Diseye Tantua Biography and Profile, Nigerian Sculpture, Ghanaian Sculptures, Afro Pop Art

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Diseye Tantua Early Life.

Diseye Tantua was born August 23, 1974 in Accra, Ghana, to a Nigerian father and Ghanaian mother. Diseye Tantua is a Nigerian Postwar & Contemporary painter. Tantua was driven by the quest to sustain his late father’s legacies. But after his first work fetched him commendations from a number of people, he decided to give functional sculpture — a form of art — a shot. He works and lives in Port Harcourt – Nigeria. Tantua has always researched into the use of African symbols to authentically uplift his art and give it a distinctive originality. Diseye Tantua’s decision to collaborate and incorporate fragments of Fela’s lyrics into his new LOOK &s; LAUGH paintings is both appropriate and inspirational. Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre and human rights activist, Fela was a cultural sponge who soaked up the ethnic idioms and rhythms of his huge entourage of musicians, singers, dancers and hangers-on who were from Nigeria and Ghana.

From them Fela acquired the grassroots and street inflections which he infused into his Afrobeat music; which he used as a megaphone for socio-political protest and incisive commentary on behalf of the masses. Tantua has made this marriage successful by blending colour and meaning to achieve reason!

Diseye Tantua is best known for his iconic style of “Afro Pop Art,” combining graphic symbols, bold colours and expressive text. His drawings are based on traditional proverbs that are made popular by headboards and bumper stickers on buses, taxis, tricycles and street signs. Tantua focuses on social groups in urban spaces, often depicting forms of transit and movement. These scenes are overlaid with popular local expressions that speak to the energy and dynamism of the city’s inhabitants.

Diseye Tantua Afro Pop Art
Diseye Tantua Afro Pop Art

Diseye Tantua’s work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $1,015 USD to $11,299 USD, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2010 the record price for this artist at auction is $11,299 USD for DIFFEREN’ DIFFEREN’ FEVER, sold at Arthouse Contemporary Limited in 2010.

Diseye Tantua’s Artwork

In Tantua’s artwork we are presented with a carefully selected mix of classic, loaded, one-liners: expressions of witticism, wisdom, warning, wailing, barbed street humour, quasi-spiritual invocations, veiled threats, political protest, social commentary, common sense; the sublime and absurd masterfully hued and garnished in colour tones. The charm of the paintings in this series is that on the surface and, on initial glance, they are simple. But they are equally deceptive in that they are anchored deep in creative strength!

Diseye Tantua's Sculptures
Diseye Tantua’s Sculptures

Stylistically, Diseye’s works are an elevation of street art and, their seeming simplicity categorises them as pop art; charting a new and vibrant direction in African pop art. In this respect they faithfully highlight the functionality of their subject matter by re-emphasising and reinvigorating the original African concept of functional art. Diseye Tantua is the author of over 500 works scattered in many private collections in Nigeria and Europe and has exhibited extensively home and abroad.

Diseye Tantua Sculptures
Diseye Tantua Sculptures

Who is Diseye Tantua?

My Story

“Spending my early years in Accra, Ghana before coming to Nigeria, got me fascinated with the tro-tro (Mammy wagons) and their one-liners, which grew to a selection of traditional proverbs made popular by head broads, bumper write-ups on bus, taxi, tricycles and street signs.

One has to think about what one wants. People say wait for inspiration. I don’t believe in that. I believe you should start and inspiration will come. Because while you are at it, that’s the art. I don’t see art as the finished product. I see art as that process in which the artist goes through to come up with that idea-the thinking process. People see my furniture today. It started from somewhere; mistakes, corrections. Sometimes you will sit on one and say “I wish it would have been lower, I wish it would have been like this, it could have been like that.” How can I make it more comfortable? With time you better yourself. You need to make those first mistakes; you need to accept that “I don’t mind making mistakes” to get to where you want to.

For inspiration, me? Anything. It can happen at any time. I can just wake up with an idea.

My inspiration comes from solving problems; resolving problems. When I built this house, I didn’t know much about art. I didn’t know much about architecture. I just had someone create a design and we went on with it. But when I moved in, I started realizing “Oh I can change this, I can move this here, I can do this here, I’ll prefer this, I’ll prefer that.” That is where the creative mindset starts working. You now think of structure. Once the structure is in place you can play around with the rest. To me, for inspiration, it has to be a problem solving task for it to wake it up.

