Q&A with Martins Deep

An image of Martins Deep beside an image of the cover of issue #20. The portrait of Martins Deep is greyscale. Martins has dark skin, wearing a t-shirt, and smiling at the camera.

MARTINS DEEP is a Nigerian poet & photographer. He is passionate about documenting muffled stories of the African experience in his poetry & visual art. Writing from Kaduna, or whichever place he finds himself, the acrylic of inspiration that spills from his innermost being tends to paint, from the colouring book of his imagination, various depictions of humanity/life, & to spill ink on placards of protest. His works have appeared, or are forthcoming on Barren Magazine, Writers Space Africa, Mineral Lit Mag, Agbowó Magazine, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The Peace Exhibit, The Alchemy Spoon, Dream Glow, The Lumiere Review, Variant Literature, & elsewhere. He is also the brain behind Shotstoryz Photography.

Our Associate Editor, Panda Wong, talks to Martins Deep about his artwork in #20: Handbag.

Your artwork for Nathan Mifsud’s ‘Stoked’ uses line and contrast in a really dynamic way that reflects the piece’s distinct energy and movement. What was your approach when working on this commission, and how did you find this collaborative process?

Thank you for this question.

To be honest, Nathan Mifsud’s ‘Stoked’ read to me as something I could not illustrate. This was because it was my first time being commissioned to illustrate a literary work. I couldn’t think of something until David Mahler’s kind words intervened to ease my mind of the anxiety that clogged it. It was after their uplifting e-mail that I read through the piece and found the idea for my artwork waiting, ‘Skateque’. I remember leaving my room hurriedly after this spark of insight to have my little friend, Peniel Yakubu, strike poses for some portraits. It was after this that I began to mentally insist on a perfect replica of the imagery I had culled from ‘Stoked’. I also will not forget the excitement I felt after getting the three versions I would ask David to select from. This unfolded into another phase of improvisation and additional details.

The collaborative process was, to me, an unforgettable experience. It was here that I discovered a lot about my creative process as a budding artist. And how that—as an artist—I could accomplish feats illustrating my own poems and written works of other writers. Collaborative work like this is something I definitely look forward to trying out. It was exciting, thanks to David Mahler, the editorial team at TSR and the lovely story that I juiced for this beautiful issue’s illustration.

Your technique of manipulating photographs into digital illustrations is really interesting, with striking results! Can you tell us more about what inspires and drives your practice?

Being a student of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, I would often see orphan boys—popularly referred to as Almajiris—roam the streets with plastic bowls seeking alms. It is a sight that always leaves me overwhelmed. It is no news that Africa still struggles with hunger, malnutrition, child labour, disease, and many other ills that greatly affect the survival of its teeming young. My works are humble representations of the troubling situations across the continent.

It might also interest you to know that some of these photos are, in a way, self-portraits. It isn’t just empathy and identification with the downtrodden of society, it’s more than that. Much of what I put out there is personal. I have come to see the bodies of black boys as canvases on which to paint my current state of mind and reality, and to also share memories of my past—struggles with depression, misery, lack, neglect, pressure, hopelessness, and much more that is replete in my work. The fact that my published works resonate with many around the world motivates me to never quit with the style of storytelling I have adopted.

What inspires me is the situation of things in my immediate environment and my personal experiences. It is where I draw on colours and emotions to fill my artworks with. Tears play a major role as my most effective and affordable acrylics to paint with. They capture my heart’s cry for Africa to consider her own and are also subtle protests against societal norms that are unfair, unjust and brutal. They give voice, especially, to the boy-child, who in this part of the world is being subjected to so much hardship.

This is what drives my practice as an artist and as a poet.

Where can TSR readers find more of your work? Do you have any upcoming creative projects you would like to share with us?

My work has appeared, or are forthcoming on Kalahari Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The Alchemy Spoon, The Quills, The Hellebore, The Roadrunner Review, The Lumiere Review, Agbowó Magazine, Mineral Lit Mag, ARTmosterrific and elsewhere. Aside from making submissions for publication, I do not have any upcoming creative projects. Any projects I will embark on in the near future can be found on my Twitter: @martinsdeep.

Thank you.