MEET NIGERIA’S VERY OWN LADY PAINTER
Udoka Uju is an Economics graduate of the University of Port-Harcourt. Initially, hoping to complete her tertiary studies then head on to getting a comfortable job at a bank where she would rise up the ranks, was initially her ultimate goal. Like many of her friends, this was the path she was hoping to take. She got the bank job but would be saying ‘bye’ as life would have her steer a very different course.
When I started working at a bank, I quickly realised that the job wasn’t for me, I wasn’t happy so I decided to take on a course in interior decoration as I plotted my escape from the banking world.
After completing the course, Udoka figured she would be able to get a job working for any interior decoration company that would hire her. She decided to apply to as many as possible. Unfortunately, none would hire her. She figured if Mohammed wasn’t go to go to the mountain, the mountain would have to come to the Mohammed. As a result, she opted to start her own interior decor company which unfortunately just never took off. She thought hard and fast about what else she could do as an off-set of interior decor; and that is how her painting was birthed.
Painting, she mentions is part and parcel of any interior space so she decided to go for it. It never really occurred to her that painting wasn’t being seen as a woman’s job until she googled one day and found that there was only one other woman in Nigeria at the time she started, who identified as a painter. She pressed on, none-the-less.
I believe that the walls can speak depending on the colours you opt for
When asked if her move to painting was ever scrutinised by potential clients and existing ones due to her gender, she maintains that it hasn’t been easy. In fact, when she walks into a pitch with a male figure, the guests tend to look to him instead of her; She mentions a particular recent incident where she even had to raise her voice ever so slightly so they could focus on her as the owner of the business and the one with all the answers. Due to the recurrence of events such as this one, she’s made it a point to always lets her work speak for her. She mentions that it’s always a good surprise when she’s able to over-deliver when a client was initially hesitant due to her being female.
I appreciate and treasure the process
Her strides have not been without hurdles either. She has faced generalisations leading to not being able to clinch jobs due to her sex, loss at the beginning of her business-owing to her being a newbie in the world of business and having to learn the hard way but that has not deterred her.
Today, the brand, ‘Lady Painter’ boasts 15 members of staff and they have carried out numerous jobs, some which have included travelling out of their base in Lagos to other cities.
In 5 years, she hopes to become a household name where she’s able to have more men and women in her employ in different states. Her hope is that she is able to empower at least 3000 youth by taking them through training as a form of giving back.
Udoka isn’t merely making headway in the world of painting, she is equally giving back to her community through her NGO entitled: ‘Grab a brush, Colour a life.’ Here, she paints and renovates run-down public schools in rural areas and villages. At only 30 years old, Udoka seems to be well on her way to rewriting history not just in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole.