Festoli Focus Series: Ibrahim Ciroma

He comes across as reserved, but when he opens his mouth to speak it is clear why: Ibrahim has a lot on his mind. I had a long chat with the graphic artist, photographer and former beat maker on his creative journey. Here are a few pieces of our conversation on art, sharing ideas and honing your craft — and also being crazy.


My name is Ibrahim Chiroma – I’m a graphic artist, photographer and a bunch of other things.

I used to make beats, years ago and reckon I would have been awesome at it but I didn’t get in touch with artists to buy/use the beats to I just kind of stopped. Since I wasn’t giving it out I thought why continue making them? All art can be created and enjoyed in a vacuum but it gets to a point that it needs to be shared or appreciated. Everybody likes being told their work is good and if you cannot get that feedback then I think your art will suffer. The beats are still sellable though, so you know, hit me up [laughs].

Drawing comes naturally to me. You know when you are sitting in class and the lecturer is boring so you end up doing something else? That was it for me – once nothing is happening I get a pen and start drawing.

This year my focus is to transfer most of the work I have on paper to digital format and use them on merchandise – that’s my goal for this year. Right now I am putting some of the designs on t-shirts and I’m going to test the waters with that. It is a painstaking process; I draw everything by hand and now redrawing it on computer. It is a lot like tracing your own work.

There is the risk that once your work goes digital you can lose it, someone can copy it and the only proof you have that it is yours is the original in your possession. Besides that, digital art is beautiful and has several applications so enjoy it – you cannot say because you are afraid people will steal your work that you won’t put it out. Google search for digital art and you will see millions of works even better than yours so why be afraid to put it out there? Someone told me the moment you get an idea, someone somewhere is also getting the same idea. It is what you choose to do with it that counts. If someone steals your idea and you are good at what you do you will get another one. It should not be a reason not to work, if anything it should be a reason to do better.

If someone steals your idea and you are good at what you do you will get another one. It should not be a reason not to work, if anything it should be a reason to do better.

Photography for me is spontaneous. I’m more of a documentary/street photographer. I haven’t done a series yet for exhibition but if I were to do one it would be based on lights – cos I love lights – if not that then the almajiri.

Photography is not something I take too seriously. I want to make money off of it of course but my style is not appreciated as much but that’s no reason not to do it. By appreciate I mean they like it like they will use it as their phone wallpaper but won’t pay for prints or display at home, you know? The photography industry right now is definitely too focused on portraits. We are all self-conscious. Everybody wants to only pay good money to see their own face. We are a portrait nation.

No matter how you feel, money affects everything you do. First and foremost if you enjoy doing it even if you do not make money from it you won’t be bothered too much but at the end of the day you need money to keep going. Many photographers love nature and street documentary photography but do the occasional event and wedding coverage because that is what pays. You need to be able to finance your dream.

You have to be deliberately mad to do art. They say the best creatives are geniuses and geniuses dance around the border of insanity and I guess the crazier the artists the better his/her artwork will be. But you cannot be mad and do art [laughs].

The approach I use to hone my craft, photography and art are different. My photography gets better when I put down the camera for a bit, by the time I pick it up again I can look at it with fresh eyes. With the artwork though, you just have to constantly stroke. You won’t get the same results every time because abstract art is more like a freestyle. I tried to recreate some of my work from some years back and I couldn’t, I was intrigued. I am not in the same space I was in then. Most times I start some work and I honestly don’t know how it will end up – I am surprised by the results. To hone your craft you have to just do it. Keep at it. Tell yourself you want to do better than you did yesterday and eventually you will get better. And learn from and collaborate with others.

When it comes to collaboration, you get two kinds of experiences. Once I tried to get some ideas on painting from another artist by coming around and sitting to observe but was told I cannot be part of their ‘creative process’. Of course you know I was not impressed by that response. On the other hand, when I spoke to another person about my t-shirt ideas the person simply responded “I’m open, you can come around anytime.” The experience varies but most times it is positive – people are willing to collaborate. A good example is Festoli, the last time I attended the experience was awesome.

For the next Festoli I would love to see more cultural performance art of the different tribes in Kaduna state. There is so much variety of cultures here that need to be showcased.

Let me put it like this: art appreciation is at the same level as literature especially here in Northern Nigeria – majority of us are not literate enough to appreciate these fields as much as we would love them to. We are more into the [easily accessible] music and visuals like Kannywood and so on. As literacy is increasing, appreciation is also – it is only going to get better.

Finally, my advice for artists out there is just do it. If you have the gift, keep at it and maybe, just maybe you will blow.

Interview by @noMaskOn

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