Joshua Egesi: The young Nigerian creating portraits from bottle caps

Nigeria’s UNIBEN is known for the impressive number of renowned artists that have passed through its corridors. Since its inception as an institute of technology in 1970, to when it was accorded the status of a full-fledged University by the National Universities Commission (NUC) of Nigeria on 1 July 1971, a handful of students, who eventually turned out to be great personalities are on its list of alumni. Some of these creative minds, like George Edozie, Ufuoma Onabrakpeya, Victor Uwaifo, Osonye Tess Onwueme, and a host of others, who went through the Fine Arts department¬†of the institution, have played prominent roles in their various art mediums.

Lately, a young, talented artist — a recent graduate of the Fine Arts department of the University–has showed promises of joining the league of big names with his exquisite art work, an 11ft by 7ft mosaic, which currently ranks as the largest bottle-caps portrait in Africa. This overwhelming accomplishment was surprisingly a final year project, a pointer to the fact that UNIBEN, like before, still holds art in high esteem.

Joshua Egesi was a six year old primary two pupil when he began imitating the comic drawings of his elder sister. At that tender age, even if he could not properly express it in his incoherent babbles, he was fascinated by the idea of drawings. And just like that, spurred by the ‘magic’ of his sister’s pencil, at the age of seven, he wanted to be an artist.

In pursuance of his dream of becoming an artist, and armed with an OND certificate from Federal Polytechnic Auchi, Edo state, the inspired youngster decided to further develop his artist’s acumen, by sitting in the antique classes where some of the greats in his field once sat. Hence, he proceeded to the University of Benin to enroll for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts.

Like Cyrus Kabiru, the Kenyan ‘thrash collector‘, Josh sees himself as an environmental artist. Although, this perception was informed by his encounter with bottle cover as a medium in late 2015 when he was an intern at the Environmental Art Garden in Abuja. Being the restless mind that he was, he concluded that just like every other waste in the garden, the bottle caps also had to be transformed into art. He consequently figured that he could make his art more subjective with the bottle caps and immediately picked inspiration from pixels which, en-mass makes up an actual picture.

From then on, his restive instincts would not leave him be. He needed to, in his little way, do something about the menace of PET bottles littering the streets of his immediate environment. He wanted to put a stop to the blockage of drainages by empty bottles. And like Kabiru, one of his mentors, and an artist passionate about his environment, he stumbled on the idea of creating the world’s largest bottle caps portrait. Although, he faltered at his target for a world record, the African record is enough consolation for the 24year old artist.

He would move on to the arduous task of gathering bottle caps from empty PET bottles. This phase of his project took him to places he might never have visited had it not been for art. He began by personally picking up bottle caps in Benin, Edo state and Lagos. This went on, until luck smiled on him, and he discovered a dump yard in Karimo, Abuja, where he had to pay some ‘very friendly’ young Hausa men who in a week were able to gather more than 12,000 bottle covers. To Benin went the gathered bottle caps, to be washed and prepared in readiness for the task at hand. The washing process was subsidized, by the assistance of like-minded friends, to just two weeks.

Asked if he decided to do a portrait of his school Vice Chancellor for the financial remunerations he expected, a smile spread about his face and he confessed that were it not for his project supervisor, he would have taken on just anybody, perhaps, one of the popular celebrities in the Nigerian entertainment industry. But his lecturer wanted the VC.

Creating a portrait of Professor Faraday F. Osasere Orumwense– the VC– became an energy-draining project that ate up a little over three months of the artist’s time, and 6000 bottle caps. But in the end, it became a massive accomplishment for Josh, who feels like a ‘god’ whenever he is involved in any of his numerous art processes.

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For the emerging multi-media artist, while speaking in an interview with me at Omenka Gallery, in Ikoyi, art should project something concrete. Art, as expected, should not only mirror the society, it should go a step further in proffering solutions to the multi-faceted problems that abound, especially in a clime like Nigeria.

For his next big project, and in furtherance of his cherished rhetoric that art should tender way-outs to issues. Joshua Egesi intends to embark on a low-budget beautification of houses in poor neighborhoods. According to the artist, some of these beautification projects could be achieved with some objects considered as wastes. For instance, he quipped, items like pine woods, which comes with imported goods, could be used in beautifying places and homes. To realize this, he hoped to get the attention of highly regarded galleries and organizations for support.

The bottle cap project, according to the maker, is just a fragment of his enormous ideas. Like the environmental artist that he is, he would love to partner with some very outstanding brands that are equally interested in building a Green Environment through Art, as this would go a long way in helping him to realize his dream of making art a relevant medium of societal change.