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SARAH SANNI, the dynamic mural artist upgrading your space and streets

Sarah Sanni, a self-taught Artist, is the Creative Lead at CERA CERNI Murals. Arguably one of the most recognised and sought-after female mural/aerosol Artist in Nigeria, she has created some iconic, publicly accessible and private murals. She has executed over 400 mural installations within and outside Nigeria to the satisfaction of her corporate, professional and individual clientele.

She possesses significant business and creative experience in executing 2D and 3D paintings, abstract paintings, hyper-realistic paintings and Graffiti projects for top brands in Nigeria including very reputable corporate organisations in the beverage, construction, telecoms, hospitality, education, food confectionery and service industries amongst many others.

In 2020, she expanded her Art Company by establishing her new brainchild – Cera Cerni’s Art Hub. Cera Cerni’s Art Hub is designed to be an art skills acquisition centre and gallery for art exhibitions where art is taught as well as displayed to paying customers.

The Hub is also keenly intended to be firmly etched on the social map of Lagos as the premium venue for recreational painting and recreational pottery sessions open to all sundry at all times of day. The Hub will be open to customers by the 2nd half of 2021.

Childhood Memories

I was born in Kano State, I am an indigene of Oyo State and I grew up both in Ibadan and in Lagos. I was not necessarily born with a ‘silver spoon’, may be a ‘wooden spoon’ but I was very determined to make my way in life, so I did not allow my background to determine my foreground. I am bullish about achieving my God-given dreams but patient as they do not have a shelf-life.

I enjoyed painting as a child but due to the vicissitudes of life, I did not do too much about it earlier in life though my parents never discouraged the talent. I went through school and completed my graduate programme at the University of Benin, Edo State.

Being self-taught

I have not formally attended any educational institution to learn Fine Art or painting. I have honed my skills by repetitive focus on doing better than my last installation. I have expanded my skills set sometimes while on a job. I consume a bit of literature and observe happenings in the art world. Additionally, the availability of the internet has afforded me the opportunity to learn from what other artists both in-country and internationally have done or are doing. I am a visual learner and I find that I learn quite a bit by observation.

I can confidently state that I am a product of discipline and grace. I am my greatest champion as well as my greatest competition. I aim to beat my last record, which means that I try to do any new task better than the last one. I must confess that this is a painful approach and tasking process but at this point, I don’t think I will have it any other way as I can see signs that the diligent commitment to several little things are starting to pay off.

Life of a mural/aerosol artist

It is exhilarating, very demanding and fulfilling. I experience immense bursts of joy and happiness when a client expresses satisfaction or their pleasure with the work. I am equally saddened when it appears that there is a creative difference with the client on the output. I aim to be at the top of my game all the time and this requires a lot of hard physical and mental work.

I am running purely on grit many times as I have had to deliver Art at the speed of thought. Sometimes, the client clearly knows what they want, while other times they like us to tell them what they should want, this can be very tricky as in the past couple of years, I have to split my team and set-up ad-hoc strategy teams in the middle of executing projects, to meet prospective client expectations. What I have come to realise about this work is that it is not for those who are physically and mentally lazy.

Having executed over 400 mural installations within and outside Nigeria, how can you summerise your experiences?

Joy! When the client feels justified for considering us to execute the work because we have met and surpassed their expectations, excitement at the challenge posed by some works, relief that I am able to pay my bills from the work of my hands.

I am also learning that you have to plan to grow big and not to grow big then plan, because growth is a deliberate process. One must structure for consistent success or else mediocrity will set-in.

It is my experience that I have consistently met and exceeded client’s expectations. The look of satisfaction validates the kind of effort used in execution of the Art works.

Any particular one that was tough but you finally pulled through?

The toughest, I think was a recent work which I cannot speak in detail about at the moment due to confidentiality obligations, but I can say freely it required a lot of maths skills, engineering skills amongst others. I have never had to do it before, much less at this scale, so when the client finally gave a thumb up after many adjustments; it was a watershed moment for me.

Which do you love most and why? Between 2D, 3D, abstract, hyper realistic paintings and Graffiti

I actually do not have a particular preference; I think what I value most in any of the styles you have mentioned is details and colours. I ensure that the art works has details and the colours pop…my manager calls me the Queen of Colours.

Share on Cera Cerni’s Art Hub. The story, the journey

In the course of my mural business, I had this dream to set up an Art school as part of the mural business, where young and elderly people could have a place, outside of our regular higher institutions to get art skills. I wanted this space to be open 24hrs a day for recreational painting (otherwise referred to as paint parties) as well as recreational pottery.

