Abby Oyesam is a visual artist based in Kansas City, Missouri. Her work is inspired by the cultures that she grew up around as a Nigerian American and “how they intersect.” Oyesam says that for now she is focused on learning, but hopes to make art a full-time commitment one day. Read our full interview with Abby Oyesam below.

How long have you been making art? And have you seen yourself evolve as an artist over time?

I can’t remember a time when making art was not a part of my life, so it’s hard to say. I started taking my art more seriously about five years ago now.  And the work has evolved visually and my motivation changes constantly. I used to be really focused on perfection when I first started sharing my drawings online, I was really trying to make photo-realistic portraits, but I just didn’t have the skill to do it. I wanted to get better at drawing, but I wasn’t allowing myself to experiment because trying something new meant the potential to fail. But now I’m more of a risk-taker. I still have love for realism and portraiture which has been constant throughout.

Who/what are your greatest artistic inspirations?

Currently I’ve been looking at Egon Schiele, Greg Breda, Tajh Rust, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Since I’ve started painting, I’ve been looking at composition and color more critically.  Honestly, I’ve been looking at a lot of photographs of rappers and fashion branding that has been made popular by hip-hop.  More personally, I’m inspired by the cultures I grew up around as a Nigerian American child and how they intersect. The end ‘SARS’ protests happening more recently and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has sort of piqued my interest in this again because we’re fighting for the same things across the diaspora.

Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve made so far?

One that is closest to my heart is the biggest painting I made so far. It’s based off a photo I took of my brother and my dad when we were at church. my brother was wearing African clothes and my dad had on a suit. What’s funny is my dad never wore African clothes, like even in old pictures. I would see that he had on a t-shirt and jeans – he didn’t wear traditional garments. I was really thinking about how as first-generation kids we have the opportunity to reclaim the culture our families left behind to assimilate, basically.

Are you actively pursuing an art career? Do you want it to be a full time commitment down the line? 

Right now I’m really focused on learning, but it’s definitely a goal of mine to make it a full-time commitment considering this is all I really want to do. Even as I’m growing into my own visual language, I like to share my work online and connect with other young artists.  Sometimes, though, it is dangerous when you’re still learning. When you get an audience that likes what you’re making, you feel stuck in that mindset of ‘this is what the audience wants to see me create so I’ll just keep doing that.’

What’s your ideal future as an artist?

After I finish school, I want to be a part of artist residencies and participate in more community-based art projects. There’s  Black Rock that was started by Kehinde Wiley and that would be such a dream working in a studio surrounded by artists from different backgrounds. I’ve also got a budding interest in curatorial work, but being a studio artist is  the ultimate goal.  I’ve got a lot of dreams in my head and my biggest challenge is making it real. It sounds simple. Believing in yourself and defending your craft is the most important part for me.


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