Ukonu and Silas Onoja, among others, serve as his beacons on the path to artistic excellence.
Could this proclivity for realism, therefore, be why portraiture seems to be the focal point of his studio practice? Talking about portraiture, he has done quite a number so far in his budding career. Among these, paintings like “Beauty Is the Beast” and “Vulnerable” proclaim his proficiency as a draughtsman from the rooftops. In “Beauty Is the Beast,” an oil on canvas work that he produced in 2021, he muses about the changes in time, using fashion as a metaphor. The lady depicted in the painting repurposes an old pair of jeans as headgear, hinting at the uncanny unpredictability of fashion trends. And that’s how the 100 ×120 cm work got the word “Beast” in its title. This is based on the premise that the word evokes both the weird and the unpredictable.
The other oil on canvas work, “Vulnerable,” which was produced in 2020, depicts a hijab-sporting female child against a dark backdrop that is meant to stir up angst for her security. The artist wants the viewer to imagine the scary scenario of abandoning this flower of child-like innocence in an unsafe world without parental care or protection.
Perhaps, the highpoint of his portraiture odyssey was his production of the portrait of a Lagos-based actress, Linda Osifo. “I’m a big fan of hers,” Zayyad says. “I started following her on Instagram because I love her style of dressing among other things.”
His regular comments on the photos of herself that Osifo was posting on Instagram caught the latter’s attention, and she started replying to the comments. Thus encouraged, the artist decided to release a portrait of her that he had painted using a downloaded image of her as a reference on her birthday as a special homage. Osifo would later express her deep appreciation of the work through a direct message and express interest in having it delivered to her, which led to the artist visiting Lagos for the first time.
Moving on to the Edo State native’s other works, two oil on canvas paintings titled “Oppress the Oppressed” and “Together in Pains” appear to allude to his empathy for the oppressed. The first painting, a still-life portrayal of a mound of shoes on a table with the new ones on top of the old worn-out ones, illustrates the story of Nigeria’s expanding gap between the haves and have-nots as the middle class is gradually eroding. The other painting, which is a stylised depiction in which four faces can be discerned, explores the concept of how humans experience pain differently. Beneath the reminder to the afflicted that no matter how severe his or her condition may seem, there will always be others in worse condition, lurks the message to remain appreciative in whatever life throws one’s way.
Art, explains the artist, who turns 29 on October 8, seems to have been the theme song of his life from as far back as he can remember. “It was something I discovered at an early age. I had this creative mindset urging me to explore, develop references, and recreate imagery in my head.”
Then there was his environment, which he regarded as a “motivational factor” while growing up as the second of four children—two males and two females—of his parents, in which he was often encouraged and referred to as a “young artist.”
Zayyad, who was born and bred in the Niger State town of Kontagora, describes his home as a “reserved and disciplined” one and his parents as “motivators,” “supportive,” and “good listeners.” So there was no question about his abandoning art for another vocation. Neither did he ever find himself regretting his decision or nurturing a second thought about venturing into a more lucrative profession.
“Art has been a part of me ever since, and even back in my secondary school days, it was a subject I loved and found myself participating in every school project and art competition. So after my secondary education, I did not find it difficult deciding what course to study at a higher institution.”
Currently living in the Northern Nigerian economic nerve centre of Kano as a National Youth Service Corps member, he is far away from Kotangora, where he had not only primary and secondary school education but also attended a tertiary institution, the Federal College of Education, before proceeding to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he specialised in painting. Though he has discovered that the people in his new environment are not as enthusiastic about art as he would wish them to be, he remains undaunted as he continues to produce works for art competitions.
Having so far been featured in both physical and online exhibitions, he has yet to hold a solo exhibition. Nonetheless, he is confident about asserting himself soon enough in the art space to be featured in exhibitions among more accomplished artists and have his works hanging in galleries. Meanwhile, Zayyad, who is a stickler for details, believes that his works are accurate reflections of his inner temperament. Hence he plods on with the intention of becoming the best version of himself and the conviction that everyone possesses a motivating force that will enable them to express their highest potential.