People of akukoworld
By Fatim Sillah
Meet the self-taught visual artist Benjamin Abana.
He is a Danish-Nigerian artist from Denmark, who has gained a lot of recognition for his works that are often composed of bright colors and heavy contrasts. Abana uses his talent and his personal insight on African history to paint beautiful images and portraits relating to the diaspora.
In relation to our current theme on Black Love, we asked Abana to pick out one of his paintings that represents black love to him.
He picked out a portrait of his wife. He painted the portrait from a photograph, they had taken of her in London.
He tells us that the photograph reflected her natural self, which are usually the kind of photos he paints from; natural with some artistic flair.
“So I had the picture laying around for some time, I just had to get over a personal limit of painting someone that is so close to me. I focused a lot on her eyes. I wanted them to be very vivid. And not much else is happening in the painting, it is very simple. The background is very clean. I think of it as being a vulnerable moment, but a strong portrait.
I chose this portrait because it is so personal to me; taking a person that is so close and having to reproduce them in a way that she can recognize herself but also in the way that I see her.
As an artist you have to consider the colors, nuances, shadows, the light and they all have to interplay with each other for it to make sense; which is why it becomes such a vulnerable and honest moment."
"In relation to the black love theme, we are both Danes mixed with some African roots. She is also half Cameroonian and I am also half Nigerian. Us having these different backgrounds made it easier for us to relate to each other. There are a lot of things that we don’t have to explain or convince each other of, because we both have an understanding of our cultural backgrounds; us having a whole African family that we aren’t close to and also both being a mix of two ethnicities and living in Denmark. It is nice to have someone who just understands you, and also in the future when we have children, it will be easier to explain to them where they are from and that it comes from both parents, not just one. We can both have conversations with our children about the good and challenging things while having different ethnicities.”
We had previously had exchanges with Abana about the meaning of black love and why it is important to talk about in Scandinavia.
He tells us that black love is self love. For him it means embracing his background and heritage.
He associates black love with the love for his Nigerian culture and everything African.
Abana grew up in a small town in Jutland, Denmark, and as a teenager he felt out of place. He started being drawn to the Hiphop culture in the States, because he saw people and role models that looked like him and spoke to him. He started to learn more about American history, which led him to the history on the transatlantic slave trade; which eventually led him back to Africa. He also learned about African history and cultivated it more by focusing on different countries like Nigeria. He researched about his Nigerian roots; the tribe system before the colonial era, and also how the colonial era affected Nigeria. He also learned about art, which he also brings into some of his paintings. He recognizes that it can be challenging for some to accept and love their culture, when you’re far away, however he feels that fashion, music and most of pop culture are inspired by Africa and the States.
“You should be proud and not hide yourself away from it and only acknowledge your Danish side.
There's nothing wrong with that, but I think that it is also healthy to acknowledge your other background and culture without them clashing.
I say all this to say that it’s not because I wear it on my sleeve that I am Nigerian but I am very conscious and aware of my Nigerian background and culture. I express it in different ways like in my paintings with cold and variegated colors; even mine and my wife’s interior design.
Having the mixture between Scandinavian style and African decorations is a fantastic combination.
So being aware and conscious about my heritage and culture just rubs off in a natural way.”
As an artist it has been important for Abana to acknowledge his own talent and his ability to match other Danish artists despite him having an African background and there being an invisible wall that separates him from the others.
He feels that Afro-Scandinavians should focus on how they individually can push for better narratives, and opportunities for their community.
“I personally have a hard time breaking into the cultural elite here. And sometimes I think about the invisible walls of structural racism but sometimes I think about my own work not being interesting at the moment. It motivates me to continue to create something better and at some point I can’t be ignored anymore and I can’t be copied by anyone because it will be too obvious. Creating our own path and focusing on cultivating our talents, our dreams is something that will eventually become beneficial to us”
To see more of Benjamin Abana’s work visit his website
www.benjaminabana.dk or on social media:
Instagram @benjamin.abana.artist / Facebook @abanart
This article is a part of Black Love. For two weeks (between 1-14th of February) we have dedcated all of our channels to celebrate our love for each other and ourselves.
We hope that you will also participate in this important conversation on our social media platforms and spread the love!
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