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Celebrating 2 Months at Torpedo Factory Art Center

It is my second month at Torpedo Factory Art Center. It has been a great experience. Studio 324 has old and new works- drawings and touch-wet paintings. This feels like a coming-of-age ritual with everything that happens to one before transitioning into adulthood, only it’s happening to a middle-aged man. Nowadays I am using public transport- learning to do long commutes and counting bus stops. I enjoy the long train rides; being in a committed relationship; cooking lunch to save money; have borrowed money to pay rent etc. Times have been hard, but fortunately, Nigeria has been there for me. Friends and relatives have helped me through it all. The art gallery representing me in Lagos has supported me by showing and selling my work. I was privileged to be exhibited at ARTX Lagos 2022 and participated in 2 group art shows. My friend Marcia keeps reminding me to stay in touch with home- Nigeria, and all my art collectors who have supported me through the years through university to date. I constantly have conversations about art with a collector who bought a painting from my graduation exhibition at Nsukka!)

Being in Torpedo Factory is a dream come true- over the past 3 years, I longed for this. I constantly visited and had conversations with resident artists working here. We became friends- with Chris, Alison, Ahmed, Gaanbatar, and Matthew. I was encouraged to keep looking for an opportunity to join as a resident artist. I admired the professionalism of this community of artists who shared their work generously with visitors. Their openness reminded me of a time past- way back in the early 90s when I was a student of Fine Art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Students were advised to work in the general studio. This allowed lecturers to have conversations with us as our work evolved. The painting studios in the Ben Enwonwu building were open to the entire campus population and any other visitors.

So, being at the Factory felt like déjà-vu. And I loved it dearly- the engagement with fellow artists, the conversations with the tourists, etc. I have met countless parents who wished their kids to become artists. I met creatives experiencing a block and artists who only work in isolation. Some of the people have asked for the price of my work, and I made friends with a homeless man who gave me my first Christmas card! The Torpedo Factory has been the place to keep warm, be inspired, celebrate beauty, and enjoy living. The parents let their children run around happily, excited at all the colors and variety of creative work. I met people looking to find a spark, common ground, and go home with the mindset- ‘I can do this also! The Torpedo Factory Art Center brings a potpourri of emotions. I have laughed, sang, and even had the time to comfort a visitor who was moved to tears as I spoke of the dignity of labor. I have felt exposed and vulnerable, answered many ‘why’ questions, and gone home to think and find solutions to be presented another day.

Hardships sometimes seem larger than life. There have been blessings- my first commissioned work came in the first few days at the Factory. The glint of joy in Olen's eyes will stay with me forever. He picked up the finished commission, a satisfied client. The first person to buy my work at Torpedo Factory Art Center was Adam, a vibrant young artist, and budding collector. Yes, it felt right. I feel destined to be here. Studio 324 is a real showcase with windows on both sides. The other window of studio 324 sees through the windows of Studio 322 down to the waterfront, to the Potomac River. The river reminds me of my hometown Oguta and its lake, with all the poignant memories of becoming an adult in that small village. When traveling, I prefer staying close to bodies of water- in Zanzibar, Singapore, or the US! Places with water make me feel at home. In my mind, all waters connect somehow.

Marian, pioneer artist at the Factory who has been there since 1974
Marian's studio

I remain grateful to the people I have been meeting since the day I was juried when one of the jurors helped carry my paintings up the stairs. There are more people- Marcel, Jenny, Brett, Richard, Julie, Janet, and Sergio. I thank my neighbors Dhamin and Donna who did not block the lights from their view of the Potomac River; Charlene who offered to help me with anything, and Marian who started this space… I cannot name you all. At Torpedo Factory Arts Center, you meet over 165 artists and workers sharing and caring. Openness and generosity are bywords for this place. It is all about community, creativity, and building bridges. I appreciate the tourists- kindred spirits on this journey. They bring familiar tales. We are anonymous, far from home, and yet near neighbors. Isn’t that another definition for the word tourist?

Whoever renovated my studio chose the color purple for the door. It reminds me of my late mother- her favorite color was purple. She worked part-time as an interior designer and liked decorating event venues in purple and white. She usually chose matching purple clothes for us children to wear to special events.

