One of the best parts about moving to Toronto was discovering the city’s large and flourishing community of Black creatives. I was particularly intrigued by the work of one local artist, Ehiko Odeh, whose art centres around life, the divine, and her Nigerian heritage.
After engaging with her vibrant, sometimes larger-than-life pieces on Instagram (and hopefully, soon, in person), I had the opportunity to ask Odeh a few questions about her creative process. Our discussion also touched upon inspirations, holistic healing, and wisdom she has for other young Black creatives on their own journeys.
Segen Assefa: At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be an artist, and why?
Ehiko Odeh: I realized it when I moved to Canada in 2015 and was about to graduate from high school in Hamilton. I knew I wanted to get into art and be more serious with it. Life is all about creativity. Art is magic and my way of connecting with the divine. It’s also been a tool that’s healed me in so many ways. I hate how people see artists as unsuccessful—I want to show that success is what you make of it, not just what it can bring for you monetarily, and that art should be taken seriously.
SA: And just to clarify, do you consider yourself an artist, in the traditional sense, or would you prefer to give yourself a broader title?
EO: I don’t like to put myself into categories since there’s more to oneself than labels. Therefore, I am a multidisciplinary artist. There will always be multiple ways to express oneself and the divine.
SA: You draw a lot of inspiration for your art from Nigerian culture. Why is this important to you, and why do you think it should be important to others? How has art changed your relationship with your background and your roots?
EO: I wasn’t really exposed to my culture(s) that much, growing up in Nigeria, and identity is something that has always been important to me. When I came to Canada, I became obsessed with knowing more about my culture and my history to maintain a grasp of myself and where I come from. I didn’t want to “lose” myself. Art was a great way to channel that and to do more research into my heritage. And my journey of cultural exploration is important to me because I gain comfort in knowing about who I am and the people who came before me. It’s important to keep an open mind because there’s so much to learn from one another—making art about my background has drawn me closer to my roots, to those who are still here, and to those who are yet to come.
SA: Knowing that you have a Nigerian background, how did your parents feel about you wanting to pursue a less traditional career path in becoming an artist?
EO: At first, they weren’t so comfortable with it—they thought I was joking. But I wrote them a whole letter about my intentions on this path, showing them how serious I was and that I wasn’t going to fold on what I wanted. Since then, they’ve been incredibly supportive, and I feel blessed to have that.
SA: I saw on your Instagram story that you have a deep appreciation for herbs and natural healing. How is this important to your personhood, as a creative, a Black woman, and as a person in general?
EO: Yes! Learning more about herbal medicine has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, just because it brings me so much joy. For me, herbal medicine began when I was trying to revert my menstrual cycle back to being more regular, after having an irregular cycle for years. These doctors were trying to put me on birth control, and I said fuck no! I started finding different herbs to heal the womb and began Yoni steaming, all while being more intentional in the different methods I could use to heal myself. The whole process of learning more about natural healing and herbal medicine has been my biggest flex.
I think it’s so important for people—especially Black women—to know there are many therapeutic alternatives than what has been given to us. It’s just about doing the work and discovering what works for you. I’ve had doctors tell me that irregular periods and other bodily irregularities were normal, when they’re not. And there are alternatives available for healing your body.
Holistic medicine saved my life and has taught me so much about living in balance, respecting nature, and taking only what you need. Anything can be healed when you address the root of the problem and are disciplined in your healing journey.
SA: So, would you say there’s a specific connection between art and health for you?
EO: I’d say in a way there is. To me, making art is medicine within itself. Being on top of my health and aligned with my body allows me to create better and be more in tune with my work and more intentional in my processes.
SA: How has this pandemic changed your creative processes and your worldview in relation to your art?
EO: While I really miss working in the painting studio at school, the pandemic forced me to re-evaluate how I see and utilize the space I do have. I turned half of my room into a mini studio space and it’s been blessed ever since. I haven’t been able to create really large-scale pieces or work with oil paint, but I find new ways to manipulate other mediums, thus making my works more intuitive and expressive, rather than planned and structured.
SA: Okay, and lastly, if you had to give any advice to other creatives, specifically Black women, what would it be?
EO: Surrender to the process—let it teach you. Keep creating because you never know who’s watching you. Trust yourself. Take each day as it comes and try not to compare yourself or your art to others because no one is YOU!