Skip to content
REWA on the cover of The Guardian Life Magazine


It is Wednesday morning in the office of REWA, a finance expert and visual artist. She is neat and silky in her dress. She has the frame and appearance of a model, but she is not.

Her passion, which has become a career, is painting. The self-taught visual artist obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology and Pharmacology from University College London (UCL), and worked in the financial services industry until she began her journey into art began.


She is a director at Chapel Hill Denham, Lagos State, where she has been working since January 2023. "I take care of a portfolio of investments", she says. Taking the step to focus on her finance career through her joining Chapel Hill Denham was not an off-the-cuff decision, but following rigorous consideration. REWA simply knows where she is going, and she wants to get there fast, "and I don't want to go alone. I am at peace with the decision and I'm keenly looking forward to making my mark here as I have always done, she says in her LinkedIn page.


Talking of her involvement in finance and arts, she says, "it is not a transition. Both of them coexist. I'm here today, in the finance space, but when I go home, I will be in the art space. So, both of them coexist.Although I did start my career in finance, I then came in on my art career in 2016. Since then, it has coexisted with my finance career."


REWA says both careers do not disturb. "It is just that my hours are limited with the time I can spend on my art. I rely on natural light to paint. Just that I'm here during natural light hours. So, that means that when I go home, I use artificial light to make my paintings. I won't say I'm disturbed. I need both of them to survive. I don't think I would be a good money manager without being an artist; neither would I be a good artist without being a good money manager, because what this job and previous ones have done is to make me business savvy."

She jokes, "I need both of them to survive, to be me, REWA."


According to Raphael Dapaah, of Dapaah Gallery, London, "there's an unmistakable air of confidence and self assuredness that radiates from the eyes of the muses, REWA masterfully captures on her canvases. Their gazes both invite you in like an old friend, yet still intimidate enough to keep you at bay, in the knowledge that the viewer is not entirely worthy of their presence.”

Dapaah continues, "regality is the phrase best used to describe REWA's work. Not in the gaudy sense that imposes its will, or shines so brightly one is forced to turn away. But in the quiet, subdued manner that commands respect and holds your attention effortlessly."

Dapaah says REWA's bold figurative portraits are by all accounts an extension of the artist herself. "A melting pot of varying influences, cultures, and experiences that have shaped and moulded a person that is as comfortable haggling the price of lace fabric in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Onitsha market, as they are blitzing through the high end boutiques of London and Paris."

Her work is always a body of consciousness, a stimulus of warmth emanating from a deep, thorough interrogation of subject. "Beyond being aesthetically captivating, REWA's work is intellectually stimulating, thought provoking and educational. Although working through the medium of acrylic paints, it is well within reason and justified to liken the importance of her practice to that of fellow compatriots and creative greats, Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, whose work, like REWA's has put an illuminating spotlight on both past and contemporary Nigerian society; its inhabitants and their worldview," Dapaah concludes.


She is, however, not happy with Nigerian artists who see their practice as wishy washy. "They just want to paint. They don't want to know the business aspect of art or the financial part of their art. Because I have this career, it makes me astute. I know exactly how much I make in a year. I know what my billable hours translate into. I keep record of all my outgoings and inflows. I'm business minded with my art. I don't take it as a hobby, but as a business."


Born and raised between Nigeria and England, REWA's hybrid upbringing greatly informs her work, and indeed, perfectly depicts the sensation that is the modern 'afropolitan' woman. Forward thinking, progressive, uninhibited, and self-aware, yet still rooted, albeit loosely, in the expectations, duty and responsibility that tradition and ancient customs dictate.


REWA, an aboriginal name from the Maori tribe of New Zealand, means Happiness. She has brought happiness to her art and visual documentary of Nigerian customs and traditions. A visitor to her show has opportunity of firsthand interrogation of history: myth, literature, customs and traditions: The ancient value system and custom of the Igbo people and their fierce independence is evidenced in the themes she unpacks in her portraits, seen through a contemporary lens.


"I'm an Igbo and not having grown up in Nigeria, there were lots of things I was learning for the first time: Things like traditional marriage, customs of our people, and I felt my dad was the only source of information I really had, because by trying to find books or text I was looking for, it doesn't really exist. So for me, it was very important to catalogue the traditions of my people, because I think that as a people, we are not so strong at this".


