Artist Collins Obijiaku Reflects On Debut Solo Exhibit, 'Unexpected Sittings'

By Amanda Vasquez | August 11, 2022

Collins Obijiaku, “As You Protect Me, So I You” (2022) PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES
Collins Obijiaku, “As You Protect Me, So I You” (2022) PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES

Intimacy and vulnerability are immediately felt as viewers gaze into the eyes of a Collins Obijiaku (@collins_obijiaku) portrait. The emotional connection that the self-taught Nigerian artist orchestrates gives the viewer a chance to recognize their humanity.

Unexpected Sittings, Obijiaku’s inaugural solo presentation (which was displayed at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles from April 30 to June 4), showcased 15 portraits that he crafted over the last year. Each portrait “explores the potential behind every interaction and how in the dynamic, and at times complicated, spaces one can become inspired to an unfamiliar degree.”

Collins Obijiaku, “Sandra” (2022). PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES
Collins Obijiaku, “Sandra” (2022). PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES

Obijiaku used a mixture of oil, acrylic and charcoal “to achieve soft gradients, seductive texture and beguiling linework.”

“As an artist you find that your works are best seen by others and that some of the things that you have portrayed are really subconscious, yet it must be intentional in a sense since it’s there,” Obijiaku tells EDITION. “So, maybe my works are more subdued because I want the figures I portray to be the center of attraction.”

“To be human is to feel, and to allow others to feel what we are feeling with us,” he continues. “The reality is that, whether we admit it or not, we are vulnerable. The key is accepting these feelings and welcoming them in our minds. Also, letting others see your imperfections helps them to understand that they’re not alone in their struggles.”

The indirect eye contact of each Black man and woman, as Collins explains, generates presence and interest.

Collins Obijiaku, “Untitled” (2022). PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES
Collins Obijiaku, “Untitled” (2022). PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES

“The gaze is significant as it captures the truth in most situations,” Obijiaku says. “Just as you have when two people who are interested in each other exchange looks, I try to create this interest and presence between my subjects and those who view them.”

Obijiaku is influenced by his familial connection to cultural heritage and his immediate surroundings. His portrait subjects consist of friends, family and strangers he meets on the streets, yet the painting is not meant to be about the subject.

“I find myself in a society and an environment where people carry such aura and charisma that I feel the need to portray these people in my art,” the artist explains. “Be it family, friends or even random strangers as long as I get triggered by something in them. It could be their gender, skin tone, face, a glint in their eye or a feeling around them.”

Collins Obijiaku, “White Lace” (2022) PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES
Collins Obijiaku, “White Lace” (2022) PHOTO BY PAUL SALVESON/COURTESY OF COLLINS OBIJIAKU AND ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES

The artist has exhibited in New York, London, Lagos and Accra. In 2020, he was an artist-in-residence at Black Rock Senegal in Dakar, Senegal.

“As a young creative person, there is a lot to be expected from me, and one thing I am sure of is growth.”

Photography by: Courtesy of artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles