'Emmie Nume - A Diamond in the Rough' by Gloria K. Coutinho

Published 08 September 2021 in Articles

Promiscuous dark charcoal scribbles and smudges coupled with a few sporadic pastel and acrylic paint highlights here and there is what it’s like. From a distance the artwork is puzzling to the eye. It practically looks messy, unplanned and mysterious. On the surface, one may even equate it to a 5-year old’s random playtime creation. To my amazement, the artist admits, “I am disorganized in an organized way.” One glimpse into his studio space and you will know what I am talking about. This is not only in the nature of his creations but generally speaking. However, the artist also adds that despite his creative space being disorganized, he knows where absolutely each and everything is.  I must say, his style is free-spirited. His work tends to lean towards expressionism. I feel this way because on top of the seemingly rough execution and visual texture, the art conveys emotion and meaning rather than reality. On the contrary, the artist’s work is almost monochrome in terms of color as compared to most expressionist artists who apply vividly contrasting colors.

The artist's working station (photo by Gloria K. Coutinho)

Commonly known as Emmie around the studio and gallery, the young artist bears an unusually intimidating character. He is very reserved and some may straight up label him an introvert. However, he is also quite self-aware and articulate while speaking, always taking a couple of seconds to think before calmly answering a question directed to him.

For a person who doesn’t talk much, Emmie’s work is quite daring. The artist doesn’t seem to do any significant fore thought before he executes a piece. The idea that one has to work through several sketches before they can put out one final art piece is something of little importance to him as his way of working leans substantially towards impulsive action. The artist does not have a plan or schedule, he seizes the moment and executes a piece to completion, leaving nothing to complete tomorrow because he’s afraid he may not feel the same way then.

Emmie Nume at the Silhouette Projects studio (photo by Lara Buchmann)

Diving into the subject matter and themes guiding the artist, he isn’t very particular with regards to exactly what he’s drawing about, but he is very particular when clustering his work in series. Despite his main driving force being curiosity, he seems to be okay with “not knowing”. Apparently, his inspiration stems from the question “why?”. It is as if his inspiration comes from an unfathomable place only known to the artist. “He draws from within”, a colleague commented. It is said that the inquisitive nature of human beings is what best defines what we are all about. Life in itself becomes a constant attempt to make sense of everything regarding who we really are and the world around us. However, sometimes the questions we ask tend to instead lead to us to further and further questions, a domino effect of sorts. Maybe this endless search is what we see in Emmie’s work. Maybe it is from this that his creative spirit and persona thrives. In addition, the roughness in his technique gives the viewer an unwitting sense of aggression, thus emphasizing my view of his style being expressionist. Personally, I can’t help but think that there is a deeper cryptic connotation to Emmie’s work. I guess the mysterious nature of it all is what makes him different.

One of the aspects that fascinated me the most was that the artist does not like happy faces. Basically, he doesn’t resonate with expressions of happiness or joy – something that might be perceived as very unusual and somewhat sinister. He is generally not a cheerful person. It is no surprise that this psych tends to creep into his creations far more often than less. The artist tends to depict human beings that are melancholic. In his opinion, happy faces look ordinary, sad faces evoke emotions.

Another incredible fact that I came to learn about the artist is that he draws directly from his memory. Emmie does not use reference images. The artist has a firm conviction about originality, thus he dares not be corrupted by the sentiments that come with drawing a particular person. The artist seeks to put down purely what he feels in that particular moment in time.

The artist expresses himself to us in a raw, unbiased and free way.


Coutinho K. Gloria is currently working as an intern at Afriart Gallery with a keen interest in creative writing and art criticism. Gloria is a first-class degree holder from Makerere University where she recently completed her bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Arts. She loves to write because it gives her a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Gloria is also very passionate about fashion design, something that forms a great part of her personality as a creative.



Feature image: Emmie Nume, I am, Catching Myself Doing Something series, 2021, Mixed Media on Paper, 125.5x110cm, Courtesy of Afriart Gallery