Peter Eneji is a passionate advocate for the role of art in society, and he believes that art can be used to heal, inspire, and educate. He developed a passion for representational art at a very tender age, which led him to pursue a bachelor's degree in painting from the Cross River University of Technology, Calabar. His paintings, characterized by bold and expressive strokes have been exhibited in group exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad, and he has won several awards, including the Afi Ekong Visual Arts Competition in 2018 and the Hitch Prize during the 2021 edition of the “Life in My City Art Festival” in Enugu state, Nigeria. He is also a member of the Elbowroom Art Movement, a collective of Nigerian artists who are committed to using art to promote social change.
Peter Eneji (born 1991) is a Nigerian artist known for his captivating paintings that depict the contemporary lifestyle in Nigeria. Growing up in a government residential area turned slum in Abuja, Peter's childhood experiences greatly influenced his artistic themes and philosophy. He developed a passion for representational art at a young age, which led him to pursue a bachelor's degree in painting from the Cross River University of Technology in Calabar.
Throughout his creative journey, Peter received mentorship from renowned contemporary Nigerian artists such as Abiodun Olaku, Wallace Ejoh, and Joshua Nmesirionye. These mentors not only enhanced his artistic skills but also transformed his approach to creating art.
Peter has achieved notable recognition for his work. He won the Painting category of the Afi Ekong visual arts competition in 2018 and was among the top 25 artists in the 2021 edition of the Life in My City Art Festival. His artworks have been showcased in various group exhibitions, including Becoming (2021), Terra Culture art gallery; Being Together Exhibition (2021), Vivid exclusive gallery, Novel Narratives (2021), Moriri Gallery, Decolonizing History (2023), Didi Museum.
In his paintings, Peter interweaves painting and poetry to explore the dynamics of human emotions as they are shaped by their daily life experiences, struggles, fears, hopes, social stereotypes, and cultural beliefs. He also uses his art as a means to explore our human vulnerabilities, our differences and similarities, and for social activism. Using bold and expressive strokes, he predominantly works with acrylic and oil mediums, utilizing the human figure and facial expressions as tools of visual communication.
Question and Answer segment with Peter Eneji
Q1. What inspired you to pursue art as a career?
Art has always been a childhood flare. It started as a competition between me and my childhood circle, then to becoming a hobby that saw me spending every dime I had on materials to explore my skills, then to a need to create stories about my life experiences, from struggles, to emotions, fears, hopes and everything in between. But the first time I made that decision to become an artist was when my secondary school went for an excursion at the Abuja Council for Arts and Culture, I was just 13 years old, and I had the privilege of meeting with Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya and late Lamidi Fakeye. This experience was what created the spark that has brought me this far.
Q2. What artistic style and techniques do you use in creating your artwork?
My style of art has metamorphosed over time, from figurative expressionism to impressionism and realism, but my love for brush strokes has kept me fixated on the impressionist school.
Title: Wear a broken smile
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Q3. Do you have any rituals or habits that help you get into a creative mindset?
Well, I wouldn't categorically say that I have a ritual that gets me in a creative mood. My creative path is open-ended. I could be doing my laundry, walking on the street, looking at a photo, eating, or even praying and ideas would just hit me. I've had experiences when I woke up late at night to scribble something down. I just do my best to trap them when they come. However, I'm a lover of music and I use a whole lot of it while working.
Q4. Can you describe a typical day in your life as an artist?
Well I'm an early riser, so the First thing I do is to communicate with God because I believe art is highly spiritual, then read a book, which could be my bible or any literature I'm studying at the time, afterwards I'm up painting.
Q5. Do you have a favorite piece or project that you've worked on? What makes it special to you, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Well, I'd say the “Red Star” series (particularly, Gone with the Moon) because it was occasioned by a personal emotional experience that left me heartbroken for months, that was the very first time I painted what I suffered in real life. It's special to me because I moved on from that trauma after I had finished working on them. Painting is really how I self-heal mentally and emotionally.
Title: Gone with the Moon
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Q6. Can you share any interesting stories about the inspiration behind a specific series of artworks?
I will still cite the “Red Star series". I was heartbroken by a girl I was so sure was the one. I am a very emotional person, but I don't let my emotions show, so I think painting is where I pull down those walls and allow my vulnerability to find expression.
Q7. Can you describe a moment when you felt the most proud of your artistic achievements?
Getting to finish a new piece of art now and then is a great achievement for me, and what's even more rewarding is getting to talk about them in front of an audience that resonates with your story. However, I've had a few "proud of myself" moments; one should be when I won the Afi Ekong visual art competition in 2018 in Calabar and the Hitch price during the 2021 edition of the Life in My City Art Festival in Enugu. Although I consider these feats scratches on the surface because my mind is set up to make bigger wins and consistently push for greater levels, however, I am not despising my little beginning.
Q8. What are you currently working on?
I have recently unveiled a new series of works that questions the current stigma Nigerians suffer globally. The series, entitled "Behind the Veil' series, features a diverse range of subjects, from how Nigerians are looking past these stigmas to carving a positive niche in diverse fields of endeavor.
Title: The checkered stage and the Maiden in Distress.
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Q9. Are there any current trends or movements in the art world that you find interesting?
I like the fact that African art seems to be dominating the global stage, our stories are vast, untapped, and original. African art is full of mystery and life, our cultural diversity being one of the key factors responsible for that feat. I'm also thrilled with the fact that artists are becoming widely accepted in my immediate environment, I remember when I decided to study art professionally I was faced with sharp resistance from my Dad who thought art wasn't lucrative enough and didn't consider being an artist a palatable career path.
Also, it is no news that art is rapidly evolving and every day there seem to be new forms of creative expression popping up somewhere, from NFT to AI, etc. These developments have made art more engaging.
Q10. Can you describe the role of art education in your artistic journey?
Art education changed my paradigm about myself. It made me see beyond skillfully representing images to telling stories people can relate to. People not only want to appreciate your skills, but they also want you to speak to them non-verbally, and they want your art to guide them. Art education made me see myself as an influencer of society and a surgeon with a potent tool to dissect the ills in society and help it heal.
Peter is passionate about using art to educate and inspire others. He has conducted workshops and talks on art education and social activism, and he is a frequent contributor to art magazines and websites. His work is sure to continue to resonate with audiences around the world. His paintings offer a unique perspective on the African experience, and they challenge us to think critically about the world around us.
Visit Peter's profile to see more of his paintings.