Feature: Nigerian artist obsessed with China

by Olatunji Saliu
ABUJA, Oct. 14 — A Nigerian artist who painted the picture of Nanjing city, capital of Jiangsu province in the eastern part of China, last year, still has unquenchable a indescribable love for the East Asian nation. Or so it seems.
In the eyes of Mohammed Sulaiman, the artist, China is a beautiful country which has semblance with Nigeria in terms of history, rich culture, enjoyable local cuisine and many more. All these fascinated him so much that the memorable moments he had during his six-month stay still linger in his mind till today.
“For almost two months of my time in Nanjing, which I shared between living from Beijing to Nanjing and to Shanghai, I would say first, it is the people that got me curious. The people have so much in common with us here (in Nigeria). It is a populous nation which has a lot of people going around everywhere and most of the people are skilled-workers,” he said.
“My happiness is that, culturally, the Chinese hold culture so much and I think we have a lot to share in that area. And it is that cultural aspect that has been very responsible for me getting easily adapted into the system. I was in Nanjing and — not just the warm hospitality, not just the food, reception and everything there — I must say that there were so many beautiful scenes to see and to paint and to also meet other artists and those artists actually gave me another turn in my art that I can consider myself professional enough,” Sulaiman noted.
His career, spanning more than two decades, got a boost in 2012 when he was invited from Nigeria to Nanjing by the Chinese Ministry of Culture for a meeting organized annually since 2008 for distinguished African artists.
Two of his past works — painting of the Zuma Rock, located at the center of Nigeria in Niger State and another which he titled The Matrimony — were considered as the best entry from the West African country, which qualified him for the meeting in Nanjing.
There in the eastern China city, during the meeting, he got an inspiration to do a painting of the famous Xuanwu Lake, not leaving out other important and attractive features of the place.
He was most fascinated with the monastery, the mausoleum and old people of about 90 years old still able to move on their own, riding bicycles, while some young ones drove in very fast cars.
“I painted Xuanwu Lake because everybody gathered around there and that is where I found that lady on the Lotus, standing inside the water. I felt so much in love with the place that I said I was not going to leave Nanjing without painting her. So, I didn’t just paint her, I also reversed it and I made sure there were two of them. I had to give her a reflection of herself because what (Chinese) people don’t know is that what they give to visitors, visitors also give back. That is the reflection that I had on that painting,” the artist explained.
That particular painting, beautiful and very impressive, is one of the great works of art currently hanging on the wall at the newly-commissioned China Cultural Center in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
According to the artist, the lady on the Lotus, which is center of attraction in his painting, brings to the fore a reflection of motherly effect and profound maturity. “Actually, when I was working, I had gone on location many times to go do the sketches. Every other person wanted to take a picture with her (the Lotus image) in the background and each time they did that, the distance was just so much and as an artist, I thought I could actually bring this woman very close here. I took my photos, I made my sketches from there and I said that I won’t just bring her so close but there is a thing about the lady there who has been sculpted on Lotus,” Sulaiman noted about his stay in Nanjing.
“Lotus is food, also edible at the place. So, all around her was everything that is beautiful. But for me, if you do a close up on her face, it is not just aligning that beauty (which is) standing that is sculpted. So every other person that comes, many people have taken pictures but I’m sure not too many have taken a look at what the artist was trying to render. That’s why I decided to do an artist’s art, trying to say an artist has sculpted it, I’m doing a painting of it but I’m giving a reflection that is totally different from what they have,” he added.
While in China, he also painted a picture of the Zhongshanling miles, reflecting the beauty of the city. That aside, memories of his pleasant stay in China and the beautiful and historic places he visited have been replicated in his recent paintings.
For instance, he did a beautiful painting of the famous Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing, political capital of China. But the painting of the Forbidden City was done in a very unique way, with an awesome creation of the occupants from his mind, seizing the opportunity to describe China as a good ally of Nigeria.
“In the painting of Forbidden City, I actually did an extraction of putting Nigerians in the place. I had the traditional Eyo masquerade of the people of Lagos State inside. I had the Fulani maid inside and I had the Calabar dancers inside. So, for me, the Forbidden City had a lot of us (Nigerians) inside because China actually is like that doorway to the economies of Africa. And besides, looking at what we share culturally, it is also opening doors for commerce, so it was a deliberate attempt by me to promote the diplomatic relations that has existed between Nigeria and China for over 40 years,” he enthused.
Sulaiman is currently working on another painting about China’s reformist leader Mao Zedong, addressing fellow compatriots at the well-known Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The painting, which he has been working on for close to two months now, also has in it the image of Chinese philosopher Kong Qiu, also known as Confucius.
“When completed, this will be one of my best paintings,” he said confidently.
The Nigerian artist said he would like to do a painting of rural China in the future, while ruing his inability to see some villages the last time he visited the East Asian country.
“I want to visit some parts of rural China to work in, especially because I know that the Tibetans are there, the Mongolians are also there. These are culturally diverse communities in China and for me going into mountains in the northern part of China, I know it is cold. So, painting the Chinese in the snow and seeing how much they want to do during the summer in Beijing means they will be covered up in the snow. So that would be another experience for me. But the rural China that I am looking at is the China that has its own people in their own farming capacity, in fishing and all other walks of life. I will be very much interested in that,” he said.
According to Sulaiman, his homeward trip to Nigeria would have been incomplete, if he had not come back with enough books, from which he learnt that Chinese arts are very unique.[db:内容2]