She continues, "we are not so good at cataloguing or chronicling history. To me, my art is for doing just that. If we go to our national museum, you don't see historical works of art from our forebears.I think that is a shame, because artists, beyond the visual artists, we are story tellers and chroniclers of history. So, for me, it became very important to use my art as a tool to chronicle the history of my people so that in years, may be 30 years time or 40 years, maybe, my son's children are in school, may be in UK or France, wherever, and they are teaching them the history of Nigerian people, they can use my work as a reference point. And say, okay, this artist documented the naming rites and traditions of Igbo people of Nigeria, so my work chronicles history.


The documentarist and chronicler of history says her art interrogates the evolution of her ethnic group, nation and continent in real time: the assertion and confidence of women; their ability to code switch, and dip effortlessly between the West and the African continent whilst retaining their essence, and above all else the liberty of having options, and not being restricted by the confines of patriarchy and perpetually subject to the male gaze as art history is all too often guilty of.
Did she ever think of being an artist when she was growing up?


"No, she says, "because there's something about Nigeria. Now it is changing. It is different now.
Growing up, if you ever said to your parents I want to be a painter they won't really encourage that kind of a career. They'd rather tell you to go and be a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. So, I never grew up thinking that I wanted to be a visual artist or that I was going to be a visual artist. I mean I could always draw. I was creative.
I would make paintings, I never for one day said to myself that I want to be a visual artist. And I think that is an important story, when you look at successful people, may be singers or actresses their parents always say from a young age, she always held the microphone, she was always singing and I knew she will be a star. That's the story people always tell."


According to the artist, "my story is very different. I never grew up holding a paint brush saying want to be an artist. But when I started it, it became a divine pursuit. I truly believe that every human being has a star, when you find that star; the universe always conspires to help you to brighten that star."

She describes her work as Igbo Vernacular Art, which she sees as existing outside formal academic or western dialogue.

These past weeks, she has been on an exciting journey for her as a chronicler of history and visual documentarist. "My upcoming exhibition is on Otu Odu society. I have interviewed women, and created paintings on their experiences.
Anytime that I have a solo exhibition, it is to highlight the beauty, customs and traditions of Nigerian people," she says.


In September 2024, her exhibition on 'Otu Odu society, titled 'Women of Onicha', will hold at the National Theatre, Lagos. The London leg of the exhibition will hold on November 2024 at The Africa Centre, London, United Kingdom.
In Onitsha tradition and custom, there are four cardinal institutions; the Obi, Ndichie, Agbalanze and Otu Odu. These four institutions work in their individual capacity to ensure progress, peace and development of Onitsha people with relevant supports from other subordinate groups. Otu Odu however is an exclusive prestigious society for Onitsha women who as either indigenes, direct relations (Nwadiani) or by marriage, have distinguished themselves in their respective capabilities in life and have been found worthy in character.


Odu literally means Elephant Tusk and in Onitsha tradition, Igbu Odu in clear terms mean wearing of Tusk, it is a rite of honouring a woman after creditable service in life. It used to be conferred as a form of appreciation on a mother by her children at a certain age, on a dutiful wife by her husband.


It is observed as a ceremonious adorning of a woman with Elephant Tusk which is worn on both hands and legs. In other cases nevertheless, the ceremony is performed to be worn either on the hands or the legs respectively as a mark of status in the society.

Some of her solo exhibitions include, 'All Roads Led Here', held at Ferrara Showman Gallery, New Orleans, USA, 'i'je awelle: A Beautiful Journey, A Safe Journey; which equally held at Ferrara Showman Gallery, New Orleans, USA, 'Nwa Agbo: Entering Adolescence Ferrara Showman Gallery, New Orleans, USA and many more.


Recognised by NBC Washington as one of the 50 African Women Making Leadership Strides, as part of their "Rising Woman Africa" series in March 2022, she was also recognised by the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, on International Women's Day (WD) 2022, as one of the EKO 100 Women for commendable work across finance and the visual arts in March 2022. Most recently, several of her paintings were featured in the Grammy Award-winning, global superstar, Usher's video for his newest hit, Ruin, which premiered ahead of his record-breaking performance at the Super Bowl LVIII.