Amsa Yaro is a Black visual artist based in London, ON.
Amsa is a Nigerian immigrant who brings influences from her home, though she places no limitations on the media that influence her art. Her art often portrays the beauty of women, and the vibrancy of her pieces seems to reflect her soul.
Amsa initially came to the Forest City in 2010 as a student in the Fanshawe College’s broadcasting program. Fanshawe is where she met her husband, for whom she returned to London in 2015, after 2 years in Nigeria.
We had the opportunity to meet with her virtually to learn more about her art.
What got you started in art?
I have always come from an artistic family. My dad says it skipped his generation and landed on all of my siblings and me. My sister would come home from secondary school and teach me what she learnt in art class – we would sit and draw together. I would not want to make her head swollen, but she was my first art teacher.
What influenced and inspired you to keep doing art?
I have always kept on doing it on my own. At first, I thought, “Oh, I can make jewellery!” It was a girl who came to make a jewellery set for my step-mom. I was watching her and thought, “wait, that is all? I can do that.”
So, I went into the market, bought everything I needed, and started making jewellery. Since then, whatever I am doing, I need to get my toes into it. I cannot just focus on one thing. I always say my biggest talent is learning something new. It always makes me feel good.
Is there a message in your art, or do you want to leave it up for interpretation?
I think I want a bit of both. Whereby, it is not just me having to interpret it for you. Tell me what you think it is, and we can have a conversation.
There could be someone out there who would see something beyond what I saw. I want you to see beyond my work. Such discussions allow you to truly understand people and how they think and see the world around them.
Many artists have impostor syndrome. Do you battle with it?
Every time I put a price on something, I freak out; I do have a bad case of impostor syndrome. When the money comes in, you are like, “hmm, should I have asked for more? I am not the only one who thinks my art is the “sh*t. I can make a living out of this.” You start dreaming about all the possibilities, and the whole world opens to you.
Do you have a muse? Something to pull you out of an artist’s block.
I look at the people around me. The people I grew up with, people that inspired me, and the people I have a soft spot for. It always tends to be women; I grew up around them. My relationship with them is funny. Maybe because I saw who they were in every shape and in all their wholesomeness.
The older I got, the more I saw that it was these women that showed me who they really were, showed me what was wrong, and what I deserved. These women who did not hide themselves, not trying to cower or pretend really helped in many of my works.
If I fall into a block, I go back to my basics, which is women and the woman’s form. If you see most of my work, you will see a lot of women.
2020 was a decade within a year. What sort of impact has it had on you?
Last year was funny because there were some parts of it that were like — let us just end this right now, let us just be done. At the same time, it felt like a purge, like a pimple needing to be popped. It was terrible. At some points, I had to stop listening to the news/media because I would not have gotten out of the hole I would have fallen into.
I try not to speak so much because I am an immigrant. Whether I like it or not, I grew up in a place where I saw people like myself. Nigeria has its issues, but I grew up seeing my angels, my demons, my normal people looking like me. But coming here and knowing what people who look like me who grew up here went through, with this burden that follows you everywhere and the only reason is because of your skin colour. I have a whole lot of respect for them. I cannot stand here and say I have felt it the way you have. There is no way I can compare to it, so I try not to be very loud.
I am afraid for my children. I am afraid, but I do not want to sit in the fear. We all need to do more, and we all need to do better. It is a pathetic thing.
With everything that happened, people saw my art and realized there is someone in London who does this type of art, and it has led to some awareness, especially on the Black artists of London, and what they are doing. That is the lily that grew out of 2020.
I am curious, when you said “my children”, who were you referring to?
When I say my children, it is the children that are connected to me. Being an art teacher, many of them have not experienced much, and it is often controlled by their parents. So, opening them to different experiences, diversities, arts – to new things that they go to explore much later. I would die happy knowing that every kid I have had contact would look back at our connection, and it would bring joy to them.
Teaching has helped me gain some confidence in myself, that I can stand on my own if I need to. I can help in passing on a message without being gruff about it, and with the patience that one should involve in passing on a message.
What would you tell your younger self and the younger artists you teach?
Do not be afraid of being yourself. Life is too short to be someone’s version of you. It really is. Really ask yourself: am I doing this because of the way people want to see me, or am I convinced of these things?
Do you have an artist snack or vice to keep the inspiration flowing?
It is a terrible habit, I had it when I was a kid, and it grew with me. Thank god, I have reduced it a lot — I used to crunch on ice.
Another I have tried to reduce. I am down to one can a day — I drink a lot of coke. My husband is laughing at me right now because he knows. I need to reduce it. Hopefully, I will find something else.