VOLUME IV / ISSUE VIII / AUGUST 2020
THE KING MAKER
AND THE EXALTATION OF WOMEN RAPHAEL DAPAAH Art Contributor @dg_luxe
hen I first came across Barry Yusufu’s stunning work, what struck me first was the sheer strength and confidence that radiated through the charcoal and acrylic of his female muses. There was an unmistakable power and self-assuredness in the eyes of his sitter, that even if you did not immediately notice, you most certainly felt. Why did this female aura and strong presence strike me as profound in Barry’s work? Quite simply, because I was keenly aware of the context of the paintings, which were made by a young Nigerian male artist, who lives and works in a society that is engulfed by, and prides itself on patriarchy and the rule of men. However, surprisingly, pleasantly, I might add; Barry portrays women as the wielders of power and control, Kingship personified, and conversely, men are depicted as vulnerable, intimate and dare I say, even docile?
With this in mind, I was keen on exploring more about Barry’s work, his inspirations and journey as an artist to date. This way, I could begin to unpack his breathtaking work, and how a young, contemporary Nigerian artist came to be a champion of women and the type of feminist that Chimamanda Ngozie has called for men to be. I spoke with Barry for Polo Lifestyles earlier this summer. Raphael Dapaah: How long have you been painting, and at what point did you consider yourself a professional artist? Barry Yusufu: I have been creating since November 2017. I started from a sketch I made of a friend, and on seeing the reaction on her face after I handed the sketch to her, I believed there was more to art than just drawing. At that point, I was basically drawing friends and family members; and the next month, I began taking commissions to draw. By January 2018, the next year, I made my first personal piece. I began to call myself a professional artist when I got into my first exhibition the following year. Tell us a bit about your background. Where were you born and raised, and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Nasarawa State, Nigeria, where I grew up with my mother, step dad, step brothers and sisters. Where do you currently live and work? I currently live and work in New Karu, Abuja, Nigeria. Your work today pays homage to your African heritage and exalting darkskinned muses, particularly women. Why was it important for you to depict women in this fashion? While growing up, I watched my mum raise me with all her being. Even though she was married to my stepdad, she was literally the only one looking out for me. I saw my mother as my hero, and her struggles and how she overcame them made me realize that women were gods. My mum taught me almost everything I knew and provided me with everything I asked for. Money was an issue for my family while growing up, but my mother broke herself to provide for us. That’s why today I exalt women with my art. I also grew up to have so much respect for women because of how my mum raised me. I’m an African man, I love my skin, my people and the drive my race has for survival.
"I saw my mother as my hero. Her struggles and how she overcame them made me realize women were gods. Money was an issue for my family while growing up, but my mother broke herself to provide for us. That’s why today I exalt women with my art." - BARRY YUSUFU page 114