If you have been to the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC) in Jaji Kaduna State, you must have noticed the colossal sculptures mounted there. There are not just the sizes that marvel one, but the attention to detail. This is the handwork of Mbaeri Stephen Chibueze and Co., a (Nigerian) sculptor and a first-class graduate in Sculpture from the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu State. He is currently the CEO of ARTivitySB Studio. He runs it with his wife who’s equally a seasoned graduate in Ceramics from IMT.
After stumbling on his work, which definitely left us spellbound, we caught up with him for a chat. Join us as he shares with us his memories of Cameroon, the obstacles he faced along the way and his experience working with his wife.
SP: Welcome to The Spectra.
SC: Thank you! I’m honored to be here.
SP: For how long have you been into sculpting?
SC: I’ve been doing this since I was a boy. Molding toys with mud. But as a professional, I’ve practiced for four years … since 2016.
SP: How did this journey begin? Did you know from the beginning that you were going to take this path in life?
SC: Honestly, I didn’t know. But I was in love with drawing. My mom had to beat me almost every day because I tore and filled my books with drawings of footballers and masquerades. Finally, she discovered beating me could never stop me and bought a sketch pad for me. So I didn’t know but I believe my mom saw it in me early enough and supported me.
SP: A little bird told me that you were good at drawing and handball in secondary school. Do you still draw?
SC: That little bird is correct. Apart from drawing, handball was another hobby that drove me crazy then. My late brother and my elder sister played handball then for a club managed by the Presbyterian Youth Center. I loved following and watching them when they played. Before I knew it, I’d say I was better than them (laughs). Handball became my best sport and I played not just with the club but also for my school.
SP: Did you ever consider playing professional handball?
SC: Yes I did. My hopes were high when I played for the club. But all my hopes and dreams were shattered when my parents said we were leaving for Nigeria.
SP: That probably came with a silver lining. You are the CEO of ARTivitySB Studio today, right?
SC: To the glory of God! Yes, I am.
SP: I went through your gallery and realized that calling you a sculptor is limiting. I saw portraits and paintings signed by you. What services do you offer at ARTivitySB Studio?
SC: General Art is what we do. Our slogan says: “Art is our Activity.” We’re into: sculpting (that is, carving, modeling, casting, metal contraction, composition), painting (that is, portrait painting, house and decorative painting), ceramics, textile (that is, batik and tie dye) and graphics.
SP: I think people have to visit your studio to get the full picture. Where’s your studio located?
SC: Enugu State, Nigeria along PH Expressway.
SP: Apart from your studio, is there any other place where you have displayed or exhibited your work?
SC: I secured a place early this year for my gallery and I’m working on it. I already have at least 50 finished personal works ready to be moved to my galley once it’s completed. For now my studio is my gallery.
SP: Have you participated in competitions or something of that nature? Are your activities limited to Enugu?
SC: I have taken part in at least nine different exhibitions and I have successfully delivered many commissioned works in nine different States of Nigeria. So we are ready to take our art to all places and our art is ready to take us to places, I believe.
SP: Are you working on anything at the moment? Or could you talk about something you did recently?
SC: Yes. I’m presently building mascots for the Nigerian Army in Kaduna State. It’s a commissioned work and I’m particularly satisfied with Mother Dragon 82Div. It’s 20feet high, medium size and made of concrete — direct modeling.
SP: Do individuals come to you for services or do you only work with institutions and recognized organizations?
SC: Yes individuals come to us for services. Every firm, business or entrepreneur has days of little beginning and the Bible says that we should not despise it. If I push away the individuals that patronised me when I was nothing, just because I’ve met bigger organizations, then I’ll be a fool. The individual is always there, but the so called organizations can disappear within the twinkle of an eye. Yes, I appreciate and work for individuals even more.
SP: Can the average Nigerian pay for your services or are your services reserved for those with heavy pockets?
SC: Yes, an average Nigerian can pay for my services. One interesting thing to know about art is that it has no fixed price. I concentrate on two things while rendering services: cost of material and production and the client. I try my best to know my client’s pocket before negotiating a price for a job. Same work I give Mr. A for 100 thousand, I can do it for Mr. B at 30 thousand. That’s after considering the cost of production.
SP: I find it interesting that you run the business with your wife as a partner. How easy is this and don’t you, at times, find it difficult to draw the line between marriage and business?
SC: No I don’t. That’s even the sweetest thing that God did for me; giving me a fellow artist as a wife. Many artists I know struggle to manage family and profession because their partners don’t understand how an artist thinks or what he can do just to bring out the picture in his head. Some call us crazy, but we’re not. We just think out of the box to get our concepts. Others look but an artist sees. My wife understands what I do even before I do them. I’m presently in Kaduna State (12 hours drive away from home), but I have no fear because I have capable hands to handle other work coming to the Studio. (Smiles and blows a kiss) Just for her.
SP: If I want to get into sculpting, must I go to IMT like you did or are there other options? Can you be my mentor?
SC: Sculpture is something you can learn from any good institution that offers Art as a course. Some good sculptors today didn’t even go to school. Some are born with it while some acquire it. IMT is just one among the good places you can learn Art. You can even learn so much about the art of sculpting online.
Yes I can be your mentor. All you need is diligence, hard work and time.
SP: Is it a bed of roses all together? Any challenge(s) so far as a sculptor? And how do you overcome them?
SC: Sincerely speaking, nothing good comes easy. We have a saying in art: “If it’s not hard it’s not Art.” I will never forget how I was laughed at when I opened my studio. I had nothing; only my drawing assignments from school were displayed on the wall. People passed and kept asking me if I can meet up with rent just by doing what they see on the wall. It ached my heart but I never gave up. I had no savings because any little cash that came into my hands was used to produce a piece of work, no matter how small.
I also took a difficult decision that has put me where I am today. I decided not to market any work no matter how hungry I am. Till date, I’ve never gone out with any of my work looking for a buyer .
SP: Sorry, not to cut you short … Why did you make such a decision?
SC: My plan was to get enough works for my future gallery. My personal works started increasing and attracted more attention. Another thing that helped me was the fact that I never depended on just sculpture. I did portraits, graphic design, house painting and my wife supported with textiles. It has not been easy but God was, is and shall continue to be with us. My number one secret is that I know the source and the source never runs dry. God is my source — the first sculptor. He has made me an overcomer. (Thumbs up) Just for God.
SP: I understand you were born and raised in Cameroon … Kumbo to be precise. You attended primary and secondary school in Kumbo. What memories do you still have of Cameroon and Kumbo?
SC: The culture, language, lifestyle, childhood friends, are things I can never forget. There was a more constant supply of electricity — something we can’t experience in Nigeria. I remember my handball games. For about 15 years now, I’ve not found a place where I train at my convenience.
SP: What do you miss most about Cameroon?
SC: My friends and the food, definitely. I miss Kumbo so much. I miss tuh-kuni (potato and beans). I miss my friends Linda and Gladys.
SP: Do you have any intentions of visiting Cameroon? And why not work on something (a sculpture) to immortalize your memories of Cameroon?
SC: I’ll visit Cameroon very soon; my spirit is convinced. I need no plan because my God-given talent is blazing the trail for me.
SP: We are looking forward to that. Thanks for agreeing to share so much about your journey with us.
SC: It was a pleasure.
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