Friday 18 November 2022
After graduating in microbiology in Lagos, the then 23-year-old Nigerian opted for an AIESEC scholarship to teach English and came to Europe for a few months, unaware that almost 20 years later he would be one of Romania’s emerging artists , whose paintings have been accepted in person by both the Romanian royal family and even presidents. His family in Romania are hundreds of children whom he has taught English over the years, as well as moral and ethical values, mostly through old Nigerian and African fairy tales, which he later published.
The imposing Nigerian, nearly two meters tall, is easy to spot from a distance – and not just because of the color of his skin: he strolls across the zebra crossing as if he were dancing, relaxed, apparently carefree, always with a slight smile on his face and with a framed one painting in hand. He has just come from his last exhibition. Seventeen years ago, when he first landed in Romania, he could not have imagined ever getting this far. He himself describes his life as a “sitcom” – as a “completely unbelievable series of coincidences that turned everything into the right path”.
Arrival in Romania
As a member of the Igbu tribe, Kingsley grew up with his two sisters and five brothers in the southern part of the Nigerian city of Lagos in British Nigeria, a region actually hundreds of kilometers away from his tribe and where he feels lonely. Even then, his refuge was painting. Immediately after graduating in microbiology, he applied for an AIESEC scholarship in Poland, then in Romania, and finally arrived at the age of 28 in 2005 in Cluj-Napoca as an English teacher for the employees of a pharmaceutical company. One of the few Africans in Klausenburg at the time. He doesn’t have time for strange looks or whispers behind his back – he’s used to it since childhood, growing up in the middle of a foreign tribe with its own language.
Kingsley the teacher
He extends his scholarship, but no longer to work with adults, but with children. Here he discovers his true passion, his gift. He tries not only to teach his students English, but to actually prepare them for life. His unconventional methods still make many frown today, but they work. Kingsley doesn’t use any documents or a classic school program – everything has to be as fluent and natural as possible in conversation for him, so that the little ones can relax and speak freely. “Of course I know what words I want to teach the kids or what ideas I want to convey in a lesson, but the conversation can’t be forced,” he says. “We talk about everything in the world, I challenge them, sometimes I humiliate them and teach them to defend their opinions, I challenge them to think – I really can’t describe my system, you just have to experience it”, he adds.
Kingsley still hasn’t started his own family in Romania, but he does have hundreds of former students who have grown fond of him and who still visit him or ask for advice. These same students supported him during the pandemic when schools were closed and these same students supported him recently when he was hospitalized with stress-related internal bleeding. “I no longer feel alone in Romania,” Kingsley now explains retrospectively.
Kingsley the writer
Young children in particular love stories and Kingsley has a gift for telling them vividly. But he couldn’t really stimulate the little ones with the classic fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm – quite the opposite, however, with fairy tales from his homeland, from Africa. These were new and exciting, even if they seemed a bit more “cruel” – because African fairy tales are not about princesses who are saved, but about lessons, about villains who are always punished quite cruelly. Coincidentally, one of the students’ parents worked in a publishing company and convinced Kingsley to publish ten of these fairy tales in 2010, along with their own accompanying drawings. That was only the first of almost ten children’s books that he has published so far. During the pandemic, he had time to prepare another book, which he hopes to launch early next year.
Kingsley, there Painter
Painting remains Kingsley’s greatest passion, however, and has evolved over time from a haven to a source of income with acclaim — again, by sheer coincidence, Kingsley says. Not long after his arrival in Bucharest, an African exhibition was organized at the UN House in Bucharest. As luck would have it, the mother of one of his students worked there and suggested that he should also be there with his works. This allowed Kingsley to get to know the Nigerian ambassador, with whom he continued to have good relations and who also helped him to some of his next exhibitions. This is how the passion became a profession.
At another “African evening” Kingsley was allowed to personally hand over a portrait to the then President Traian B²sescu. And also by sheer coincidence, shortly afterwards he was able to meet the Romanian royal family, which currently owns several of his works. The hospital chain “Regina Maria” commissioned him to create a portrait of Queen Maria, but ultimately canceled the order. And so Kingsley personally presented the giant painting to King Michael and was often allowed to be a guest in the Elisabeth Palace.
His favorite painting remains “The Masks” because it reflects his African origins: “Masks are so typical for Africa,” says the artist.
During the pandemic, Kingsley has had a long time to think about people’s masks and what people are presenting and following on social media. This is how his most recent exhibition came about: the “Selfie Series”, a series of twelve topless portraits of women, each with a bird of their choice on their shoulders, with the women’s faces always being hidden behind the mobile phone. On the one hand, the artist asks himself what people want to portray on social media and to what extent this appearance represents their true self, or to what extent visitors to their profiles perceive the true self of the person in the picture or are guided by a photo, by their external appearance will. The different birds remain the only indication of personality. Shortly before the vernissage, one of his models died of breast cancer and Kingsley decided to dedicate the exhibition to supporting breast cancer research. Coincidence or not, the exhibition became a hit, also because it took place right during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Kingsley doesn’t want to think about the future at all, just enjoy today. He pursues one project after another. He certainly wants to continue to work with children and to continue painting and writing. His latest project is a t-shirt collection featuring his unique artwork.
“God is the only one who knows my way and I have to trust him,” he says. “My life doesn’t make any sense to me either, but I’m living it anyway,” Kingsley notes, cheerful as ever.