The search for meaning — “How can I be most useful?” — is a seemingly universal human experience. Sometimes, our greatest use is found by changing or simplifying our career path; and sometimes it’s found through the addition of experiences that complement each other within us.
Seeds of a Dual Career
Ben immigrated to America from Nigeria at the age of 24, arriving in New York City to study environmental engineering with a focus on wastewater management and air pollution. Coming from Africa, he had seen first-hand the impact that poor environmental systems have on health and quality of life. He wanted to be of service, to be useful, and engineering seemed a good fit.
But, moving from Africa to the US was a huge cultural adjustment. American football, which his fellow students seemed to revel in, was, for him, an impenetrable mystery. Looking for inspiration, he discovered the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and with it, the other vast art institutions of NYC. Although art was new to him, he found special resonance in it.
“As a young graduate student who could not understand American football, I had to find something to amuse myself, and I did that by visiting galleries and museums over the weekends. That’s how I got my leisure. In doing that I noticed a gross under-representation of artists from the continent of Africa; not just my country of Nigeria, but the whole continent. As a young person I could not afford to do anything about it.” But, the seed was sown…
Recession as Opportunity
Bosah started his own engineering-consulting firm in 1997 and found success as an entrepreneur, mainly consulting for suppliers of the car industry. But, when the 2008 recession hit, his consulting business took a hit, along with the entire auto industry. What could have been a moment of crisis became instead an opportunity to embrace the passion he had discovered for art and the gap he had seen in the NY art world — becoming an advocate and mentor for young artists from West Africa.
Art Book Publisher
He began by publishing and promoting artists that no one else had seen. “In 2008, when I started thinking about doing my first book, we worked very deliberately on it. We didn’t have the highest quality book, but it was a book, and it was different than anything else I had seen.”
And with that, almost 20 years after he began his training as an engineer and happened upon the New York art scene, Bosah became a curator and a self-publisher for an art scene with little recognition in the US. He had found an opportunity to give back and be useful, to mentor and to successfully expose African artists to a global audience.
Celebrating Nigerian Art
It took two years to complete the book, but following the publication of A Celebration of Modern Nigerian Art: 101 Nigerian Artists, five of the young artists highlighted in the book received gallery representation in the United States. That was a big step for Bosah and the entire Nigerian art world. “If it was only one [artist], I would think the book would still be successful. But to have five people get gallery representation is huge in Nigeria.”
Balancing Engineering with the Art World
One of the interesting things about Bosah is the balance he has found from two very different directions. It is one of the gifts of having life experience that we get to know ourselves and what we need, not what others may expect us to need.
“I couldn’t just do engineering, and I couldn’t just do art. I need the engineering. I also need my art world. But what I have done is marry both of them to be more effective. I am able to bring the engineering rigor, the engineering discipline towards making some of the artists better and towards the promotion of the artists. I have been able to marry my knowledge of engineering with their art, to push them forward.”
After his first book, he expanded from publishing to featuring Nigerian and other African artists by promoting their works to galleries. After publishing his second book in 2017, The Art of Nigerian Women, a 360-page book featuring 75 leading and emerging female contemporary visual artists, the Carnegie Gallery at the Columbus Metropolitan Main Library displayed several of his artists.
Books and Documentaries
“With the books, I am providing education and telling them there is a world out there that is different from here, and that world out there also has an advanced civilization. I would say about 70% of the people who I have helped have been from Nigeria, but my work is not just restricted to the country Nigeria; I want to make it across all of Africa.”
Bosah is currently employed at Fiat Chrysler as a program engineer, mixing in frequent trips to Africa, and is working on a book profiling artists from Ghana. Next up is a book on a female African photographer who documents tribal facial marks, whose work Bosah hopes to premiere in a gallery showing within the next year. There are also plans in the works to make documentaries on these artists.
A Higher Calling
Bosah refers to his newfound side-career as a “higher calling.” In his continuing effort to be useful, he reaches back to advice he got from his father: “My father always insisted that the mark of your success is not what you have been able to do with your immediate family members, but how you were able to change the life of other people for the best.”