..ORI ART (THE ESSENCE)..
Name: Laolu Senbanjo
Talent: Afromysterics Artist
Achievements: Collaborations with Beyonce for Lemonade, Nike, Alicia Keys, Usher & Jidenna.
LAOLU SENBANJO is the incredibly talented artist whose popularity soared after his collaboration with Queen of Pop Beyoncé on her visual album Lemonade, went viral last year. Having already built up a reputation of excellence with world famous celebrities as well as brands such as Nike, it leaves no doubt that the Queen of POP knew exactly what she was doing when she appointed Senbanjo among her team of talented artists.
“I was surprised when Beyoncé’s team contacted me, but at the same time I wasn’t. What I do, very few people can. When they called, I was hired on the spot, and there was no recommendation, interview, trial run or anything. They found me through social media, and checked all my stuff on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to be sure I was actually the guy doing what I was doing.”
Senbanjo grew up in a family that expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Lawyer. From a young age, He was taught that to be a lawyer is to be seen as somebody and that even as a law student, respect is given from your peers and society. Despite his family’s views, he always had an interest in sketching and music as a teen.
“When I was 14 years old, my art teacher told my father that I had a special gift. My father’s response was, “Okay. But that is not what you’re supposed to do.” Although I went on to study law at Nigeria’s University of Ilorin, my first love remained art. I’d stay up all night using charcoal to sketch intricate patterns and images. During my second year of law school I reached my tipping point and told my parents I was going to drop out of law school to pursue art full-time.
As you would imagine, this did not sit well with his father and with the rest of his family.
“Whenever I mentioned art to my father, he would tell me, “You’re majoring in your minor, and you’re minoring in your major.” I often thought to myself, who determines what my major is—my father or me? One afternoon, my father wanted to show me firsthand how artists in Nigeria live, and he drove me around the slums. “See that artist! Is that how you really want to live?” he asked. This experience messed with my psyche, and I’ll never forget the squalid conditions in which the artists lived. They were completely isolated, and society did not reckon them as people who could stand up for anyone.
Due to familial pressure to complete his degree, Senbanjo agreed to finish Law School with a plan to pursue his passion in Art afterwards. On graduating in 2005 however, Senbanjo soon found out that with African parents, the pressure never ends. After acquiring his degree, he spent 5 years working as a Human Rights Lawyer with the latter part of 3 years working at the National Human Rights Commission. As part of his Job, Senbanjo travelled to different schools and villages in parts of Northern Nigeria, educating men and women on the importance of education for children. Senbanjo and his team also served as a shield for girls who were forced into early marriages.
“Girls would run to our office or write letters, and we would try to help them by taking them to shelters. My eyes were opened to this epidemic through my practice. Somehow I always found time to continue making art on the side. I loved helping people, but I also knew my art was like a monster just waiting to unleash its power. There were moments when I felt very misunderstood and ostracized. It was painful to watch people downplay what I held as my truth.”
To deal with the emotional demands connected to his job, Senbanjo continued to use his art as a creative outlet. In 2010 however, he decided that the time was now if he was to do anything about his passion.
“I was inspired by people’s reaction and connection to my art. I could see that my work made people feel something special. I never made people feel this way with my law practice. I quit my job to pursue art full-time, and started the Laolu Senbanjo Art Gallery in Abuja, Nigeria. I put all my money into it and didn’t make much back, but I was happy. My family never bought my art, and that was painful. I befriended a curator named Osi, and he became my curator. My friend Daisy played the guitar and we would gather amazing musicians, poets, and artists at the gallery. It was my safe haven where I could create magic with people who understood me.”
After deciding to move to New York U.S.A in 2013, Senbanjo continued to perfect his art through trial and error and by watching people. Using charcoal, inks, arcylics and other medium, he finally nailed his style.
“The challenge is taking the ideas in my head, and putting them onto paper. It’s stressful when the two don’t match, but I’ve learned that what’s on the canvas is meant to be there. Once I nailed my style, I knew I could do it on any surface—even the human body, which I call the Sacred Art of the Ori (Soul).”
Although many admired his works, his breakthrough came after he was handpicked as a Master of Air by Nike in 2016. His role was to create a T-shirt and sneaker design for AIR MAX CON 2016. Being the only black and Nigerian person among the team of masters, the Nigerian media caught wind of this and in no time, Senbanjo’s story was everywhere. His collaboration with Nike was so successful that both custom designs sold out!
“Brands come to you because they see something special or something they’d like to capitalize on. And, for me, it’s a blessing to be in a unique space talking about our culture, our themes, and putting Afromysterics at the forefront.”
“My brother called to congratulate me, and said that our father was bragging about me to everyone. “That’s my son,” he’d say. “I knew that was going to happen.”
Senbanjo’s collaboration with Nike put him on the map and on to the path that would see him work with more A-listers and top brands. This year 2017 will see him work with Swizz Beatz & The Dean Collection which will premier in London.
“It’s crazy because sometimes the people you hold up are there holding you up! I never want to let my clients down, so I do what I’m there to do—my art. As a pioneer in the Afro-futurism movement, I consider it my duty to keep creating and to continue pushing boundaries. My art is never a job, just another exploration.”
Asked about his relationship with his father, he said, “We are good friends now. A Yoruba father will never apologize, but something powerful he told me was this: “We are your parents and you taught us something about art and being an artist. Parents are like children—they don’t know what they don’t know.”