NJ Ayuk is a Nigerian-born multimedia artist residing in North America since 2007. She studied Fine Arts at the College of Design and Development in Abuja, Nigeria. She works with different mediums, such as acrylic, oil pastels, watercolor, and copper, to produce artworks that are dominated by vibrant colors.
Ayuk’s artwork has been displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Finland, and the National Museum in Abuja. Her work has been presented at residencies such as Nigeria, the United States, and Finland. She won awards for her work, including the Best Young Artist Award from the Abuja Arts Association (ABA).
The themes in her work include the human and spiritual aspects of existence and the exploration of the relationship between the individual and society. Ayuk’s work is mainly mixed media, combining acrylics, oil pastels, watercolors, and copper wire drawings.
Her creative process involves combining different visual elements from paintings she observes in various art museums with her own experiences, adding philosophy to her works by using symbols that reference other mythologies and patterns from nature.
Ayuk’s work has been exhibited in and on the cover of artistic and scholarly publications. For example, she has participated in art-based film and photography workshops by renowned photographers such as David LaChapelle, Nan Goldin, and Ada Marie Matheus. Ayuk is a certified creative life coach through The Cambridge Institute of Coaching and Education (CICE). She has also served as the judge for several art competitions, including the Young Artist Competition sponsored by the Cross River State Arts Council in Nigeria. She was also a featured artist for the 10th anniversary of her alma mater Silliman University’s annual student exhibition in 2013.
Africa’s philosophies and religious history influence Ayuk’s art; she incorporates a sense of mysticism and savagery in her artworks. Ayuk’s art prefers to concentrate on the exotic, which she draws from various influences, including Western art, African myths, and spirituality. Her works focus on the existence of mystical elements. For example, one of her works, “Nigerian Mythos,” depicts a man with a woman who is the half animal in appearance, effectively portraying the Nigerian view in which it is believed that animals are part human and part beast.
Ayuk’s work has been influenced by the Catholic religion and the Nigerian tribal history of the Igbo, who lives in her hometown, which extends through to the Yoruba tribes, who are also among her influences. In one of her works titled “The Virgin Mary Cathedral,” she draws attention to and uses symbols of Christianity and Yoruba, such as Orisha and Mbarara, adding their meaning to the design.
Ayuk’s work is representative of the fusion of different cultures; while maintaining a Nigerian aesthetic. She employs her creativity to explore how the human soul is connected to society and religion and how it is tied together with African folklore. Her success has been attributed to her ability to transform popular myths, stories, and fables into a more modern “urban” style. Ayuk has also been described as an artist who sees beyond conventionalism in that she finds inspiration from nature, animals, and African cultures. From this, one can deduce that Ayuk is trying to break free from the African stereotypes that are being projected by showing her environment with an avant-garde approach.