Nigerian-born photographer and painter Osaretin Ugiagbe (Class of 2007) draws inspiration for his work from his life, often using it to reflect on his experiences in Lagos, the Bronx, and now London, where he is pursuing his Masters of Art at the Royal College of Art.

The gifted artist developed an interest in painting while taking a course on the subject with Hostos professor Ian Scott. A 2012 Gordon Parks exhibition inspired him to further hone his photography skills. Ugiagbe and his work have been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times. His photos and paintings have also been featured in various exhibitions, including “Unbelonging,” a solo show at the Bronx Documentary Center.

Ahead, Ugiagbe reflects on his journey so far, and how it continues to influence the lens through which he sees the world – and his art.

Osaretin Ugiagbe, Hostos Class of 2007

What brought you to Hostos?
It was the closest and most affordable college to where I was residing at the time.

How did you become interested in photography, painting and drawing?
I was first introduced to painting in Ian Charles Scott's class; I was required to take a painting class as an elective. Ian didn't merely teach art and its techniques – he would often talk about its power to transform and educate, and that resonated with me, especially during difficult periods in my life. I started taking photography more seriously after attending a Gordon Parks exhibition at the Schomburg Center in Harlem in 2012.

How has attending Hostos influenced your life and/or career path?
Hostos Community College gave me a strong foundation. It grounded me and gave me perspective into the life of the working, struggling underclass, which my family and I were a part of.

How would you describe your artistic work?
My work investigates time and process in regard to a life lived across three major cities: Lagos, Nigeria; New York; and now London. This first-hand experience can be witnessed in my current body of work. I’m currently interested in documents, language, binding, and physical labor, and how they’ve shaped cultures. In other words, I have been creating my own history through the use of drawing, painting, cutting, and binding of paper in my current studio in London.

Who and/or what are your artistic influences, and how have they influenced your work so far?
I find that I’m currently terminating most of my artistic heroes while finding inspiration in mundane spaces such as a public wall – spaces where bills are posted and local markets in London that reminded me so much of markets in Lagos, Nigeria, and the Bronx.

What, if anything, has your art helped you uncover about yourself?
That I am capable of contributing.

In the New York Times’ profile of you, you are quoted as saying, “I know that I am of the Bronx and of Nigeria.” How has each place influenced your work?
I left Nigeria when I was 16. At that age, I had already graduated from high school, so it is hard to deny or underplay that part of my life. And, obviously attending Hostos and working at Lincoln Hospital, I wanted to share what all those places have in common:  the struggle for better opportunities, for a better life, and the need to keep pushing.

What, if anything, do you miss most about the Bronx and/or Nigeria?
Its people.

You recently gave a keynote speech at the Ruskin Institute Oxford University last week. What did you speak about, and what was that experience like for you?
I wouldn't call it a keynote speech. It was an opportunity to share my work with a group of undergraduates at Oxford. I was initially nervously and kept revising and editing my notes until 3 a.m. that morning, only to attend and find it to be pretty ordinary; the students were attentive and thoughtful. I touched on my journey from Lagos to the Bronx and now London, and how art has continued to "transform and educate," to quote Ian.  

What advice do you have for young artists?
Keep pushing!