How Imran Tilde is Reintroducing Africanfuturism With Arewa Elements

Posted on

Being an artist in a community with rich cultural heritage and history is one thing; being an artist in a society plagued by eroding cultural values emanating from modernization and urbanisation is another. In conversations with Kaduna-based artist Imran Ahmad Tilde, the need to preserve his people’s cultural heritage is at the heart of his work. But even that is putting it mildly.

“Many people don’t know this. They think about here (northern Nigeria) and just conclude that there’s nothing happening here. But they don’t know. A lot is changing, and fast, but we need to find a way to not lose ourselves as these changes occur. Imran, as he is simply called, has not only taken up the mantle to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the Hausa-Fulani people of Nigeria with his paintings, but he has also infused cultural aesthetics that combine science fiction and history, which has evidently transcended his work a step further from merely preserving the cultural heritage of his people.

The creative industry in Nigeria has undoubtedly gained some notoriety from the impact and work of the many stakeholders in the industry. From visual artists who simply explore their art via various mediums to art critics and platforms that have made it possible for these works to reach as many people as possible. The creative industry in Nigeria is one that many have described as a vibrant community and a pathway to global relevance for Nigeria. Moreso, the industry is currently worth $4.5 billion, according to a report by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2021.

But where many spectators and stakeholders see the potential of this billion-dollar industry, a number of artists simply dwell on the need to tell stories that will outlive them. For Imran, the arts have always been an extension of himself and a way to explore the realities that exist beyond the ones we know. “I have always had an imaginative mind, and you can see that in my work and in my life even every day,” he casually says. Imran holds a degree in Architecture with no formal training in fine arts. 

On being fully involved in the rich cultural heritage of his people, Imran describes his life – growing up, living and working in Kaduna – as one that has prepared him for the task of preserving this heritage while also exploring the modernity that has been embellished in the customs and traditions of his people. “I am constantly enmeshed in expressions of our rich cultural heritage. As I experience each day in Kaduna, I find myself making mental notes of frames that speak to me and of emotions they imprint on me.”  While Imran’s work has the aesthetic of Africanfuturism, he also makes a mental note of the history that comes with the stories he tells.

“My goal is to tell human stories to focus on and emphasise key elements of this story with confident brush strokes that contrast against the dark background; to provide the viewer a quiet moment of contemplation set against the backdrop of the infinite possibilities of our universe yet grounded and bathed in our cultural elements.” The distinctive feature of Imran’s art is seen through the pallet of colours and strokes that fuse together to tell a story. Stories that draw attention to the history of the Hausa-Falani people while looking forward to a future of endless possibilities.

It simply makes sense for Imran to keep exploring the richness of his culture while infusing elements of reality only known to him but absolutely relatable to the uninitiated. 

The idea of Africanfuturism has become a fluid ideology redefined by generations of great artists, singers, academics, and activists whose single aim is to reconstruct “Africa” to a culture that reflects the modernity or ambiguity that comes with a future unknown. Africanfuturism is a cultural blueprint to guide society – preserve cultures while building newer ones – and Imran is one artist leading the conversation from Northern Nigeria. It’s just like he says “the ideas that come from each and every one of us as a people is the fuel that drives the work and it’s remarkable how everyone has a part to play in their freedom (of expression) and that of someone else. Just like Africanfuturism was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but birthed in the minds of enslaved Africans who prayed for their lives and their descendants along the horrific Middle Passage. 

But while the first Africanfuturists envisioned a society free from the bondage of oppression and a society affluent in freedom of expression—both physically and socially, Africanfuturism, infused in Imran’s work, imagines a future void of limitation for the Hausa-Fulani people and by extension, the entire African continent.

“The idea of telling stories that are void of limitations is as important as the work itself,” Imran says as he speaks about his first solo exhibition, “EXILE,” at Fasaha Gallery, Kaduna. Exile, which featured distinct works that addressed the concepts of solitude, dreaming, and isolation, was Imran’s way of making his presence known in this landscape, and having sold out the exhibition at Fasaha Gallery, Kaduna, was a surly, bold statement from the young artist. However, while EXILE garnered all the attention it did, Imran shares that his follow-up series “Mu Jamaar” “explores the experiences of members of different social classes in a society that mirrors those we know today and those from times past.” 

Keeping with his futuristic style, Mu Jamaar speaks to social structures that propagate inequity while at the same time showing all the similarities we share as human beings along the different lines we have all created for ourselves. The artist also shared some of his upcoming projects, including an exhibition coming up in Lagos and his debut international exhibition in Europe.

It is along the lines of these differences created by humans that Imran shares his challenges in the art space in Nigeria: “Well, I think that one of the major challenges for artists like myself is that many people don’t regard the work that we do here, and that itself is a major challenge.” And while, undoubtedly, Northern Nigeria is plagued with a number of issues that affect the social and economic structure for people living there and making ends meet there, there are platforms like Fasaha Gallery that have made it a mission to support artists like Imran. And thanks to the good work of this platform, Imran owes a lot of his evolution as an artist to the impact of the gallery.

‘Words are not even enough to use in describing how much impact Fasaha had on my evolution as an artist,” Imran reveals as he continues to draw attention to his first solo exhibition at the gallery, which sold out. Fasaha Gallery is an extension of Fasaha Republic – a social and creative enterprise saddled with the responsibility of promoting social and creative enterprise across Northern Nigeria.

Imran has undoubtedly made an imprint of his name in the art space across Northern Nigeria and just as his work speaks to endless possibilities, the same can be said of him as an artist.

Michael Isaac is a content writer, journalist, and podcaster. He’s on a mission to create noteworthy content that serve to tell the stories of Young Africans and their struggles in everyday living.


%d bloggers like this: