Jun 24, 2020
Alumni News, Art, Studio Art

Uzo Njoku is an entrepreneur who never seems to stop moving forward.

What can’t she do? The artist, now known to thousands on Twitter and Instagram as “UzoArt,” has dabbled in everything from wall prints and clothing to coloring books. And she isn’t stopping there.

“I’m at the point where I’m running on three hours of sleep,” Njoku remarked of her busy life as both the owner of a successful art business and the artist behind the masterpieces she sells.

In only one short year since graduating from the University of Virginia with a major in studio art, Njoku has taken the art world and internet by storm. She has become a meme on Twitter, started a business, hired two interns and created an ever-changing portfolio she can be proud of.

One of the many inventive products that Njoku’s online store carries is this limited-edition puzzle, created in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Contributed art)

Ironically, Njoku didn’t originally come to UVA to be an artist.

“I came into UVA majoring in statistics,” she said. “In those classes, some people really enjoy it. I didn’t. At that point, I didn’t know that I wanted to be an artist. I took a year off and painted on the side to decorate my house. The rest is history.”

Today, Njoku’s art decorates much more than just her house. What started as a hobby during her time as an undergraduate has now blossomed into a full business, run out of Njoku’s studio in Washington, D.C.

“Not only did I like creating art, but I also liked the business aspect of it,” Njoku said. “When people receive art, I love how happy they are to have it in their home.”

Njoku’s first major commercial product came in the form of a coloring book she created during her fourth year. The book, which highlights different aspects of femininity with a focus of women of color, was the springboard for creating “UzoArt LLC.” [Listen to her talk about the project.]

The next step in UzoArt LLC’s growth came in the form of a meme on Twitter.

“Recently, I went viral for a meme,” she said of the Rick and Morty parody that propelled her into internet fame. “I don’t know how it happened, but it gave me a lot of followers. It was cool, but at the end of the day I am an artist. That’s actually what I do.”

This new following seemed to be just the audience Njoku needed to figure out how to mass-produce her prints for sale in her online store.

“I think COVID helped in a way,” she said. “I lost the job that helped me pay for rent, and the first few weeks were kind of rocky because I didn’t know what was going on. But when I finally launched my prints, we made like $2,000 that night. Everything is rapidly changing.”

This piece, entitled “Catching the 8AM Train,” was created at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ll keep this ritual as best I can,” Njoku says of her beloved post-pandemic subway commute. (Contributed art)

Instead of focusing on large overarching goals as an artist, Njoku takes it one project at a time, always striving to push herself to create something new and exciting. Her art is always evolving, a fact that is evident from a glance at her online portfolio throughout the years.

“The way I’m able to avoid ‘artist’s block’ is by using as many mediums as I can,” she said. “If I get bored of painting, I try illustrating or clay. That way, I’m able to keep concepts fresh.”

Njoku’s diverse body of work does share a few key qualities. Her stark contrasting of warm and dark colors and eye-catching patterns give her art a unique style. Her Nigerian heritage is also a key component of her work as a creator.

“I’m a contemporary African artist,” she said. “I focus on putting more black women into the forefront of these artistic pieces.”

Njoku has not only been using her artistic gifts to bring black voices to the forefront, but during this time of upheaval following George Floyd’s murder, also her financial gifts.

“A lot of purchases came on Blackout Tuesday,” she said of the worldwide social media blackout in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I took all the money that my company made that Tuesday and donated it straight to different funds. That way, we’re still able to help others through art.”

Njoku draws inspiration from the world around her, through her lens as a contemporary African artist. (Contributed art)

When asked to share advice with the younger generation of artists at UVA, Njoku had a lot to say.

“Know how to put yourself out there,” she said. “A lot of arts programs really give you the bare minimum, and a lot of artists wouldn’t be able to function without people in administrative roles to create funding and events.”

Njoku is a prime example of an artist who knows how to “put herself out there.” The list of new projects slated for the coming year seems just as exciting to Njoku as her past successes. From a new line of UzoArt fabrics to candles and phone cases, she is far from finished.

This is only the beginning.

Payton Moledor
Student Writer
Original Publication: UVA Today