Ekene Ngige discovered art in a cup of cappuccino and later used coffee as a medium to tell important African stories.
As far back as Ekene Ngige can remember, he never let his limitations dictate his success in life. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Ngige experienced what he calls “medical error” which left him paralyzed at the age of one. Faced with a disability that prevented him from walking, Ngige gained his confidence from his parents who helped him stand in any room he was in and, perhaps more importantly, taught him the power of self-confidence.
“They gave me that confidence. I have four older brothers and a younger sister. I was able to join them playing soccer in the streets or join them in a dance competition and do crazy stuff like climbing trees etc. I couldn’t walk with my legs and I had scoliosis, but I didn’t feel like I had a disability except when the kids made fun of me at school or in my neighborhood. I always thought of myself as normal and that’s why I never separated myself from what the other normal kids were doing. Even if I couldn’t do it as well as them, the way I would do it would be as good as I think it should be,” says Ngige.
At the age of three, this self-confidence was already evident in Ngige’s ability to draw. From lesson boards to blackboards or even in his textbooks, Ngige began to create remarkable portraits that began to catch the attention of his art teachers and invariably led to him winning several awards in high school.
“My teacher actually gave me the nickname ‘Kene da Vinci’ like Leonardo da Vinci because I was his favorite arts student and I always won prizes for the school. At the time I graduated from high school, I knew I was going to be an artist,” says Ngige.
But the journey to become one of Nigeria’s most promising visual artists would take him on an interesting journey. First came the love for animation. Ngige started exploring with several illustrations that led him to create comic book characters. By the time he entered Yaba College of Technology, that initial love for animation had blossomed into fine art.
“I fell in love with oil painting, acrylic painting and watercolors and from there I had to choose which to prefer. It was hard but I remember when I was in college we had companies that would come to art school to buy some of the art from us because it was cheaper so the idea that I could sell my art in college and use the money to cover my tuition and art materials encouraged me to be a professional artist.
A brief stint working with a television network in Nigeria after graduation followed where, Ngige would use the money he earned from his 9 to 5 to fund his true passion. Very quickly, he began to get noticed in the artistic community and was invited by an agent to participate in a joint exhibition to help him make his art better known.
“I had an agent come to tell me that he wanted some of my works to be exhibited in joint exhibitions. So by the time we had a series of exhibitions and I saw that my watercolor painting still stood out, I realized it was actually this, “Nigeria is starting to appreciate art “and so I decided to do more until I could do my own solo exhibition,” Ngige recalls.
In 2016, he realizes his dream since his first personal exhibition is sold out. But his real breakthrough came when he discovered art in a cup of cappuccino.
“I was working with a new coffee brand that was being launched in Nigeria and I was working on their logo design, so we were having meetings and having coffee. During one of these meetings, [coffee spilled] on my notepad and saw a different texture that I had never been able to achieve before. So it occurred to me that maybe I should try to achieve this. So, I went back to my studio and tried it and it was amazing and I could perceive the coffee all over my art work and I loved it, says Ngige.
Since then, her growing fan base just can’t get enough of her coffee-infused paints. Ngige has sold several paintings to international clients who purchase his coffee paintings from $5,000.
“I was able to value coffee more than just a drink. I now use a medium made in Africa to paint and the only foreign material in my works is my canvas and my brush, but the rest is African. So, I try to portray deep African stories with my coffee paintings.
Whether highlighting the plight of poor children, depicting vivid drawings of female empowerment, or shining a light on the series of violent attacks taking place across Nigeria, Ngige sees her art as more than just paintings to enjoy, but rather a way of telling important African stories and raising awareness as a form of activism promoting peace and unity in Nigeria.