The purple door was an auspicious sign that mother was watching over me from heaven. One day, a visitor pointed out the predominance of yellow in my paintings. I must have written about yellow somewhere in my blog- The color is about the passing light, of daylight, exciting and rejuvenating. I looked up and noticed that the lamp holders are yellow- yellow orbs shining lights into my studio, lining the corridors of the 3rd floor. I also loved the fact that the Alexandria Museum is adjacent to me. It was a constant reminder of the history of the place and aligned with my purpose of sharing memories, of forecasting based on premises reached by observing the present.

Ganbaatar at Studio 305

The window has a view of the Potomac River. Dhamin works in the background.
Studio 322

With Family in Studio

There is work to be done. I have new stories for engaging the space, contemplating the moment, celebrating all the ideas of community, and excavating memories that become even more precious in this foreign land. Some of my new works include landscapes of Alexandria and the street performers around King Street. Working near the Alexandria Archaeology Museum reminds one of the importance of memory, history, and human activity onward.

Quite a few times I met a willing student or a parent who wanted a ward to learn, asking if I teach classes. I explain that my art is the classroom, describing the intentions and aspirations in the making. Art is the pulpit where I preach to all comers. The opportunity to address all young and old. To inform and enlighten adds to the freedom of my teaching. The meeting with visitors is an opportunity to share stories, and I take it. I have since signed my largest painting (in the past 5 years). Exciting new ideas run wild in my head- there is so much to do. I am compelled to change everything at the studio now. I have an idea, no, ideas. Goodbye to 2022. The new year is upon us. One must look ahead with optimism.

There is much to achieve. Despite the sadness of recent events, I am eternally grateful for the victories. I have sown the seeds for growing new collectors. My interaction with people is forcing modulations in my work. I am more able to address the materialistic space called America, using the things one can touch, and sense. I am questioning the quality of my work, as it stands among decades-old, tried and tested artists of Torpedo Factory. There is the question of what to share, what to keep, and what to discard or hideaway. The fragility of working in front of the hordes of people who visit daily is almost scary. The people come to take. We are offered daily. I celebrate the crowd who come to watch the performance. I am the magician on king street, with a sleight of hand-shifting perception, holding attention, and diverting focus. You are invited to watch me perform.

Visit to check out the space

My largest painting in 5 years- 73 x 103inches
Magician takes over the crowd at King Street

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Ugo Agoruah
Ugo Agoruah
Jan 10, 2023

What a great read. so insightful on you’re journeys thus far. Looking forward to the continuation of your story


This is so lovely, Tony. It was really so beautiful to read and to learn about where you are at on your journey. I am happy that you are continuing to push and move your work forward. That painting - ‘Magician Takes over the Crowd…’, is so rich indeed, and strong- and yes!.. but he yellows.. ha ha.

Our work is tough sometimes but is surely one of the most rewarding things…

Please continue to stay strong and to represent. All my best and love to you and your family.

Amara Okafor

Replying to

My darling sister? So sorry I didn’t see this earlier! My Whatsapp is +17816584170. What is yours? You dey Abuja?


uzo ofoma
uzo ofoma
Jan 05, 2023

This was so beautiful to read. I got here through my LinkedIn contact and admired lecturer at LBS who commented on your article. My grandmother was from I know the lake very well and swam in it growing up. I loved watching the pontoon go back and forth between shores carrying people and cars. I am not sure if that is why I started to love water...because I keep telling people that the swimming pool is one of my very happy places. I hope to have a house by a beautiful stream...

I am really happy to see an artist spring from that background and though I am not so knowledgeable about art per se, I appreciate it immensely…

Replying to

So sorry I just saw this, Uzo! Thanks so much for your comments. So you be my sister!


Amazing piece Tony. Loved reading every line of it. You definitely took me to the studio and I could see the brilliance of its colors, feel the texture of it and smell the canvas and paint and wax My little one likes painting and coloring. I’m so proud of you and your consistency and persistence in spite of whatever you have faced. God bless you. Happy 2023 dear. Wendy Greg Jay

Replying to

Dear Wendy, its been a year now and I just saw this- please forgive me! Thanks for your kind comments. Happy New year and my love to all your family. Hope to see you this year. Have a lovely day.

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