Slavery, “True Life Stories” and Other Difficult Subjects in the Art of African Artist Clara Aden

slave relic, Clara Aden

slave relic, Clara Aden

I sense a deep sadness as Clara Aden talks of the difficult theme of the history of slavery portrayed in her drawing of a man in chains. Clara says, “l exhibited this work in Ibadan. Their project was organized by the Forbidden Fruit art group. The exhibition was a pre-event activity before the Badagry exhibition. The title of the work is slave relic. The very word slavery conjures up horrific pictures of brutality and oppression. Slavery has a long and ugly history. No continent has suffered the ravages of the slave trade as much as Africa.”
Clara Aden exhibition

Clara Aden exhibition

In spite of the artist feeling saddened by the subject, much interest and good came from exhibiting her drawing slave relic. Clara said of the exhibition organizers, “They were amazed. They asked me to do a drawing workshop for kids. Some of them said, “seeing is believing.” So that day l did drawing demonstrations for children. It was a nice experience.” Clara used her drawing to teaching history, art, and in her demonstrations she shared her expressive drawing skills with the children. “Oh yeah, l love children and l love to live in their world, if just for the time l do drawing demonstrations. l love their openness their sincerity– it is very rare among the youth.”
Nollywood actor on set, Clara Aden

Fish Seller, Nollywood actor Empress on set, Clara Aden

Clara Aden is a gifted and sensitive artist and illustrator. From a very early age she found herself in the company of actors, actresses, writers, journalists, and editors in the publishing industry in Nigeria.
For her portrait Fish Seller Clara says, “I met this woman when l was working at Soul Publication Limited, as an art illustrator. She is a Nollywood actress. Her name is Empress. She tried to portray the role of women in the society as homemakers also providing for the family. l got her photo shot on set.”
Clara Aden illustration for Soul Publications

Clara Aden illustration for Soul Publications

The US movie industry capital is Hollywood, and Bollywood refers to the film industry of India, and “the cinema of Nigeria is often referred to as Nollywood, ” says Clara Aden, whose real name is Omolara Adenugba. “Clara Aden is abbreviation the of my real name Omolara Adenugba. Omolara is a Yoruba name meaning “Children are my companions.” My secondary school music teacher coordinated the music club in my school. He came to Nigeria from United Kingdom to find his roots. When he asked me what is my name? l said Omolara Adenugba. He had to bite his tongue when he was trying so hard to pronounce my name. He nicknamed me Clara Aden.”
She decided to use the name Clara Aden on her published illustration art for Soul Publications Limited true tales magazine HEARTS Magazine. “Every week l illustrated three true tales stories from individuals who are willing to share their life experience, their ups and downs, secrets and scandals– the editorial team goes through the stories, give it to production units where l start brainstorming and looking for photo reference to start my layout,” Clara explained.
Clara Aden illustration

Clara Aden illustration for HEARTS magazine, Nigeria

Hearts Magazine seems something like the tabloids in the USA and UK. Some might call them Pulp Fiction or Pop Art.
Clara says, “Yes, they are true life stories in which the individual’s name will not be written. Most time the writers don’t want their real name to be published either.”
But she graciously shared some of her illustration art to give us a view into secret lives in Nigeria.
Clara Aden illustration

Clara Aden illustration for HEARTS magazine, Nigeria

Clara described working as an illustrator for HEARTS magazine–“All of us are in the two story building. The editorial team’s office is beside the computer, and the production units, the advert and marketing team’s offices is opposite the reception office for visitors. They give me the stories. l read them until l am in the story– l want to feel the experience of the writer. l sketch some scenes in the stories. Once l get the feel of how to portray the emotion, gestures or anguish of the characters in the stories l get photo reference and start laying it out.”

Clara Aden illustration

Clara Aden illustration for HEARTS magazine, Nigeria

“They give me the stories on Mondays and have to submit the pencil drawings for production on Wednesdays. l work like a tornado! Actually l was on probation for six months before l become a full member of the house. The post of the Assistant Manager was for a man, but the Director of Soul Publications Limited was so impressed by my pencil drawings but she wanted to undermine me because of my stature. At that time l just graduated from my secondary school awaiting my admission into higher institution. So l was able to convince her that something big can come out of something small.”

Although Clara Aden started her career as a magazine illustrator as a young teenage girl and she worked very hard, and her hard work helped her develop as an artist–“At times l worked overtime in the office to meet deadlines. l was able to develop and built my skills as a pencilist.”
Clara Aden illustration

Clara Aden illustration

Clara has a fascination for the traditional roles of African women as subject for her art. For her fine art drawing “Sumburu Women” Clara says, “African people are very fascinating and captivating. l have always admired the beautiful Samburu maidens in traditional dress and their exquisite strands of beads. l tried to depict the traditional fashion trend of Kenyan maidens.”
Sumbaru women, Clara Aden

Sumbaru women, Clara Aden

I chatted with Clara on her birthday, and didn’t wish to keep her from plans. She said, “l have over 80 drawings and I am always passionate to talk about them, but time is not on my side today to do that, but l hope that time will surely come.”
 Clara Aden is represented by Portraits Africa, a start-up service procedures in place to bring portrait commissions to the artist from around the world. If you are interested in finding out more
email editor@negativeentropy.net
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