I have been on about buses; transit: where you have write-ups on different cars, tricycles, headboards. Even in some houses in the rural areas in Ghana and Nigeria, you find people writing “Jesus is Lord”, “God bless this home”. They stencil those things on their walls. Really, that’s all pop art. It is all part of pop art.

It started where they had restaurants where they’d have somebody holding one chicken leg; have somebody dancing. They’d make some caricature on the wall (depicting these), and these are all art – art forms that started. I’m not really looking backwards to the caveman era. I’m looking at what I grew up seeing. The similarities between Ghana and Nigeria where I grew up, are those write-ups on boats, on wheelbarrows. Even now, you find those things. They are funny witty words but they all have strong meanings; very deep meanings. When you think about it, one thing can have a lot of meanings. I research those words and I use them for my work. I use them as art to teach people Pidgin English.

When I was growing up my father never allowed us speak Pidgin English. He would smack the hell out of you if you spoke Pidgin English. I’m learning Pidgin English again – trying to understand what the words mean; how to spell them, and save these short write ups.

It was my choice to keep on with this as my works had become Afrocentric with a twist of Pop Art and urban Art; mostly having calligraphic finish and write-ups of traditional proverbs and vernacular. To express myself freely; I had to educate most people whom connected with my works but needed clarification on most words or sentences they found on them. This also grew my interest in pigeon English which was totally forbidden in my home growing up. I had to go back to the streets to get the meanings of some slangs I recorded not only on canvas but with my camera and others in my diary. My friend – Tam Fiofori and I then coined my experiment AFRO-POP ART as it best suited my body of work for my first major solo exhibition back in 2009.

Now I feel boxed being called a Pop Artist! When I simply prefer to be an Artist (D-ARTIST) as I do many other things not just Pop Art.” Diseye Tantua is a graduate of the department of Fine and Applied? Art, Ignatius Ajuru University, Port Harcourt.

With over a decade experience in full time studio practice, his contribution to the Arts and Art Education has earned him many awards. A member of several prestigious groups; which includes the GUILD OF PROFESSIONAL FINE ARTIST OF NIGERIA (GFA), and is the Chairman, SOCIETY OF NIGERIAN ARTIST (Rivers State Chapter) and recently elected as the Vice President (South East National).

It was difficult to talk to my father about actually studying art; and when I did, he wasn’t happy about it because there were no clear examples of people you could say: “Daddy I want to be an artist”, and he would say “Oh like this man, or like that woman”. They saw artists as riffraffs or ne’er-do-wells. They were just doing banners and signboards or finding it difficult to live.

He was an educationist and he never liked that I wanted to be an artist. There was really no example. I don’t blame him for it really. It was difficult, yes, to cut a long story short. I finally studied fine and applied arts and with time he got to understand what it really means to be an artist; a professional artist for that matter; and he appreciated my choice.

When I started out as an artist, I started as a portrait artist (what we call commercial art where you make portraits for people to make some earnings); cards, banners. At that time, there were no computers to make your prints. That was a learning process. You can even see in my work where I have stencils and write-ups, because that was my foundation. I was doing that for commercial reasons to make money to produce what I want, because art is about your art. It is when you keep pushing your art and people see, they get used to it, and then they start liking it. For you to do that; you need materials; you need to put things in place. That was what I did.

Professionally, I’ve done over 600 portraits and I have photographs of every one of them. That was how I made my first money, like a capital to start my own studio.

For me now, with my status as the Vice President of Society of Nigerian Artists, and also being the past Vice Chairman, I have seen a lot of things I have to contribute to the arts and one of them is making it easy for parents today to accept arts for their children as a profession. So I’m working on a book called Artists & Studios, in which I interview artists in their studios and talk to them about how they started. The videos and pictures are there and it will make it easy for people to understand what being a professional artist is. Not a professional artist living in the UK, or in America; but living in Africa. The two places I started working in are Nigeria and Ghana; so Nigerian artists, Ghanaian artists (because my mum is Ghanaian). I’m trying to make sure it’s easy having a book-having it online; an online presence and also a hard copy book.

Like what you see there (pointing to the bookshelf): artists in China, British artists in their studios, American artists. These are different artists and these are books on them so why don’t we have one for Africa? So that is what I’m working on. It is about 60% complete. It’s been seven years. I think that will be my own contribution to the art industry.

Diseye Tantua Sculpture
Diseye Tantua Sculpture

Diseye Tantua Positions

Diseye Tantua is the Vice President of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and an active member of The Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA).

