“Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waster his talent, but must develop it.” – Pope John Paul II
Arguably, Nigeria, despite its numerous challenges, is witnessing a resurgence of creative revolution. Many young Nigerians have continued to show that the nation is not barren of ideas, creativity and inventions. The intellectual expertise that has been used to develop the artistic, scientific and technological potentials of other nations is not alien here. In fact, this is a nation full of young Nigerians with untapped or under-tapped potentials. One of such young Nigerians is Waris Kareem Olamilekan, whose artworks make overwhelm onlookers.
11-year-old Waris is a talented young artist with specialty in hyperrealism; a genre of painting and sculpture reminiscent of a high-resolution photograph. Most times this genre of painting reflects day-to-day occurrences which call for deep human contemplation. At times hyperrealist artists use their paintings and drawings as sources of communal orientation; serving as means to foster socio-political activism on issues such as inept leadership, racism, pervasive sufferings and poverty, feminism, to mention a few. Some of Waris’ works have been fabulous in mirroring domestic relations; especially in his nuclear family.
Unlike many kids today who would prefer to spend whatever money they get from home on ephemerals or things that could rot their teeth, Waris started his life by using the little money he got to pursue his dream. Rather than spend the little he got as a child on biscuits, sweets and other things kids are often inclined to, he would buy drawing books to enhance his skills. “If my mummy gives me money to eat or buy biscuit, I used to buy 20 leaves to draw,” he retorted while speaking in an interview.
Many are still wowed by his artworks; and may be oblivious that the young Waris has never ceased to develop his talents more than half a decade that he began. According to him, his flair for drawing started before the age of six while at school; with special interests in drawing cartoons, comics, illustrations from textbooks and newspapers. Professionally, he started drawing at the age of eight. His ingenuity at what he does preoccupies him always. While his age mates are drowned in sleep, Waris would be busy doing school works as well as his drawings. “At times I read at night, do my assignments; and at times I do a live drawing of my sister sleeping,” he said.
Karl Marx might have Waris in mind when he said, “Art is always and everywhere the secret confession, and at the same time the immortal movement of its time.” Waris who lives with his parents and two siblings was born into a family whose source of living depends on struggling. Their lifestyle typifies the real Lagos life of ‘hustling’ and ‘bustling’ in the streets. The father deals in spare parts; while the mother is a drinks vendor. Specifically, his mother, Zainab Kareem, hawks drinks in the streets of Lagos to make a living and to raise some money to send her children to school. This lifestyle has rather engraved some level of artistry in Waris’ drawings. In fact, his best artwork so far – ‘Daily Bread’, personifies the experiences he has gathered over the years from his family and community.
The ‘Daily Bread’ is one exceptional artwork drawn with charcoal on placard, which depicts Waris sweating profusely with a spoon in his mouth. Explaining the genre of his artwork and the inspiration behind his self-acclaimed best work, Waris said, “I draw hyperrealism with pencil work. I get my inspiration from something going around me; especially my family… My best work is titled ‘Daily Bread’. The sweat on it symbolizes hardwork and struggling and the spoon symbolizes food. That is, everybody in my family and in my environment struggle and struggle before they can get what they eat. Then in our family too, they struggle for us to eat and go to school.” Anyone who sees his works would surely agree that they are not just aesthetic but also have deep meanings; tapping into the happenings in his environment and also based on his personal experience.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned,” opined the Italian great painter, Leonardo da Vinci. Waris’ potentials embraced limelight when French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited Lagos, Nigeria, recently. Within two hours, young Waris had drawn the portrait of the president; a situation which visibly moved Macron to touch his heads and appreciate his work. Posting a short video of their moment on his Twitter account, Macron wrote: “Very touched, congratulations to this young boy!” Macron’s elation and the many admirations poured on the young artist thereafter have indeed got him featured by international media like the BBC and CNN.
In a nation where many parents see success in studying only ‘professional courses’ like Medicine, Law, Computer Science or Engineering, Waris’ parents have demonstrated immeasurable supports for their son. They have shown that in God’s agenda, there is nothing like professional course; any course you have undertaken is your profession. “When he started like a joke, we never knew he had chosen his career path. I am happy with what he does and I try my best to encourage him,” Mr Kareem said. This should revamp the thinking of many parents who seldom support their children/wards because they downplay God-given talents; and would rather want the children/wards take career paths whose prospects are becoming saturated.
Waris still fine-tunes his skill at a makeshift art studio in a neighbourhood in Lagos. Located in an open veranda, a graduate of General Arts, Adeniyi Adewole, has an Art Academy where he teaches young people like Waris how to draw and perfect their art skills. The art tutor also believes his student, Waris, is on to greater things with his artworks. No doubt, Waris’ great ambitions are achievable and can be seen to be fueled with dedication. He hopes that someday his artworks will be displayed in great museums. “I want to be like Arinze and Michelangelo. I want to see myself among the great artists in museums. I want to be a great artist in the world; and I want some of my artworks to be in the international museums. I want to see myself in the highest place,” he shared his ambitions.
Meanwhile, it is more captivating to see that Waris pays critical attention to every bit of whatever he draws or paints. His artworks are life-like with great attention and emphasis on the minutest of details. “I actually focus on getting the details in the picture and in the artworks too. Anything in the pictures must be in the artworks; that is, if anybody sees it, the person would think it is the original photo. Hyperrealism requires a lot of patience; anyone who is not patient cannot do it,” the young artist divulged. Therefore, it is apt to say that his artworks bring to fore the reality in hyperrealism. No wonder he is referred to as “the bitty artist.”
Artworks have various ways of bringing succour to troubled minds. While scientific and technological discoveries could bring ease to human activities, artworks have ways of relieving human souls with soothing aesthetic relaxations. “You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul,” said George Bernard Shaw. It is hoped that people who know this reality would patronize this budding art genius. Individuals, big guns in corporate organisations and government would save a lot by giving their artworks to young Waris and also help him to develop his potentials. However, patronizing him to save a lot does not mean paying ridiculously for his exceptional talent. Rather, this should be seen as a means to help him and his siblings to get better education and make impacts in the society.
A look into the past may stimulate our conscience. Many young persons have left the career paths they have passion for because they lacked supports. Our society forgets easily that as they grow, they have responsibilities and bills to pay; hence, they take any job just to sort their bills; not out of passion. Importantly, Ecobank has shown some supports as it facilitated how Waris drew the portrait of the French president; but the government at State and Federal levels has to show practical support to ensure this young genius is not stolen away to other lands. There are many artworks domiciled in the British museum stolen by colonial imperialists; yet, they should not be allowed to steal our intellectual assets due to the indifference of government.
Should you need an artwork or perfect portrait for yourself or someone special, Waris is just a dial away from you. His Instagram page is littered with artworks that would make you long for one. Follow him and get his contacts therein. Perhaps, your portrait made by Waris could even accentuate your hidden beauty. After all, Aristotle said, “Art not only imitates nature, but also completes its deficiencies.”