Laolu pays homage to his Yoruba culture
Bold, white swirls and symbols on dark skin…These are the images that captured the public’s imagination upon seeing hugely successful pop star Beyoncé’s black-and-white music video for her single “Sorry”. These images made a strong impact, accompanied by spoken words, written by poet Warsan Shire. And it made the world take notice of Nigerian born artist Laolu.
“Everything is my canvas,” says Laolu NYC, who works on various media including charcoal, acrylics, inks, and wood. Through his collaboration with Beyoncé on her Lemonade album, he became even more popular for his signature work that draws inspiration from his roots. “This Yoruba body painting ritual is a spiritually-intimate experience, and it’s cathartic for me and my muse.”
Drawing on the Sacred Art of the Ori, he marries modern details with the ornate style of his heritage, pioneering Afrofuturism Art: “A lot of my work is heavily influenced by the culture of my Yoruba heritage.” Ori in Yoruba means “head”–from which wisdom comes.
Laolu (Olaolu) Isaac Senbanjo was born and raised in Ilorin, Kwara state, to a family of lawyers. He had felt the passion for art earlier on but his family, especially his father, prodded him to devote his time and efforts to a more stable and financially rewarding pursuit. He finished his degree and even worked for the National Human Rights Commission. But finally, in 2013, he heeded his true calling and became a struggling artist in Brooklyn, New York. This led to estrangement from his family, especially his father, who saw art as a sideline, not a career, at least not a viable one.
Laolu established Afromysterics—a unique style that reflects African themes and traditions. He has gone into collaboration with brands like Equinox Fitness, Nike, and Kenneth Cole, and artists like Alicia Keys, Black Coffee, Swizz Beatz, and Usher. He not only draws from the traditions of his people, but also sings songs in his native Yoruba or translates to English Yoruba folk songs. “With my art, I like to tell stories, I like to start a conversation,” he has said.
After his popularity soared and his works were given credence by establishments such as the Smithsonian and Brooklyn Museum, even his family back home realized that he had a unique vision. “Every artist has a story and every artist has a name.”
With the world now listening, Laolu continues to use his talent to share the story of his people with a wider audience. “Art is pure and honest. Every time I put my mark on something, it’s going to stop you in your tracks and you’re going to feel something. If it doesn’t, I’m not doing my job.”