BY MICHAEL BAMIDELE
Oleg Steve is a Burundian artist whose works with pen and pencils have attracted African patronage in the budding hyperrealism scene. With a keen eye, his precision reflects in his art. The Guardian Life speaks to him about beauty, culture and art representation.
Who is Ntwari Oleg Steve?
Ntwari Oleg Steve is a 22-year-old Burundian artist, currently living in Burundi, in the city of Bujumbura. I am also commonly known as Oleg Dave.
I am a drawing artist and I produce my drawings using pencils and pens. I picked up the habit of drawing at a very young age, around 4 or 5 years old, and to this day, I am still practising the craft.
Tell us about your creative process
My creative process starts with me observing what is happening around me. I then try to understand what goes on in my community or I can even look up a certain personality, given they are a role model whose story is inspiring. This eventually helps me construct a certain thought that I express through my drawings. Sometimes, I initially get an idea and the image comes to me afterwards, allowing me to produce an artistic creation. It takes a lot of time to create an artwork: it depends on the size, shape and format I envision the drawing to have. When the artwork is complete, I sometimes try to put a small message to accompany it and help others better understand the work. I can also leave out the side message to favour free interpretation.
What are some of the challenges you faced as an artist? And how have you dealt with them?
Artists normally confront several challenges and setbacks, and most of the time these challenges are an important stage in an artist’s life:
A. You are exposed to public criticism. People are constantly seeking errors in your craft and often discourage you as they assert that I cannot accomplish much with my drawing and that I should just focus on school. I usually just listen and carry on with my life.
B. Time to constantly work on my craft is also a problem given the situation I am in. I live in a country where art occupies, an (almost) insignificant place in our society. It is considered as a fool’s errand and is therefore not given any value. As a result of this, as an artist, is coerced to engage in side activities as they realise that ART here cannot be at the centre of our lives. This is how I end up not working enough on my art.
C. In Burundi, some people consider art as a pastime. Others, we see it as a passion and we are tirelessly working to make a living. Stating that we can live off our art at the moment would be lying, but we carry on regardless, with the hope that change is possible.
D. An almost non-existent support system: my friends are the only ones I can count on for support. They massively share my art on several platforms for it to flourish and prosper. Thanks to them, I sometimes earn a bit and get more social media visibility: an opportunity for me to share my creations with the world.
How did you come about using pens and pencils as your preferred medium?
Many of the artists here in Burundi are leaning more towards painting as the main form of art. I, however, tend to disagree with it and I certainly want to prove that painting is not all that there is to art. I want to demonstrate that pencil or pen drawing can also represent a great and absorbing style of art. I want to contribute my personal and unique touch to the minority practising the latter style of drawing; after all, I feel more comfortable with a pencil.
What is the central theme of your art?
Beauty, joy, culture and fear too.
Tell us about the art community in Burundi?
Art in Burundi is still an underdeveloped field. We, as a people, haven’t quite grasped its importance to give it the value it deserves. This is unfortunate because we have a lot of creative and talented youth artists in all fields of art. Majority of these artists did not go to a school of art to acquire their skills but are self-taught. Accessing their artwork, however, is almost impossible as the ones that are supposed to help us do not value art. We, therefore, try our best to help each other in order to empower ourselves and achieve our dreams. Burundians are really creative.
Where do you see yourself and your art in the future?
In the future, I see myself teaching at and owning a school of art. I want to transmit the value of art in society. I want my art pieces to engage the world, instil values and also reflect people’s lives and experiences. Having my art hung up in big museums is also a dream of mine that I deem can be reality.
What advice do you have for people just starting out in art?
To beginner artists, if they really see themselves practising art, I would advise them to take their time as they work and not worry about not being good enough. You don’t rush when it comes to art, you give it enough time and allow yourself to fall in love with it. Being confident regarding their work as they discover their unique styles will gradually allow them to see the fruits of their work. I would advise them to not practice art for the mere aim of making money as it hinders one to practice a pure form of art and slows down progress. Money and other benefits are secondary and will come along when art is first practised with love. I would end by giving them my motto for art: “Patience, courage and love.”