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Laolu Senbanjo: Spreading African Spirituality Through Art

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

One of the rare few Nigerians who have successfully built a name for themselves outside of their own home country, Laolu Senbanjo is not a traditional artist per se. More so, he's a man on a mission to spread African spirituality through the medium of art.


 



Despite centuries of attempts to silence it, African spirituality is a force that cannot be contained by the chains of colonialism, slavery, or oppression. It is a force that has existed before we were born and will continue to exist beyond our own brief time here on Earth. For more than two decades, Laolu Senbanjo has used his art to spread messages of African spirituality.


Beginnings


Senbanjo, who was born in the 1980s, grew up surrounded by the culture and mythology of the Yoruba, an ethnic group from southwest Nigeria, but he had no idea how it would shape the artist he is today. From a very young age, he was drawn to art. He didn't take art seriously as a child because his father was a lawyer and his mother was a nurse, and they told him it "wasn't practical" as a career. Following his scholarly endeavors, he studied law at Nigeria's Law School and graduated in 2005, despite wanting to drop out during his second year. He then worked as a human rights lawyer for five years, the last three of which he spent as a senior legal officer at the National Human Rights Commission, focusing on women's and children's rights. During this time, he traveled throughout Northern Nigeria, visiting schools and villages to educate men and women about the importance of education for children.


Yet, art remained his first love even as he advanced in his legal career. This unyielding passion eventually caused strife within the family, particularly between Senbanjo and his father. In Nigeria, respectable professions were culturally understood to be in one of the following fields: law, medicine, or engineering. Regardless, Senbanjo decided to pursue a career in art in 2013, but he believed that in order to truly make a living from it, he would have to leave his home. He eventually relocated to New York City, where he has worked as a full-time artist ever since.


Beauty In The Struggle


Life as an artist in New York was difficult at first. His life became focused on creating work and attempting to connect with people in the art community. It was arduous and fraught with conflict. To make money, he started painting on clothing and other things and personalizing them for wearers. Despite being in a foreign country, pursuing his aspirations in New York would bring him closer to home. He began sourcing his artistic expression from a place that felt very familiar to him. His art began to draw largely on his Yoruba legacy, a sanctity inspired by the teachings his paternal grandmother gave him about his people's history, culture, and rituals at a young age. Senbanjo eventually coined his painting style, Afromysterics, which means "mystery of the African thought pattern." It integrates African ideas and practices. He created expressively sophisticated, story-rich artworks using charcoal and white paint Using these elements, he created unusual patterns that relied largely on his Yoruba ancestry and used old Nigerian symbols and motifs. More impressively, he would frequently employ the human body as his primary canvas in order to provide a visceral and worldly catalyst to his distinct art style.


My style of art is called “afro-mysterics” it simply means the mystery of the African thought pattern. These masterpieces are full of meaning and deep thinking. My art is spiritual. Nothing in life happens by accident. Art is what you call it. Life is what you make it. Every symbol has a meaning. Every face has an expression. The different patterns tell their own stories. -Laolu Senbanjo





Spirituality, Visualized



He termed this form of body art 'The Sacred Art of The Ori,'' which is a visible expression of one's spirit. He mostly employed this on the human figure. In this case, he drew inspiration from Orishas; Yoruba gods and goddesses to show a person in their most authentic form. He graphically conveys the insightful teachings of ancient Orishas into a work of art in a quest to seek ways to carry on their eternal knowledge in the present day. He graces his subjects with patterns using his pervasive white marker, based on an instinctive perception of what exists within his subject. Every contour, every stroke, and every symbol he produces has a deeper meaning, and he uses them to play with the subject's persona. His methodology of body painting immerses both his muse and himself in a spiritual bond with the African heritage and each other.


A Cultural Impact In The Making



Over the last few years, he has received countless commissions from celebrities and brand titans such as Nike, Beyoncé's album Lemonade, the Grammy Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as created collaborations with them. Senbanjo's new philosophy is "everything is my canvas," and he now paints on everything from shoes, and apparel, to commercial products and, of course, people. Today, his art conveys messages on religion, war, politics, tech, Egyptology, sexuality, economics, environmental waste, social media, culture, music, greed, and the human condition. A powerful design unites each piece of the work influenced by his Yoruba origin, as it does in most of his works. Using his last two decades of work as an example, he'll continue to be a prolific messenger of African spirituality.


Follow Your Orí


Follow Your Orí is a blog space dedicated to providing knowledge about natural hair growth, holistic health, mental and physical wellbeing, and other things that can help you live a better life. Orí, which translates to "head" in Yoruba, alludes to one's spiritual intuition and destiny. It is the reflected spark of human awareness buried inside our human essence, and as such, it is frequently personified as an Orisha, or deity in its own right. The Yoruba religion believes that through working with the Orishas to establish a balanced character or iwa-pele, one may cure themselves both spiritually and physically. When one's character is balanced, one achieves alignment with one's Orí or divine self.


Follow your Orí now and purchase Orisha Drip, our all-natural hair oil formulated to awaken your ashé. Learn more by clicking here.





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