Joseph Obanubi: On Afro-Surrealism and Metaphysics

Joseph Obanubi: On Afro-Surrealism and Metaphysics

Joseph Obanubi is a Lagos-based visual artist who employs multimedia to convey ideas. With a background in advertising and graphic design, his works explore identity and fantasy, a mix of reality and delusion, confined within the context of globalisation. He considers his work to be a visual bricolage—a (re)construct of different subjects taken from their original context into a new one with their preconceived meanings replaced with a new line of thought. Obanubi’s approach is mostly surreal and Afro-futuristic, providing an alternative way of seeing regular things.

His goal is to give new insight into ways of seeing things, especially the ones in unusual places that lie around us. In this interview with Omenka, he talks about the commission he will be creating for the British Council Lagos office, Afro-surrealism, and the metaphysical in his work.

Congratulations on winning the 2019 British Council Art Showcase prize for emerging artists. Please give us an insight into the commission you will create for the British Council Lagos office.

Thank you so much. Basically, I will be creating a new work titled ‘Lagbaja,’ which refers to no one in particular, which could also mean “anybody,” a four-panel work (quadriptych) which will depict four diverse families (reflecting contemporary society) interacting in a surreal space with their natural form swapped with simple elements of day-to-day technology. This will highlight how [such technology] can be used to mirror metaphysics in African context. With this work, I’ll be exploring navigation of spaces, movement, diversity, universality of technology, and continuity in human interactions.

You hold a BA and MFA in visual arts from the University of Lagos. In both instances, you specialised in graphics. What inspired this decision, and what clear advantages did graphics have for you over other media, like painting?

From a young age, I have always been interested in creative forms as well as in the artistic process. As I became conscious of my draughtsmanship skill, I developed an interest in visual aesthetics and minimalistic designs, especially the blend of photography, typography, and shapes. This gave impetus to my pursuit of graphic design at the university level. As I proceeded further into design, I discovered its essence was to create, innovate, and proffer solutions or solve problems artistically. It was at this point I became more interested in advertising. Advertising broadened my perspective on art, as it was something I hadn’t previously done. I enjoy graphic design immensely and have a keen interest in creative briefs.

In a practical sense, good designers are primarily problem solvers, because they seek to understand the primary objective, target audience, message, and strategic nuances of an assignment before producing an effective design. Each project I have undertaken involves a certain amount of research and creativity, which is both challenging and exciting.

Cloud Mischief, 2018. Photo courtesy the artist

‘Altered Reality and Escapes,’ ‘Techno Heads’ (ongoing), ‘Performance in Public Spaces’ (ongoing) and ‘Wrap Your Minds Around’ are the bodies of work you have preoccupied yourself with since graduation. What is the connecting thread between them?

As an artist, my goal is to give insight into ways of seeing and to blur the line between what is and what may be, as well as continued human interactions. All these are what I constantly find myself engaged with.

Images of motorcycle parts appear in several of the works in your series ‘Techno Heads,’ which examines globalisation as it affects movement—navigation of spaces, technology, and continued human interactions. What deeper meaning do they imply?

I merge automobile parts with human forms to communicate an idea of metaphysics in African context—the concepts of “magic” and “altered reality” amongst others—and how this could suggest liberation for Africans in contemporary society. In reality, there is no such thing as a human with a bike head or bike headlight. This is surreal, and in this manner, I communicate the idea of metaphysics.

Power Walk I, 2018. Photo courtesy the artist

What purpose does the bubble serve in your work?

The bubble tends to represent the ephemeral nature of human existence, and it replaces the subject’s “head” in my work. With this, I tend to situate the work in an African context, in which emphasis is placed on the head of the subject as an integral part of the being.

Kindly take us through your creative process.

I consider my work a visual bricolage, a reconstruct of different subjects taken out of their usual context into a new one with their preconceived meanings replaced with a new line of thought. My approach is mostly Afro-surrealistic/futuristic. My work is a blend of fact and fantasy, truth and mischief, as well as reality and delusion. I am constantly trying to divulge the creative potential of my unconscious mind through the irrational juxtaposition of my subjects. My goal is to give new insight into the way we see things, especially the ones in unusual places that lie around us.

Power Walk III, 2019. Photo courtesy the artist

‘Performance in Public Spaces’ examines the multiplicity of non-sacred ritual performances in public spaces in Lagos. How do you think public spaces shape human behaviour and interactions?

In my opinion, human behaviour, experiences, and interactions in public spaces are influenced by the different features of these spaces, which range from the physical to the social and cultural. So, in this manner, I believe these spaces have the power to affect people’s behaviour and shape interactions.

You exhibited at the 2018 edition of LagosPhoto. What was the experience like?

The reception was surreal, and I am glad that I engaged more people with my work. I remain thankful for the platform.

Joseph Obanubi


adeoluwa oluwajoba is an artist, critic and art writer. He holds a B.A in Fine and Applied Arts from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and is currently the Programme Officer at The Ben Enwonwu Foundation.

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