Artist Interviews 2023
By Laura Siebold
Modupe Odusote’s work captured our eye during a recent art fair – it is as meaningful, as it is beautiful. The artist mixes different materials like paint and fabric to create expressive pieces that will keep you staring. Modupe’s art is, in her words, “an extension of my being and it is my voice”. Her paintings are vulnerable and a place of healing for Modupe.
The traditional African designs express her culture and support the “universal language of love, softness, empathy, and vulnerability” of her art.
Learn more about the emotional energy that guides Modupe’s ways of creating and her idea of Art as a vehicle for social and cultural change, assisting in understanding differences and culminating in appreciation for diverse people and cultures.
What does art mean to you? Have you always dreamed of becoming an artist?
Art to me is self-expression and a language that comes uniquely from your heart and soul. It is my therapy, an extension of my being and it is my voice. I haven't always dreamed of being an artist, but I had always hoped that I could be an artist if I wanted to. The extent of my formal education in Art was 8th grade back in Nigeria. I since then hoped that I still had some talent in me and would be able to express it at some point in my later life. However, I never dared to really try, for the fear that I would find out that I didn’t actually have the talent or have anything to say with it. Now I am in my late forties and three years in the journey, it is both my dream and my reality, and I feel so fortunate to be growing in it.
Can you tell us about your early beginnings in the art world? Was there a specific moment in your life when you identified yourself as an artist?
My beginnings were during the pandemic. I was trying my hands on sketching and painting, even after creating some awful pieces that remain a common joke between my art friend and me. I kept going and I made a variety of expressions that included landscapes, portraitures, and small stories. At the time, I had my regular day job as a Human Resources leader in the healthcare space. I was on a zoom call, meeting one of my clients and she noticed a bunch of paintings lined up behind me. My dining room was loaded with them. My client (and now friend) asked me to move out of the zoom window, so she could see the paintings and was surprised to hear I had made those paintings. She mentioned that she had been looking for artwork from black females and would love to buy some from me. I thought it was a strange request and I told her that I paint for my pleasure and do not sell. She kept encouraging me and I thought, “well, why not?! I can’t keep stacking up canvases in my dining room to no end”. She bought four pieces from me and commissioned more paintings. I was beside myself! As I wrapped her paintings up and boxed them for shipping, I thought to myself, “Wow, I think I am an artist!’. She really validated me and continues to hold a special place in my heart for giving me the confidence to put myself out there and start the journey.
How does your work tell stories of “authenticity, provide reflection and provoke thought and empathy for oneself and the brokenness of humanity” (as per your website). What inspires those intentions for your work?
My figurative works tend to show vulnerability or human connection or a state of reflection. I focus less on details but more on the essence of the expression. It is hard for me to start or finish a piece without a clear intent of what I want my piece to communicate. I think that most people who know me might perceive me as introverted and maybe unwilling to open up much of myself. This is true, as I keep my heart very guarded. My art is therefore my outlet for opening up my heart and pouring most of my emotions or longing or my self-encouragement to heal. Most of my pieces show a bold and unabashed emotional softness as it is the only place, I feel completely safe to be that way. I always hope that, in turn, the outcome of my artwork encourages someone else the way it encourages or soothes me while I am creating it.
You combine fabrics like acrylics, ink, fabric, and wood in your work. How do you choose and source the materials for each art piece?
My materials are quite commonplace, even the fabric I use. However, I only use traditional African designs like ankara fabrics and aso-oke, which are part and parcel of my heritage and upbringing. My choice in what to use, when, or how it is incorporated, is majorly influenced by my desire to uniquely express my culture through my own voice and how I can create a compelling composition best.
How do the stories you tell with your art come to life? Do you feel that you have a specifically female or universal voice in telling those stories?
My pieces are certainly quite feminine, even when my figurative subject is male. However, I wouldn’t say that I have only a feminine voice versus a universal voice. I say this because my expressions have a universal language of love, softness, empathy, and vulnerability. I love to create feminine expressions because I enjoy the beauty of the female’s softness, sensuality, and nurturing spirit. And I equally love to create male expressions that are vulnerable and show strength in a broken or reflective state, as I find that quality in male energy to be very attractive, sensual, and healing.
What determines your choice of subjects?
In choosing my subjects, I reflect on who or how best to communicate my message or the emotion that is broiling inside me at the time. I have many times began a piece with a female as my figure and somewhere along the way, changing it to a male subject and vice versa. I let the emotional energy guide my creative process.
In your eyes - can art be a motor of social and cultural change? How is art able to transcend cultural and social differences?
For sure, Art is a vehicle for social and cultural change. I see the opportunity to take controversial subjects or ideas and represent them in a way that causes someone with a contrary or questioning perspective to reconsider their position. Understanding differences allows for appreciation and sometimes even an excitement for something that is fundamentally new and different from what we are accustomed to, culturally or in our belief systems. I always hope that my artwork creates room in the onlooker’s heart, for understanding and appreciation of another that is different from oneself.
Do you see yourself primarily as a visual storyteller? What kind of advice can you give other African American artists who would like to tell their stories through art?
Yes, I do see myself as a visual storyteller, as I always aim for a message and for an interpretation of the onlooker to see beyond what is directly visible to the eye. I guess my advice to other artists is to always consider what message they are trying to communicate and to stay authentic to their inner voice. It is easy to get caught up and distracted in the commercial viability of a painting or creation, but it is good to always remind ourselves of our ‘Why’.
What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
I am still learning but I keep reminding myself to not get discouraged and believe that my voice is uniquely mine and I have something to say and contribute.
What is your ultimate goal as an artist, and what do you wish your legacy to be?
My ultimate goal is to continue to grow and create till my last breath. I hope that my legacy would be the healing power of my Art.