“Art occupies a unique place in our existence as human beings, its ability to express abstract concepts and hold depth of meaning in aesthetic forms is something that inspires us in different ways. The potential of African art has been recognized by such greats as Pablo Picasso, who was inspired to start experimenting with Cubism, but I believe it still remains largely untapped.” – Osi Otsemobor. These words are so true and when I bumped into Laolu Senbanjo at the Creative Exhibition at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos, last weekend I realized that a lot of people do not know the awesome potential that a blend of culture and creativity provides. Laolu Senbanjo,is an artist, based in Abuja who refers to his brand as the “Afromysterics”. I caught up with Laolu and had a chat with him about art, the experience of being an artist in Nigeria and what message he intends to pass with his art. I hope you enjoy it.
Please tell us a bit about yourself – what you do; your education and where you grew up.
My name is Laolu Senbanjo and I’m a lawyer, an artist, and musician. I like rice, beans,plantain and beef, my zodiac sign is Libra. (Since we’re being detailed and all that!) I’m the first of 2 kids and I grew up in Ilorin and Lagos. I went to Secondary School there (in Ilorin) and graduated from University of Ilorin with my LLB in 2005.
Can you share some of your favourite childhood memories?
Err, I remember when my Mum bought me a tricycle. I was really excited. I liked holidays, spending Christmas with my cousins and all that but I remember being in trouble a lot more than the pleasant memories…. “please don’t tell daddy”, other people’s parents used to threaten their kids with my father.He was that gangsta! Hahahahaha
What were your childhood dreams and aspirations?
I just wanted to be happy, maybe grow up and become someone relevant to society, I thought I’d grow up to draw comics for Marvel and DC. I used to daydream a lot, I never finished any of the comics I started, funny enough, and I had friends who drew better than I did.
Tell us about the transition from law into the arts?
Mhmm, there really hasn’t been a transition from law to arts, it’s always been art first for me, so it’s been more of a transition from art into law actually. My law degree has helped me a lot, understanding the legal issues behind protecting my copyrights and intellectual property, that kind of stuff.
How was Afromysterics born?
My style of art developed over the years but I coined its name around 2006-2007. Most of the things I was drawing and had a lot to do with African themes and African traditions hence the name, “Afromysterics” I was looking for a word to describe what it was I was doing; exploring the mystery of the African thought pattern.
When did you start drawing/painting/sculpting
I felt the urge to draw from the time I was a kid. I’ve always loved to do art, I was the type of child to see faces in the random patterns on the terrazzo tiles in the courtyard and bathroom. The patterns in kampala and Ankara used to really fascinate me.
Charcoal, Pencil or Ink?
I started out with charcoal primarily because its one of the oldest art materials and few other materials last as long, prehistoric man used charcoal to create cave art, we can still see some of it today. There’s a spontaneity about using charcoal that’s hard to describe, but I love to use all the mediums and sometimes use them together.
I can manipulate them to be as fluid or as detailed as I want the piece to be.
Most of your designs have a lot of intricate details and colours. Is there any particular reason for this?
As a person, I pay very close attention to details, my work reflects that , and It’s funny you mention colour, my aunt who came to the thing at the oriental hotel on Saturday was surprised about the colour in my more recent paintings, my earlier works didn’t have a lot of colour, I preferred working with shades and tones of black and grey., and I still do, there’s a depth that you can capture with black and white that you can’t with colour, but I go wherever my expression takes me.
I found a lot of musical tones in your work. Is this deliberate?
I really like music, a lot of my art has musical dimensions to it, a sort of soundtrack I hear as I’m doing the piece. My phones are filled to the brim with songs I’ve written, one just crashed sef, very painful. Music is part of me and a part of my life, so I definitely will always try and express it in my art.
Do you have a particular direction for your art?
Sometimes when I start out I have a plan and other times the art just takes on a life of its own.
Does your art tell any stories?
Always, every piece is what the curator of the Afromysterics gallery calls a “visual narrative”, he says I’m capturing my consciousness/thought process on canvas. Sometimes the stories are about familiar human emotions; love and searching for the one, other times it’s social commentary talking . I also like to explore different philosophical viewpoints in my work.
Tell us about your first exhibition
My first exhibition was in December 2009 at the Elephant House, Ikeja. It was really fun. I didn’t sell, but I got a lot of feedback which is very good when you’re a creative. I got an interview in The Guardian and people really liked my work. A lot of people expected me to be older after seeing my work, considering some of the concepts I was addressing.
Do you have any plans for sending your art beyond the shores of Nigeria?
Most definitely, I have plans to exhibit outside the country. An intern we had at the gallery who was German (shoutout to Nico) wants to hook us up.
Which artists can you say are major influences of your work?
Mmm, when I was much younger Kayode Yoloye, an artist who lived near me was one I used to look up to, but it’s really difficult to say what my influences are; I like Bob Schneider, Salvador Dali, Bruce Onobrekpayie, twin 77.
What do you do when you’re not drawing or painting?
I play my guitar and I sing, I like hanging out with friends at my gallery/art studio, you meet the most interesting people in creative spaces.
I saw the iron pot seats at the exhibition you had at the Oriental Hotel in Lagos, and I was completely awed. Where did the idea come from?
I had an exhibition at the South Korean Cultural Centre and while I was there I saw a chair made from a pot and thought that I could make something similar. I really like the idea, so I transplanted it.
Are you working on any ways of improving your art?
Every day, as I live I learn.
Are we going to see Laolu Senbanjo art on T-shirts or mugs any time soon?
Lol, I’ve actually done a few shirts, the thing is getting them done just right, printers in Nigeria have issues with some of my art, they aren’t able to work with complex/intricate designs. Once I sort out production issues, most definitely, you’ll see wallpaper and fabrics as well.
You’re currently based in Abuja. Can you tell us about the art circuit in Abuja?
Abuja’s art scene is growing, it’s nowhere near as active as Lagos. There are a few galleries but most art events still happen in embassies and in people’s homes.
Do you have any plans for an art school in the works?
Not as a student, I would love to teach art though. I’m looking at several artist in residence positions.
Do you have any advice for any budding artists who are secretly scrawling on notepads behind their desks right now
Lol, I don’t think I’m in a position to be motivating people (yet) but, I’d say keep drawing.
What is the long term plan for Laolu Senbanjo’s art and Afromysterics in a nut shell?
Basically we’d like ppl to recognize the potential of art to be used to transmit ideas, messages and concepts. We want to work with architects, advertising agencies, fashion designers, basically anyone interested in harnessing the ability of art to communicate ideas and abstract concepts in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Just for fun:
What would you do if you won a $10,000,000 lottery?
Tough one…I will let you know when I win.
Are you a denim or cotton kind of guy?
Hmm, I’d rock both, no special preference
What do you do for fun?
Err, I draw, play my guitar, sing. I like hanging out at my art studio/gallery, of which y’all should mention the address somewhere abeg, I like having people visit.
Who would you like to be stuck on an island with? Jessica Alba or Scarlett Johannson?
Can’t I have both? Okay then if I absolutely must… Scarlett Johansson
Watch him here!
You can find out more about Laolu here. The Afromysterics Gallery is at No 17, Aba Close off Lokoja Street, off Ogbomosho Street, behind chicken republic in Area 8, Garki, FCT, Abuja.