If you have seen Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade, then the work of Nigerian visual artist, Laolu Senbanjo, would have caught your attention. His powerful spiritual body art was featured on dancers in some of the scenes.
Senbanjo has been drawing for as long as he can remember but coming from a traditional African family, he had to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an attorney. He worked as a human rights attorney in Lagos, Nigeria, until he moved to New York City in 2013.
“I never gave up my love for art. I used to have my work featured in galleries around Lagos, but it wasn’t until I quit my job as a lawyer and moved to New York that I did art full-time,” Senbanjo told ESSENCE.
His parents were not very happy about him leaving the law profession, but after the Beyoncé collaboration, their views on the subject changed. Now they are his biggest fans.
Senbanjo calls his art form the “Sacred Art of the Ori,” a phrase a coined after extensive research into Yoruba mythology and rituals. “It’s how I imagine people would look if they walked around as gods from Yoruba culture. I draw inspiration from some of the deities from Yoruba mythology, he said.”
He has used a lot of art mediums, from acrylic on canvas, to charcoal and dabbling in oils, but it was when he moved to New York that he decided to take himself out of the box and start something new.
He started putting his art on shoes, t-shirts, guitars and one day at AfroPunk did body paint for the first time. “Everybody was just going crazy and taking pictures. After that is when everything took a life of its own.” He received an email from Beyonce inviting him to work with her on a music video. Until he met her in New Orleans, he thought he was being punked.
Senbanjo, indeed the embodiment of an all-around artist, is also a musician. He calls his style of music Afromysterics, yet another term he coined. He says it is “the mystery of the African thought pattern.”
He considers himself a keeper of the culture and strives to keep his Yoruba culture alive in both his visual art and his music.
You can catch Senbanjo at the ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans.