Ofunne Azinge is a Nigerian – British painter based in Manchester, United Kingdom. Her work primarily focuses on the history of postcolonialism in Nigeria and its effects on black men across the diaspora, and black masculinity in painting.

Born in Nigeria in 1998 and moving to England at the age of 5 after being adopted, Ofunne’s work draws from various aspects of her life including the socio-political effects of migration, nostalgia and the complexities of her upbringing.

Her large-scale paintings combine the use of her unique image transfer method, figures painted in a mixture of black/blue/purple hues, compilations of symbols from various generations inviting the viewer to come closer and unravel the details.

Ofunne’s work features in the 2021 Summer Exhibition, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.  

Here Ofunne talks about choosing the medium of painting, her time studying BA (Hons) Fine Art at Leeds Arts University and how her Nigerian background has a profound influence on her work. 

Image: Ofunne Azinge, Ana m agwa onwe m okwu, 2020. Acrylic, transfer on wood, 120 x 84cm 

Could you tell us a little about your influences and practise?

“Men. Well patriarchal ideologies. I come from a very male dominated family, I also come from a very political Nigerian family. I grew up surrounded by barristers, doctors, engineers, judges – I am the only artist.

When my biological mother passed away, I lived with my grandparents for a while and then I began moving from home to home, before moving to London. I then spent three years in boarding school in Nigeria before moving to Northern England. During this period of constant migration, spending time with different families allowed me experience different cultures, languages, religions, food. It also allowed me to understand how complex relationships can be and the different dynamics.

My father was a very emotional man, at the time I didn’t understand, I was always told not to cry, I also never saw a man cry. When my father passed away, I became even more sensitive to the traumas black men face and I began examining my own relationships with the men in my life, father figures, uncles, friends, ex-partners. Since then, my work has expanded, I’m constantly trying to push past male stereotypes.”

Image: Ofunne Azinge, J.J.D (JOHNNY JUST DROP) , 2021. 

Your final year was during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, do you think this had an impact on your work?

“Absolutely. The isolation was awful, there was also the fear of the unknown. I was making such large scale works in my very small university room, the paintings were so big they blocked most of the light from coming in. I also had no idea where they would end up as all the galleries were closed and nobody was holding in-person exhibitions. I hope no other year group has to experience this.

However, I chose not to let the fear deter me from finishing my degree the way I intended so I chose to stick with my ideas.

The lockdown gave me 24-hour access to my paintings, I’m most creative at night so this was extremely helpful. I also had online access to my tutors, so we spoke frequently. Their advice and encouragement helped me a lot.”

Images: Ofunne Azinge (left), Dis wan na clone, 2020. Acrylic & image transfer on wood, 200cm x 122.2cm and (right) Ije Ego Di Olu - To look for money is hard, 2000. Acrylic & image transfer on wood, 200cm x 122.2 cm. 

What was it that drew you to studying (BA) Hons Fine Art at Leeds Arts University?

“I promise I’m not being paid to say this. But choosing to study at Leeds Arts University (LAU) was the best decision I could’ve made. I’d been to two other universities prior to coming to LAU, one which I studied BA Fine Art in, but I struggled there, the curriculum was rigid, and it didn’t suit me as an artist.

I really appreciate the flexibility LAU offers. Even though we have a fairly set curriculum, they understand that every artist is different and so will be our inspirations and research. It’s admirable how well our tutors can accommodate this, they have so much knowledge to offer and there’s no doubt I wouldn’t be at the level I am now without them.

Also, being an arts university, you’re completely surrounded by creatives. Artists have a different way of thinking and speaking about things, so being surrounded by people who are like minded was the best feeling. Nobody is “too weird” for LAU.”

Can you tell us a little about your time studying?

“In first year, I started off as a painter. After seeing all the facilities around me, for the next two years, I decided to take complete advantage and try everything. I made a sculpture out of cement and metal, I also digitally designed a sculpture and had it 3D printed, I photographed and filmed even screen printed too. I learnt that materialism was an important aspect of my work, some things communicated better than others. I never really “finished” anything, instead each piece helped me refine my ideas, understand my thoughts and my audience and build my own style of practise.

When I started painting again in my final year, everything felt right.”

Image: Ofunne Azinge, BLM (Black Lives Matter), 2021, Acrylic on Wood, 60 x 80cm. 

What does a typical day look like for you?

“Every day is different, but everyday includes some kind of research or creativity.
Most things happen at night but once I wake up, I write down my dreams. - this is where my painting ideas come from. I’m quite spiritual, so dreams have a different meaning to me.

I acknowledge that inspiration comes from everywhere. I take note of my emotions by journaling and it helps me stay in control. I journal my day, random things I’ve seen. The colour of someone’s hair, the stag do with the drunk groom sat alone on the pavement, the smell of the market.

I read a lot. I’ve dedicated this year to Nigerian authors across the diaspora. I particularly admire those that write in a combination of languages, it ties in with my identity and I pick up words to use when speaking to people.

If I’m struggling to paint, I look at the last painting or photograph that went well, and try to paint it again, once I’ve gained my confidence and am rid of my imposter syndrome, I move on.”

Do you have any projects in the pipeline at the moment that you can tell us about?

“I just got into the Royal Academy of Arts Summer exhibition hosted by Yinka Shonibare. One of my paintings actually opens the show. My name is the first one in the booklet and placed right at the entrance of the exhibition – I’m told this is unprecedented. The other is in the room curated by him. How exciting! The feedback has been phenomenal. I’ve met artists I’ve studied my whole life. I’m also starring in this year’s BBC2 documentary for the show, everything is falling into place.

I’m about to begin my MA in Painting and I’m really excited, I’ve set myself goals, one of which is to do a residency. I look forward to how this experience transforms me as a person and in turn, an artist.”

Header Image: Ofunne Azinge, Untitled Colour Study (cropped), 2021.