t's not easy for Augustine Uzor to accept compliments. When he hears that Lauren Lake, chair of UNT's studio art department, has raved about his work, he just smiles a little, casts his eyes to the floor, shakes his head.
The studio art graduate student isn't one to say too much about his art, preferring to let it speak for itself. And, he'll tell you, he's not looking for external recognition -- drawing and painting are the outlets that allow him to explore and communicate a complicated personal journey, one that began in Nigeria and, three years ago, led him to North Texas.
Sometimes, he feels like a puzzle piece that's been stored in the wrong box. He doesn't quite click into place anywhere.
"My story is always evolving -- that's the essence of being alive," says Uzor, who in July 2016 was granted a green card to move to the U.S. He returned to Nigeria for his sister's wedding in late 2018, where he found that the home he had known for 25 years no longer felt so familiar. "So in some ways, it's like I'm just floating, just existing between two places. That made me want to discover a world of my own through art as a way to heal that trauma and to find solace in helping people understand what I'm experiencing and see it for what it is."
In 2013, Uzor graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began building an impressive reputation as an artist. But he suspected Nigeria would never offer as many opportunities as the United States. So with his mother, younger brother and older sister in tow, he braved Dallas' blazing hot summer to begin a new life.
For the first two years, Uzor worked odd jobs, taking on retail positions at Macy's, UPS and Lowe's. He was able to pay the bills, but he wanted something more -- specifically, to enter graduate school, where he could continue to develop his artistic talent. After learning about UNT's nationally recognized College of Visual Arts and Design, he applied.
"I have these dreams and aspirations, and whenever I have those visions, I do not let anything get in my way," Uzor says. "I want to see those dreams become a reality."
He began the studio art master's program in January of this year, and was selected to be a teaching assistant for Drawing II classes. His role as a teacher required him to break down the artistic process, forcing him to ask the kinds of questions that led to a deeper understanding of his own work -- like how, for instance, do colors truly come together?
His teaching experience also, in some small way, led to the feeling of home he had been missing.
"I'm eager to get into the classroom, where I know I'm going to be able to explore art with the students," Uzor says. "It's a journey that changes me, even after just three hours of being in class. It's something I'm truly grateful for."
This summer, he took the semester off from teaching so that he could enroll in Lake's special problems class. "I knew I wanted to take her class after I saw how she made other students better artists," he says.
When he wasn't in class, he was in his Bain Hall studio, where the walls are lined with dozens of paintings in various stages of completion, all of them tapping into Uzor's experience of being an immigrant.
"Typically, the only way I tell my story is through my work," he says. "Everyone has their own experience -- I know people who don't even want to think about the country of their birth. As soon as they left, they were done. And I'm very conscious about that, about not triggering anyone. But if I share my art, people feel more comfortable relaying their own journey, and we can open up about those things."
That, he says, is the true beauty of art -- finding a home for your voice.
"I turned down teaching this summer, I turned down the financial offer, because I had a vision of creating pieces that would force me to push myself, help me build my portfolio, put myself in a better place for the year and maybe the rest of my life," Uzor says. "You have to be willing to take reasonable risks. Everybody has a story to tell. Let it be heard. Let it be seen."