Home / Art  / For Joshua Akinwumi; Art is Expression

For Joshua Akinwumi; Art is Expression

Joshua Akinwumi’s works are simply inspired by a need to convey the je ne sais quois that defines African art. The message evokes roots and its execution borders on contemporary and traditional– even when he wanders beyond photography and tries to use technology as a tool for expression. The themes are emotive, and emotions— raw. Pictures are ripped straight from imagination, they are dreamlike– flailing ethereal, dropping by surreal. The “Jo” series is frenzy preserved in stasis, within frozen frames are fleshed out stories of movements.


Born in Nigeria to a middle class family of a Nurse, and Teacher– Joshua tapped into his technical part at a young age. His brother was more of the artist, while he fixed devices as a hobby. Joshua at the time scribbled, but didn’t draw, yet still encountered art in children books that his folks read to him. “I think my awareness started when I was little, seeing books like “My Book of Bible Stories”, some paintings in some bible documentaries, and my dad’s medical textbooks back at home. I used to flip through them a lot back then.”


By the time Joshua got into the university, he began to experiment with design applications and discovered a mixed-media style for his art. Joshua, otherwise known as Motayo Gallery, explores culture in depth, matching his approach with proper research. “I have attended a number of festivals.” Joshua says “Osun-Osogbo festivals, Ulefunta festivals, Egungun festivals, I have met some of the custodians of cultures that are still living, I have photographed Obaluaye, the current custodian to Osun goddess so I am not just putting together what is inside myself based on what I feel, I have seen these things.”


A lady in royal regalia sitting waterside, this piece is titled "Oya" and it alludes to the goddess of sea.


Joshua joined the 2020s mass exodus out of Nigeria after firsthand experience with Police brutality. In the biting cold of the UK, trying to rebuild from scratch and in search of a glimmer of home, he ran to art for refuge and decided to create the “Ibeji” project. Ibeji in Yoruba means twins. And a project of this direction is right up Joshua’s alley. There is mysticism around twins, there is mystique around births too. In fact, when it comes to the Yoruba culture, almost everything carries a touch of poetry within. The Yorubas lend some heavy handedness into the mundanities of waking life. You can tell in the adages, expressions– and a phrase as simple as “Good morning” can be interpreted a multitude of ways. 


On taking the time to gather a crew that bought into the vision to help find individuals fitting and willing to be subjects, a vital member of the crew pulled out, leaving with her a level of feasibility for execution. Despaired, Joshua decided to use technology as a vehicle to channel his idea. “A lot of times, schedules would conflict with my creative team, another challenge was being able to translate my ideas to my Afro-caribbean or European creative teams. My ideas were a bit different from theirs.” Joshua continues, “I can remember when I was going to shoot a series, I have been able to gather all resources with my team, it was a delicate shoot because we had to do it underwater with a mother and child. It’s not every model that was able to do such. Two days to the agreed project day, the model pulled out. It was very difficult to get a competent replacement in such a short time so I had to let it go.” He started experimenting with AI art, and has since been able to explore realities that his resources wouldn’t otherwise afford.


The Ibeji project is royal, regale is the word. Generated images of twins spanning different ages, unsmiling and stoic. Their attires are fit for coronation, the background bears tribal prints. Even the imperfections known to AI present here does not water down the message, rather it emphasizes the artist’s intentions through the project. Where themes and feelings trump visual aesthetic. This is how it has always been through Joshua’s works even while photographing human subjects.


This piece is called Ibeji, and it features African twins sitting on a chair with tribal markings, it is AI generated.


Joshua’s works for Motayo gallery has gained attention in the UK art circuit, exhibiting at London West Gallery, University of Westminster in October 2022 for Black history month. S.B artstudions in London, Aphorism hosted by TheHolyart Gallery, and the 2023 UK talent fusion hosted by OneartOneworld. He has also been invited to discuss topics of AI intersection with Art due to his success as an early adopter.


Joshua of Motayo Gallery aims to reinforce the importance of foundation and roots for every African that comes in contact with his works. “In my own way, I want to enlighten Africans that they can be proud of their roots, their culture, their belief system and their heritage. I want to rewrite the wrong narratives about the black race using my art as a medium to change these. I want us to be proud of where we have come from and the goodness surrounding us.” And these themes remain evident in his works, and in his person.