Exhibitions & Auctions

2019

  • Duo show “ON THE ROAD AGAIN” – OOA Gallery – Barcelona, Spain

2018

  • “LA FLORAISON” “BLOOM” – The Next Masters – Alexis Galleries – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “INFINITE TREASURES” – Terra Kulture – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria

2017

  • “INFINITE TREASURES iii” – Terra Kulture – Lagos, Nigeria
  • S’ART” a solo show of recent works by Diseye Tantua – ArtHouse the space – KIA showroom, Lagos, Nigeria
  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria

2016

  • “INFINITE TREASURES” – Terra Kulture – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “SOGAL” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – PORSCHE CENTRE 179 – Lagos, Nigeria

2015

  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria – “ART IS LIFE” – Exhibition promoting Nigerian art and culture, Total Village, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

2014

  • “LAGOS ART AUCTION 2014” – TKMG AUCTION HOUSE Plot 1376 – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “HOPE” – SCiMA Charity Art exhibition – Port Harcourt, Nigeria
  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria

2013

  • “GREEN IS KEEN” – An exhibition promoting Nigerian art and culture – Total Village – Port Harcourt, Nigeria

2012

  • “LAGOS ART AUCTION 2012” – Terra Kulture Auction House – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria.
  • “BEAUTIFUL HOUSE USA” celebrating our grand opening – North Carolina, USA

2011

  • “EXPOSITION DE SALON” – Total Village Club House – Port Harcourt, Nigeria
  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “Terra Kulture” Auction House – Abuja, Nigeria
  • “UNSPOKEN WORDS” – Terra Kulture Gallery – Lagos, Nigeria

2010

  • “ArtHouse” – Modern and Contemporary Art Auction – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “CELEBRATION of HISTORY” NLNG – Bonny Island – Rivers State, Nigeria
  • “VISIONS of NIGERIA” – (Celebrating Nigeria @50) – The Residence of Italian Ambassador – Abuja, Nigeria
  • “INSPIRATION from AROUND” – Shell Residential Area – Port Harcourt, Nigeria

2009

  • “OCTOBER RAIN 2009” – 11th Annual Juried Art Exhibition – National Museum – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “OPEN HOUSE” – An Exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Art – Sponsored by VASON (Visual Art Society of Nigeria) – Mydrim Gallery – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “LOOK & LAUGH” – Signature Art Gallery – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “DISCOVERY II…” – (An Exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Art …in Port Harcourt) – Total Village, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

2007

  • “CELEBRATION OF HERITAGE” – Le Meridian Hotel – Abuja, Nigeria

2006

  • “Miniature ART FAIR” – Frame Masters – Onikan – Lagos, Nigeria
  • “CYNOSURE” – Melrose Office Suite, Lagos, Nigeria
  • “MASQUES” (Masks) – Sponsored by Air France – Alliance Francaise, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

2005

  • “ARTMOSPHERE” – Contemporary Art of Nigeria – Sponsored by TOTAL – Terra Kulture gallery, Lagos, Nigeria

2004

  • “EXPOSITION DE PEINTURE” – Elf Village (Club House) – Port Harcourt, Nigeria
  • “48 HOURS WITH CHILDREN OF THE TURTLE” – Espace Alberica – Paris, France

2003

  • “DEAR DIARY” – Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas – RA – Bonny Camp, Nigeria
  • “EXPRESSION” – Total Fina Elf Village – Lagos, Nigeria

2002

  • “SPECIAL ART EXHIBITION” – Total Fina Elf Village – Port Harcourt, Nigeria
  • “MEET THE ARTIST” – British Council – Port Harcourt, Nigeria
  • “AFRIK ART EXHIBITION” – Total Fina Elf Village – Port Harcourt, Nigeria

2000

  • “ART” – British Council – Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Diseye Tantua Education

Diseye Tantua has degree in Fine and Applied Arts in Painting at Rivers State University of Education (Ignatius Ajulu University), Nigeria 2001.

“If you want to be a fulltime artist, it is wise to attend art school for the certificate and also for the added subjects that you will be taking while there besides the creative arts lectures (sculptures, painting, art history and all); because being an artist is just not “I can draw, I can paint”. There is also the history where you learn about people who came before you so it is easy for you to know where you are going and learn from the foundations they’ve laid down; know these artists, respect these artists, celebrate these artists. Without knowing all these, you will be lost in some way.”

Diseye Tantua Biography and Profile

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