Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Okpare.
Michelle, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I am a contemporary visual artist born in Nigeria and raised in Ivory Coast. Growing up as a child, I enjoyed drawing on every surface including the walls of the house. Funny how my parents never saw it as a wrong thing, instead they got me books to draw on. I developed a lot of skills such as craft making, drawing, hairstyling and decorations making. I see a possibility of recreation in each object around me. I come from a family of seven children, my parents always encouraged us to pursue our dreams. I had a lot of dreams.
First, I wanted to be a diplomat, an ambassador and an advocate for young people. Even tho I was scaredy-cat when it comes to blood I also wanted to be a doctor like my elder brother Daniel Okpare, who is an orthopedic surgeon in New York. He is a great inspiration to me. I never thought I would end up being a professional artist and I love it. Most of my siblings including my mother have that artistic skills, my mother would craft toys out of cans, paper, plastic and so on. My siblings could also draw so well but I was the only one who studied Art and made it my career. I have so many memories of how my passion for art all started. I started drawing by duplicating from my elder sister’s sketchbook and I was also making flowers using crepe paper, some sticks and glue as a gift on Mother’s Day. It meant a lot to me that I could show love through this little gifts. Back in school, people questioned if Art was what I wanted to do, I would answer them saying “it is who I am, I am a work of art, a masterpiece“. Although I never became a diplomat, an ambassador, an advocate or a doctor, I became a voice in my community, an encouragement and inspiration to my generation and my art stand as a form of therapy to others which I am forever grateful for. To me, one’s existence should be recorded to give hope to those who will pass through the same path. That’s one reason why I use my art as a tool of documenting my life and the happenings around me. My recent works are currently on display at Think space gallery in Los Angeles for an exhibition titled Real Life is Fragile.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Being an artist especially a young one, I went through a lot to prove myself and create my own voice. It took me sleepless nights of research, trials or experiments and time. When I started as an artist, I would say my first major challenge was combining a job and my artistic career. I worked so that I could fund my artistic career. Art is a very demanding profession, I was working during the day and painting during the night. At a point, it affected my health I had to pick one. I decided to stop painting and focusing on saving up enough funds for that year. When I was able to save up what I needed, I quit my job and returned to my practice. My family was very supportive of my decisions. Art is a profession of self-discovery, I discovered my strength and weakness. The process of production drains you mentally, physically and emotionally. Even with the stress, I am always excited to create and see the concluding piece. It’s not always easy but there is this sense of fulfillment and strength I am grateful for in taking any project.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am a contemporary visual artist who works primarily as a painter. My works documents my real-life experiences and psychological response to happenings. I work predominantly using materials attached to my childhood experience in Ivory Coast to create richly textured, colorful works. My practice is a combination of imagination and reality which aims to build cogent visual imagery which encompasses humanity, diversity, self-identity, women experiences, emotions, mental health, and societal essence. I use crepe paper, acrylic paint, and recycled/discarded lace fabrics appliqué to create highly stylized scenes that unpack the unrealistic beauty standards placed on women. The crepe paper is folded into floral or petal motifs inspired by my upbringing in Ivory Coast where I first experimented with these materials. I draw from my strife to create these works and use my practice as a form of therapy and inspiration to young people like me.
How can people work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
I am very much open to collaborate with Art galleries. You can also contact me to purchase any of my available works.
- Email: Okparemichelle4@gmail.com
- Instagram: Michelle_okpare
Femi Gabriels, Michelle Okpare, The African Artist’s Foundation