Painter, and artist– Olalekan Odunbori has improved on the conversation around what African art really is with a series of thought experiments that build on European styles within traditional contexts. His works are African through and through, and his delivery makes it accessible to all.
Olalekan was born and raised in Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria. He discovered he could draw while he was in primary four and then decided to take this passion further by studying Fine Art at Yaba College of Technology for his tertiary education, where he majored in painting and graduated in 2012. Through studies, he found to favour Acrylic on canvas; however, it took Lekan a bit longer to find a style that allowed him to express himself fully.
In 2017, Lekan attended Art X Lagos, an art fair in West Africa, and encountered Patrick Akpojotor’s works which resonated with him. Patrick’s work blends abstraction with Cubism, using shades and texture in a way that draws you in because they’re tame to the eye. The Cubism style was popularized in 1906 by Pablo Picasso and George Braque to show multiple perspectives of single objects and create strong impressions.
Lekan resonated with these paintings and then adopted Cubism as his style creating various works of art that show his evolution over time. A notable example is the “Save Our Planet” project, a series that challenges industrial complexes using elements like pollution, transportation, and city planning as vehicles. The backgrounds have single solid colors, while the figures within the paintings are mostly monochrome. One of them has a young boy holding up a burning trash can that pushes smoke from the top and bottom: into the subject’s mouth and the atmosphere.
According to Lekan, “Save Our Planet” is his “response to the problem of global warming and environmental pollution” He was moved to making this after reading a report from WHO on how it contributes to yearly premature deaths. The “Save Our Planet” paintings can also be interpreted as a metaphor for how we engage the current capitalist landscape. As it destroys our environment, it also shapes the way we speak and process events around us. Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Lekan uses Cubism to express himself from an African perspective. His colors are bold; they jump at you. He leaves clues of his past in his art as elements within the works carry memorabilia he must have experienced during childhood. A particular painting, “Igbasile (The Rescue), “ shows a young man reading Alawiiye, a Yoruba textbook found in secondary school curriculums across the Western part of Nigeria. Written by J.F Odunjo, Alawiiye tries to instill moralist values that align with the Yoruba “omoluabi” ideology. Omoluabi emphasizes manners and respect for elders within Yoruba culture. The Yoruba greetings: kneeling and prostration are subsets of this. He adds personal commentary within this painting as the subject has a padlock in his tongue, reflecting a certain suppression of speech that comes with the modern political climate.
Another notable aspect of Lekan’s style is the symmetry between various parts that make up his paintings. “Game of Brain,” is a flashy artwork where perspectives rest on inclined angles that almost looks like a sliding puzzle begging to be rearranged. They invite viewers to take a second glance and again, and again. Lekan knows this as well, he prides himself in the patterns within his works. Designs that can be likened to what is seen in Yoruba attires like the Adire and Ankara. The influences vary across paintings, but an enduring theme is the cultural and traditional factor.
While Lekan’s efforts are apparent, and he has sold some paintings. It seems artists need more than skill to garner success in the art world. There is a need for an audience, demand, connection, placement, luck and most importantly, the timeliness of the craft. Lekan balances painting with graphic design: painting being the vehicle of expression and design being the profit-facing side of his passion. “Both are art,” he says.
Olalekan Odunbori and his peculiar african art has been exhibited at the Lasgidi Cultural Arts event, the society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) October Rain Art Exhibition, Thought Pyramid Gallery Lagos, Diversiform 3, Art Hub Lagos amongst others. In December 2022, he is slated to exhibit at ArtViaYou Art Gala Auction in London. He also has his works minted within the NFT community, balancing traditional ways of selling art with the new. As he continues to improve his craft, Lekan expresses interest in exploring black subjects and vintage damask patterns, seeing this as a way to reinvent the old in a new light. He remains an African, and he remains an artist. Lekan is only 33 years old.
Oyedele Alokan writes and edits for theblotted. Engage on Instagram @omoalokan.