I designed a business plan for this with professional financial help. I shopped it round hoping to secure possible investors but without much luck. I tried to introduce it to some high net worth individuals as well, but some thought I lacked the capacity to bring this to life or that it was not a viable business to engage in.

One of the persons I shared the idea with flatly said ‘No’ that he was not certain that I will use the money as proposed, that I may end up using it for personal consumption or to purchase expensive wigs (Bone Straight)! I even tried unsuccessfully to get into the Big Brother House on three occasions, hoping that with the winnings or attendant popularity, I may be able to earn money to fund this dream.

In reality, I cannot blame them, because they either could not catch the vision or they may have been previously burnt, but it did not deter me and I was prepared to self-finance this dream no matter how long it took. In 2020, we had prospective jobs in the pipeline then the pandemic happened, and things really slowed down with offices closed.

When the lockdown was lifted, we closed on some projects and interestingly our prospective clients profile improved greatly. Along with earnings for the mural works, I combined funding from friends and family to secure the location of the Art Hub, which is currently under-going final aesthetic renovations.

The Hub promises to be an interesting journey, again due to confidentiality obligations I cannot share some mind-blowing developments that is in the works since I made the move to activate the Hub. I realise now that I am driven by the force of destiny to make these moves as the response has been overwhelmingly positive online and offline, even before we have opened the doors to the paying public.

Are Nigerians appreciative of your type of art?

Majority of Nigerians who have interacted with our Art online and offline have been very appreciative. We have had overwhelming more positive reviews and comments than negative. Social Media has been a boon to my mural business. It has served as a formal/informal catalogue, marketing tool and a platform of encouragement.

It is my considered opinion that Art is in our DNA, it reflects in our fashion sense, our food, our celebrations and festive occasions. Unfortunately, the economic difficulties have just relegated art appreciation to the back burner of our minds.

Have your parents been supportive?

Due to vagaries of life, I had to take up menial jobs in my teenage years and at a time I was a tea server in a bank in Victoria Island, Lagos. I grappled with many challenges and through it all I ensured that I gained admission into the University of Benin to study Computer Science. So, I have a bit of independent streak running in me.

I have never been discouraged from pursuing art. It was plainly important that I completed my formal education, but I enjoy the support of my parents even when it did not seem like it will be a viable career.

How important is it for parents to support their children’s goals?

The largest portion of a child’s formative years is in the home, where parents actively and properly parent the children; it will result in a well-balanced and productive person. However, where any parent intentionally or unintentionally set themselves up as dream killers, they are doing a disservice not just to the child but to their own legacy as well.

It is extremely important for children to know that they have and will have the support of their parents. It helps a lot, and it has helped me.

What are the gains of your craft?

Art is life. Art gives life and it inspires greater creativity. For us to have a vibrant, lively and rich living experience as a people, we have to increase our Art appreciation.

It can serve as a tool to improve mental wellbeing of a society; it has the capacity to engage large swathes of young people actively and gainfully in a sustainable manner. If we only pay scant attention to the Arts, we are setting up ourselves a very boring and unproductive society.

What can the government and private organisations do to support young talents like you?

Engage an Artist today, commission them to paint public and private spaces, let them believe that a career in art can earn a decent living.

Improve funding for art training facilities in Nigeria both within and without our formal training institutions.

Celebrate both young and established artists who are deserving, for the contribution to the well-being and development of the society.

To that youth that is giving up on himself/herself, what do you have to say?

Stay the course! Avoid distractions, mind your business and make sure you hydrate (a.k.a drink water).

The reward of delayed gratification, especially among youths like you

Nothing sustainable is done in a hurry. It is not bad to desire the good things of life but do not use the tears of people as your ladder to riches, it is a slippery slope.

What are you grateful for and looking forward to?

Everything. I am grateful for the grace of God and the series of decisions that have led me here. I am grateful for the fact that people are praising God on my account and for the expression of the talent He has given me. I am grateful for the people God has brought my way and who have stayed to play their part in my life’s journey. I am grateful for the opportunity I have to do this interview as well.

I really look forward to launching the Art spaces and executing more challenging and inspiring work for more corporate clients and in public spaces.

Would you say your prices are expensive or affordable?

For the kind of value we deliver, our Clients are the real winners.

Who are you looking forward to working for and why?

There is a young Australian Artist CJ Hendry, who inspires me greatly with the out-of-the-box thinking she brings to her work and art exhibitions. It will be immensely incredible to work with her to do something like that in Nigeria.

Do you have trainings in place?

When we launch Cera Cerni’s Art Hub, one of the service offerings will be art training and skills acquisition for everyone, children to adults depending on their proficiency level.

Final words

When you stop moving you will definitely not reach your destination, but if you keep on going, you just can arrive. Keep moving!

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