One to Watch - The Calabash

Each week in 'Pixelated Stories', we highlight an established or emerging artist, who is garnering attention for their work. This week we caught up with ‘The Calabash’, photographer, artist, chef, Nigerian, Swede and all round creative being.

Pixel Gallery - Good morning, thank you for taking the time to have a chat with us today. To start, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your life journey to date.

The Calabash - Hello Pixel Gallery, thank you for this question, albeit one that I always find rather difficult to give a straightforward answer to. Nevertheless, I will try my very best this time.

As you know,  my Artist name is The Calabash. I was born in 1982 in a town called Makurdi, in the middle belt of Nigeria into a tribe known as the Tiv, of Benue state.

I lived the first couple of years there and then at about 3 years old, My dear Mother along with my brother and I, had to move to Lagos, the then Capital of Nigeria, in the south west part of the country mainly for her work reasons but also for other reasons which are not so important anymore.

I had a very decent childhood living and growing up in Lagos with Mother and my brother. I presume, you can tell by now that a single mother brought us up.

I had my primary education at St. Jude’s Private School up until I was about 11 years old before been carted off to boarding school in Abuja, the current Capital city of Nigeria.

Having graduated from Secondary school in Nigeria, I was afforded the privilege to move abroad with Mother and my Step Dad. First to Rome, where I started a programme known as the International Baccalaureate, which I completed in Stockholm before moving to London for University studies.

I have travelled and lived in various cities across the globe since London. However, I think the ones that have made the most impression and shaped me into being who I am today have been, Rome, Stockholm, London, Hong Kong, Copenhagen and Berlin.  I currently live between, Stockholm, Abuja and Makurdi.

Pixel Gallery – It sounds like you’ve been shaped by many different locations and cultures, and I’m very interested in learning more about how they have shaped you as an individual and your artwork. Your name for example, many of our readers will be curious about the name ‘The Calabash’, what’s the story behind it?

The Calabash - As you already know, I also have a background as a cook. So, I was very indecisive about what I wanted to focus on, but a huge interest in food and Art has always remained constant.

However, the Calabash is one of the things that I remember being utterly fascinated with as a young boy growing up in Nigeria. Here was this vine which was grown and when harvested young not only could be used as nutrition in the form of a vegetable but was so dynamic that it was also used to make all sorts of utensils, ranging from a liquid holder when dried and everything in-between to a music instrument.

Even the various names the fruit is known as e.g., Bottle gourd, White-flowered gourd, Long melon, New Guinea bean and Tasmanian bean have been of great fascination to me.  In a peculiar way, I found myself comparing the diversity of this odd fruit/vegetable/object to the very nature of my character.

Especially the fact that it was also a food item that could be used as a utensil or even as a piece or Art too. I think it might all be in my head…

Pixel Gallery – Everything is in our heads in a sense, especially for us creatives... There are two schools of thought on what art is. Either that Art is something functional done beautifully/with skill or that Art is a physical expression of an idea, art for art’s sake in a sense. You are a very creative person, from your photography to your cooking and everything in-between, how would you define art and what inspires your creativity?

The Calabash - I believe for me Art is the application or expression of certain creative skills in various forms in order to produce works that are appreciated usually for their beauty or emotional effect on the viewer or audience. In my case, like you say, I do use mainly food and photography to express these emotions and beauty.

Pixel Gallery – Our environment plays a big role in shaping our day-to-day experiences, you are currently based in Sweden but have lived in the Nigeria and the UK amongst others, how have these different locations and cultures shaped your art?

The Calabash - I think for me, again, I have always been fascinated to human behaviour and culture and how these two aspects of human existence influence and define what eventually is expressed as Art depending on where and when I find myself immersed in a society anywhere in the world. I like to say person’s Art is another’s Eyesore.  

Pixel Gallery – So true, it’s all about the viewers perspective and perhaps the prevailing tastes of their society at any given moment. How would you define an artist’s role within society?

The Calabash - I believe sometimes, actually a lot of times its difficult to have objective conversation with other people about sensitive subjects.

So, for me I find that Art is a great way to have conversations, especially uncomfortable ones, with other people without the risk of getting into heated disagreements or such heightened emotional responses.

It’s a great medium to communicate with people and leave them to draw their own conclusions from a true place in their heart without all the noise that comes with the pressure of trying win, or oppress or subject or take a moral high ground which is what commonly happens in ordinary conversations between people on sensitive subject matters in society. Well at least in my experience.

Pixel Gallery – Do you have a favourite artist? Or work of art? Or both?

The Calabash - This is a very tricky one too. So if you would pardon me, I will have to get back to you on this one as I really want to give an honest answer but I honestly can’t do that at the moment.

Pixel Gallery – Of course, I know that’s always a tough one to answer. If you could be born as anyone, in any time period in history and anywhere in the world, where would it be, who would you be and why?

The Calabash - I think the life and story of Nelson Mandela is one that has had the most profound effect of me. I think I would have loved to be born as him, right when Nigeria was getting her Independence from the British colonial masters. I truly believe we would have had a very different outcome had we had a leader with such resolve of intention and vision for the future of his people and the reality that was to follow after independence.

I am usually not one to take a political stance on the challenges that life throws on a people, individual or society but boy am I in total awe of the life the Mandiba led and all that he managed to achieve for himself and his people against all the enormous challenges he faced whilst doing this.  

Pixel Gallery – What brings you the most joy about your art?

The Calabash - Probably the fact that it is very abstract, well I think so, and unusual as I intend it to be.

Pixel Gallery – What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

The Calabash - Well I have kind of been a jack-of-all-trades really. I have worked as an actor, behind the camera as a second ad and production assistant in film, sales man in various industries, cleaner, dancer, care taker, you name it…

Pixel Gallery – What superpower would you have and why?

The Calabash - I am not quite sure if this is even a super power but I would love to have the power of gratitude and compassion. I can’t say why because I already have them, and it feels great, and I am ever so grateful to have that in my nature.  

Pixel Gallery – That makes sense, thank you. Gratitude and compassion would defiantly do us more good than x-ray vision or being able to fly! Time travel would be very cool though…What one book would you recommend everyone reads?

The Calabash - Well I actually have a few but if I was to choose one it would be “The road Less Travelled” M. Scott Peck.  

Pixel Gallery – And last but not least, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

The Calabash - I think the best advice is also from the same book and it says and I quote: -

“Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult, once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I honestly resonate and believe this because it one piece of advice that has truly worked in my life so far.

Pixel Gallery – That’s great advice and perfect way to end. Thank you so much for sharing with us and have a lovely day!

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