How REWA's Art Amplifies and Celebrates the Igbo People of Nigeria

Paige Simianer | August 23, 2023 (Updated March 28, 2024)

Self-taught artist REWA was formally trained as a physiologist and pharmacologist at UCL in London.

Although she never received formal art training, this Featured Artist credits her meticulous and detail-oriented artistic style to her scientific training. 

Growing up, her father encouraged her creative drive as his expansive art collection from West Africa provided further momentum for her development. REWA finds that her spirit is moved by what she refers to as "depicted sentience" and through the celebration of the female form and bright, vivid colors. 

The immediacy, closeness, and transparency needed to convey her deeply personal encounters and the impacts of her life in Lagos, London, and Johannesburg—cities she considers home—are achieved through her chosen mediums: acrylics and ink on canvas.

Her art encapsulates diverse aspects of womanhood, from goddesses to travelers, and even the profound role of Igbo naming rites.

REWA's art is her diary, offering catharsis and unearthing her distinct voice.

Artwork Archive had the chance to chat with REWA about her scientific background, the impact she wishes to have in art history, and how Artwork Archive helps her manage her artistic legacy. 

You can see more of her work on Discovery and learn more about her art practice below. 

REWA, 'IJU ASE', 45 x 62 cm, 2018

Do you have a favorite or most satisfying part of your process? If so, can you share a bit about it?

I must say, from start to finish, the entire process is thoroughly enjoyable.

I derive immense satisfaction from visualizing a concept in my mind and then watching it eventually come to life on canvas; just knowing I can use my hands to bring a mental concept to fruition is so gratifying.

I rarely predetermine the skin colors of my subjects—it is always loose-form, even in my mind’s eye. So, seeing how this materializes as a painting progresses even fascinates me!


As a self-taught artist with a background in physiology and pharmacology, how do you feel your scientific training informs and influences your creative practice?

I have come to realize that my scientific training has made me incredibly meticulous and detail-oriented.

I feel that this is evident in my work. I take my time to ensure no pencil marks are visible, the paint is applied evenly across the cells of the canvas, and so forth.

I can be very technical with my paintings and I don’t “go with the flow”; every aspect is planned.

A direct link to my degree is so apparent to me when I look at the hands and feet of my work. I see echoes of my anatomy modules reflected in them; it’s almost as though the skeletal form shows beneath the skin. 

REWA, 'kaito + dumebi', 183 x 122 cm, 2022

You mention that your spirit is moved by what you refer to as “depicted sentience”. Could you elaborate on what this means to you and how it manifests in your work? 

"Depicted sentience" relates to how I view my subjects and their spirit, their aura. My use of a broad range of colors enables me to capture the essence of a subject as I view them.

Depicted sentience then, manifests via my use of color.

No two subjects are ever the same; they may have similar color palettes but they are never identical. In this way, I am able to convey their relative individuality. 


Your collection, “ije awelle | A Beautiful Journey, A Safe Journey,” explores the theme of venturing beyond one’s geographical domain, exploring new cultures and lifestyles, and embracing opportunities. Could you tell us more about the portrayal of this theme especially as it relates to youths as your subjects?

I believe that many Africans in the diaspora can relate to my subjects in ije awelle. It's a story we know all too well.

For a lot of us, we migrate, we travel, and we sojourn in obodo oyibo; the foreign land.

The younger generations leave home for many reasons—for education, to seek fortune, or to find employment, hence why the youth were my subjects for this particular collection. 

While Africa presents many greenfield opportunities, opportunities for self-betterment and social mobility are very few and far between.

Unemployment rates in Nigeria are north of 40% for young people under the age of 25—it's even higher for young women. 

So, in ije awelle, I depict a beautiful and safe journey—one that is hopeful and aspirational.  

REWA, 'asusu anya | Eye Language', 122 x 76.2 cm, 2021

What does success as an artist mean to you? 

For me, success means that a viewer learns from my work; specifically, a viewer learns more about the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria—one of the three major tribes that form the country.

I would love my viewers to learn about our traditions, our naming conventions, our history—the list goes on. 

Success also means that in the years to come, my works are easily identifiable to my son, his generation, and generations to come, contributing to the canon of West African Art.


What impact do you hope your artwork will have on viewers?

I hope that viewers will find my work beautiful and relatable. I hope that they will want to have it in their homes, hung up for daily interaction rather than hidden away in storage. 

My utmost wish, however, is that someday, my work will transition from transactional value to becoming part of the art historical dialogue about Africa—particularly Nigeria—expanding beyond the confines of the widespread contemporary African art classification. 

REWA, 'IGBA NKWU NWANYI', "A bride's wine-carrying ceremony", 91.4 x 122 cm, 2018

Could you provide some insights into your creative workspace? How does your physical environment contribute to your artistic process? 

My studio is located within my home. I prefer it this way so that my toddler can weave in and out as he pleases and watch mum at work; he also has a little station set up where he can “work”.

I prefer to work with bare walls with, at the most, only mirrors hung up. Anything else would be very distracting. I also prefer to listen to audiobooks or podcasts whilst I work, as music is too cacophonous and disruptive.

I rely on natural light, so large windows are important and, thankfully, my studio has these in abundance. I keep my studio very neat and clean, tidying up each night. Again, I find untidiness and dirt very disruptive and prefer to work in an open, decluttered, airy space.

I'm fortunate to have incredibly high ceilings in my studio, over twelve feet. This has enabled me to expand the scope and size of my pieces as I can finally get my larger canvases in through the door!

A peek inside REWA's studio. Images courtesy of the artist

Why did you decide to use Artwork Archive to inventory/manage your artwork?

I'm a self-taught artist from a corporate background. My career in financial services has made me very astute.

I'm not a bohemian artist and treat my art career very much like a business

It's important to me to maintain sight of my top and bottom lines; Artwork Archive helps me to do just that.

I use it to keep records of sales, production costs, exhibitions, and of course, the artwork themselves; who has purchased them, what location they're in, and so on.

At my fingertips, I can quickly pull up my sales by year and sales by gallery. I can pull up the total number of pieces I have ever created, the number of pieces I have created per annum, etc. 

For a finance-oriented creative such as myself, it's a fantastic tool and I encourage all artists to utilize it. Even if you’re not business-minded, it just provides an excellent platform for inventorying your artwork.

Artwork Archive is incredibly beneficial for artists—especially if you expect to have your skin in the game for years to come.  


What advice would you give an emerging artist during this time?

Persistence is key, and comparison is the thief of joy.

Keep working on your craft, and maintain your signature and narrative that is true to you and your artwork. 

REWA, 'udala | waiting for the fruit to fall', 76.2 x 121.92 cm, 2022

REWA uses Artwork Archive to keep track of her production costs, catalog her artwork, and build her artistic legacy.

You can make an online portfolio, catalog your artwork, and generate reports like inventory reports, tear sheets, and invoices in seconds with Artwork Archive. Take a look at Artwork Archive's free trial and start growing your art business. 

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