Nigerian visual and digital artist Prince Jacon Osinachi Igwe is known as Africa’s foremost crypto artist. He was the first African artist to have his work digitally auctioned as an NFT by Christie’s in Europe. He uses Microsoft Word as his medium to create thought-provoking pieces that bend the boundaries of gender, sexuality, and tradition.
He created his avatar, Mmadu, or Human, as a way to bring his Igbo roots into the metaverse. The avatar represents Osinachi’s belief that we are all human. We sat down with Osinachi to learn more about Mmadu.
What themes do you explore in your art?
Some people believe that an artist’s upbringing shapes their practice in later life. In my case, they are certainly right. I grew up seeing some things in society that I knew were not right – from toxic masculinity to misogyny and other injustices. A few of these injustices are entrenched in what some people call “African culture.” But they never sat well with me, so my artistic practice points out these problems in my society. Rather than carrying placards that read out what I want to see change, I present marginalized groups with dignity so that they are their authentic selves. For example, I may create an image of a man in a dress or a woman with her biological children who chooses not to have a husband.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by social events that happen around me. However, my art doesn’t need to be viewed from a social or political point of view all the time. What an artwork means to one viewer might not be what it means to the other. Still, no matter how radically different these meanings may be, they always converge within the context of the artwork’s appreciation.
How do you create such complex images using Microsoft Word?
Practice makes perfect. I started using Microsoft Word to create art around 2005, while I was still in junior secondary school. It has been a beautiful journey to continue experimenting with the Word processor and to arrive at the style for which my work is known today. The drawing tools on Microsoft Word come in handy when I work, but what I enjoy the most are the limitations that I face while creating art on the software. These limitations force me to come up with solutions to make the tools work for me.
Describe your avatar. What was it like to create it in 3D?
I named my avatar “Mmadu.” I am an Igbo man, and “Mmadu” means “Human” in my language. At the risk of sounding utopian, my view of the world is that every person is human. Every person feels the same things we feel. If we can always maintain this foundational belief, we will be on our way to achieving a meaningful existence.
The avatar is a representation of modern Igbo in the metaverse. As someone who loves my Igbo roots, I try my best to promote my culture in what I do. That way, my roots are not left behind in the race for the open metaverse.
This project was my first time creating in 3D. It shows that there are boundless opportunities for the work that I do in ways that I may not have even thought about. The avatar has inspired me to think less about limitations in my work and more about expansive possibilities.
Tell me about your Africa Here program. What are your hopes for the next generation of African-born digital artists?
“Africa Here” is an accelerator program that came about because of the need to spotlight African artists in an NFT space that has become increasingly noisy. I was glad to find a perfect collaborator in one of the leading marketplaces in the space, MakersPlace. With their amazing staff led by Caitlin Cruickshank, we have selected six African artists who are currently showing their works alongside mine at the SCOPE Art Show in Miami. The program has also led to the onboarding of many African creatives on MakersPlace, allowing them to be a part of the lineup of artists on closed or curated marketplaces.
Besides my hope that this program puts money in the pockets of African artists, I hope it will create a ripple effect on the continent. I want African-born artists who work in the digital medium to have forerunners to look up to. I hope they believe that, despite the noise, they can have their voices heard in the NFT space.