by Rachel Vancelette for Urban Mindz
Nigerian visual artist, musician, singer/songwriter, and former human rights attorney, Laolu Senbanjo, moved to NYC in 2013 to pursue his dreams in the US after leaving his Art Gallery in Abuja, Nigeria. He grew up surrounded by the culture and mythology of the Yoruba, an ethnic group from the southwest of Nigeria, but he had no idea how it would influence his art in the years to come. He describes the style of his artwork as “Afromysterics,” meaning “the mystery of the African thought pattern”, which he coined himself.
When asked by the HuffPost what made him coin his art as “Afromysterics,” Senbanjo replied that “There’s a lot of riches in the Yoruba culture. It has a lot of heavy patterns. It has a lot of proverbs. It has a lot of Yoruba style art. And a lot of this art is based on stories, like folklore or stories passed down from my grandmother, for example, to me. And I would listen to those stories about Yoruba mythology or the orishas or the gods, for example. Orishas are like gods you know, like we have the Greek gods. We have the orisha, the Yoruba orishas.”
Video montage of Laolu Senbajo's Artwork (Video credit: Rachel Vancelette)
Senbanjo says he employs “The Sacred Art of the Ori,” in his creations, an art that uses human skin as canvas and connects the artist and muse through mind, body and soul. Using ancient prototypes for his blueprints, human elements begin to spring from the individual he works with, igniting conversations. We notice he seems to customize his work weaving his artistic creativity together with ancient aboriginal practices still employed by indigenous tribes wherever they reside, especially in Africa. Ignoring the many strict guidelines used in ancient body painting practices and personal ornamentation, his works still echoes the many cultural and spiritual traditions which carry deep spiritual significance for the tribes who honor them.
Many have tried to pigeon-hole Senbanjo into one discipline or another, but this multifaceted, multi-layered creative simply cannot be put into one box or another as he spreads his wings in artistic communities breaking boundaries and surging forward.
Among the many collaborations which have brought him into the spotlight include body paintings in Beyonce’s music video for “Lemonade;” designing a perfume bottle for Bvlgari and bottles for Belvedere Vodka; a body painting for Serena Williams’ cover of Essence Magazine; Collaborations with Nike, Starbucks and Equinox Fitness.
In addition to his body paintings and decorating bottles, Senbajo also includes his artistic designs on footwear and clothing and lives by the mantra “everything is my canvas.” There has been a debate for years as to whether art is fashion and/or is fashion art? Senbanjo's work, whether on the human body or a coffee cup, remains art in spite of the ongoing discussion. In fact, when asked during a red carpet interview in 2016, ‘What do you think of the conversation between art and fashion?,’ American Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour stated:
“If the greatest museum in world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, can celebrate and put a spotlight on costume as an art form, I think the public at large would agree. They come in the hundreds of thousands to see the exhibition, so to me it is no longer really a question – IT IS FACT!”
Whatever his canvas or form - design, fashion, painting or art on the human body - Senbanjo’s work manages to employ and integrate many beloved African themes and traditions, as he believes strongly in “holding onto your culture and spreading its glory.”
[The red carpet interview mentioned in this article with American Vogue editor-in chief, Anna Wintour, was conducted by the author of this article, Rachel Vancelette.]