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Nigeria Visual Artist Finds Niche in Augmented Reality

FILE - An exhibit guest looks at their phone while viewing a still art playing the fute, at an augmented reality exhibition by Nigerian visual artist Olowu Ife in Lagos, Nigeria on June 16, 2023.

LAGOS — A man in a green and white colored jacket rocks his body to the tune of a flutist he is watching on his phone camera. Not too far from him, another one listens as a woman in a colorful hijab is praised by an admirer for her beauty, butterflies dancing around her head.

These are visitors at an art studio in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, where visual Artist Olowu Ife is using augmented reality, AR, to breathe life into his art pieces.

"The art was talking to me you know, like checking this art behind me smoking, imagine your art smoking a cigarette, someone coming to light it up. You see some other art playing the flute, you see another art and cars are moving, like an artwork is having cars moving," Akingboye Oluwaseyi told Reuters.

"You hear sounds like 'Ojuelegba,' very iconic places in Lagos you understand, you see another art and it is all about Eko market, you hear the whole noise and people selling and all of that. You see another iconic place like Makoko, so it is an experience you need to experience," he added.

Ife stumbled on AR in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, he got so fascinated with it and started thinking of ways to infuse it with his art.

Though a skilled artist, the 27 year old said he understood how saturated Nigeria’s art scene had become with several artists experimenting with different mediums and knew he had to carve a niche for himself.

AR is a technology that combines computer based images on a screen with the real object or scene, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

"I was fascinated by the technology and I thought about it that how do I infuse it in my artwork to stand out, because basically we’ve been seeing the normal paint on canvas, we’ve been seeing people come up with different styles, different mediums, different movements you know, I said okay let me create my own movement entirely, do something unique, do something extraordinary, so I decided to infuse the AR technology into my paintings whereby I bring them to life," Ife said.

After painting, he takes high resolution photos of his works, uploads them to his computer using an AR software to transform the art into an experience that can include music, a voiceover, or 3D animation.

As guests arrive, they use their smart phones to scan an already generated barcode that allows them to use their phone camera to watch the displayed artworks interact with them.

AR is becoming rapidly more mainstream, amid innovation and better integration onto mobile devices, with the AR gaming market expected to reach a value of almost $300 billion by 2023, according to Infoholic Research.

Faith Omotayo is a first time guest.

"The artworks are very amazing, I was not expecting what I met, I was expecting something ordinary but I met something extraordinary," she said.

For Ife, he does not have to explain the intentions behind his paintings as the AR let's people see beyond what is on the canvas.

"I have been getting so many positive comments, you know I have so many artists in my DM on IG (Instagram) asking me so how do you make your paintings come to life and all that, and I am like oh, you guys relax, I am going to show you the way soon, let me get my bearings and footing. So for we the art lovers and the collectors you know, people would be able to see hidden messages, you know see hidden scripts, you know see hidden magic in my canvas," he said.

Ife is looking forward to a time when he can make AR glasses available so his guests will not only be limited to those who have access to internet enabled smart phones.