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Laolu Senbanjo speaks on Beyonce, Nike and dumping Law for art

In just five short years, Laolu Senbanjo has created an artistic legacy that many spend decades trying to build.

Having arrived in New York with nothing but a dream, he has scaled the dizzying heights of success having worked with brands like Nike, Bvlgari and being summoned to work on Beyonce's 'Lemonade' project.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Laolu may have let the success get to his head, after all, who could remain humble with the achievements he has racked up but as he pops out of his hotel lift, dressed in all black with his signature white face paintings and envelops me in a warm bear hug. Laolu feels like reuniting with an old friend.

Laolu Senbanjo speaks on Beyonce, Nike and dumping Law for art

play Laolu adorned in his Sacred Art of the Ori Creation (Muhammad Atta Ahmed)

As we begin the interview, the artist is chatty, unguarded and earnest. He talks as if he himself can't quite believe how far he has come. There's a childlike disbelief as he talks about working with Beyonce and strolling through New Orleans chatting with the CEO of Parkwood Entertainment, Steve Pamon with the familiarity of an old college buddy.

Laolu Senbanjo speaks on Beyonce, Nike and dumping Law for art

play The foundation of the Sacred Art of the Ori ritual is the Yoruba religious practice of becoming one with yourself or awakening the God in you (Ori). (Equinox)

Laolu mentions with a small smile that if he had known who Steve was at the time, he may not have shared some of what he did but that's part of his appeal, he is so refreshingly candid, so unspoilt by the world in which he has found himself and so willing to share his story which will undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to many artists looking to make that leap.

Still A Naija Boy

Despite being embraced by New York, even imbibing the city into his art name, Laolu NYC, he is still very much rooted in his heritage, it's in his art, it flows through his veins. Wherever he goes he is the personification of 'omo naija'.

"Awon Boys" #SacredArtoftheOri #Nigeria #Eko #Art #omoyoruba #everythingismycanvas #lasgidi #noplacelikehome

A post shared by Laolu (@laolunyc) on Jan 6, 2018 at 10:02am PST


He states, ''When you are Nigerian, you really are an ambassador for the country without even realising it. My art has allowed me not only to express myself but also educate people and I never thought that I would be in that kind of space to do that. Art has been that tool that has brought me in front of a lot of people and allowed me to explain what it means to be Nigerian. I explain to them what the imagery I use signifies and I take them to Nigeria without them having to move an inch which is a unique thing.''

Leap Of Faith

Laolu began his journey, not with a canvas, but with a law book as he majored as a human rights lawyer in Nigeria's capital. He states,''I went to law school in Bwari in Abuja and then I started working as a lawyer. First, I worked at Diamond Bank in customer service but I couldn't do it. The hours were so long and exhausting and everybody was so happy I was working in a bank except me. When I quit my job working at the human rights commissions, it was borne out of the fact that I couldn't combine being an artist and doing a 9-5, it was very challenging. I decided that the kind of art I wanted to do needed more of my time, more practice and more focus.''

I am proud to say that I am a human rights lawyer with the Nigerian Human Rights Commission specializing in Women's/Children's Rights. Since childhood, I was chasing my father's dream of becoming a lawyer. When I said I wanted to be an Artist, my folks asked 'do you think you are Picasso?' I said 'Yes.' After I was called to the Bar; working as a lawyer I was often caught drawing at work, dividing my legal career and creating Art till the wee hours of the morning, often with no electricity. My clients had very challenging lives. I often worked with child brides trying to escape marriage for education. Nobody should have to choose marriage over education. I carried their burdens around with me in my daily life. Creating was a way to unload this burden onto canvas. This is my story. I am not telling African stories, I am telling my story. I happen to be Yoruba man and therefore I tell Yoruba stories. However, I grew up in a colonial situation where we don't own our narrative, nor our culture, we instead are ashamed and try and lock it away and appropriate the culture of the White man or the Brits. Funny how we revel in the religion but not the technology. We learn Greek Mythology and are taught that our own Yoruba Mythology is bad or is devil worship hence we need saving. Thanks to those movies that help to scare/condition our minds. Naija people know what I'm talking about i.e. (ayamatanga)lol However, I am here telling my narrative, and my goal as an artist is to re-create and re-interpret that narrative. My Yoruba Gods and Godesses should be known by all and I am not one dimensional. I create Art to be impactful and use my knowledge as a Lawyer to provide deeper dialogue, conversations and understanding of often complicated situations. My Art works and success is a BIG MIDDLE FINGER to all those who said I COULD NEVER! I have proven that hard work, practice and determination is enough to become Successful. Never give up on yourself.

A post shared by Laolu (@laolunyc) on Mar 17, 2017 at 4:26pm PDT


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