LAOLU SENBANJO, A MODERN DAY RENAISSANCE MAN
Laolu Senbanjo is a 34-year-old human rights lawyer, activist, actor and self-taught visual artist and musician. He studied Law at the University of Ilorin, and had a stint as a an attorney in Lagos before setting up as an artist in Brooklyn, New York. Here, he broke into mainstream pop culture with his Yoruba inspired art he calls “Afromysterics” meaning mystery of the African thought pattern. Staying true to his heritage, he reveals that much goes into the philosophical artworks he produces due to the amount of research done for each piece.
Senbanjo’s oeuvre is often compared to those of Twins Seven Seven, the late Osogbo artist who inspired him, as well as Salvador Dali, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Pablo Picasso. Starting with charcoal early in his career because for him, it is one of the oldest art materials, Senbanjo now incorporates other media in his work like ink and acrylic. He kept practicing his art despite not selling a single work at his first exhibition, which was held at the Elephant House, Ikeja in December 2009.“I honed my skills drawing at Law School when I should have been paying attention, but I guess it was worth it!”
Earlier this year in March, he signed a Nike Air Max customized sneaker deal and was named Master of Air for Nike, weaving stories through lines and patterns at Air Max Con New York. He has consequently been featured in international media like Vogue. “When I first heard Lupita’s story, I felt like hey, that could be me. Stay faithful, stay in your craft. What’s done in the dark soon comes into light. It is only a matter of time.”
Laolu Senbanjo with some hand painted Nike Air sneakers.
Known for his body painting sacred art of the Ori, which he explains thus: “In my language, Yoruba, Ori literally means your essence, your soul, your destiny and it also comes with a mantra. It is a spiritually intimate experience and is cathartic for both my muse and I. When I work with a muse, the muse, their Ori and I become one. My art form is physically drawing what is on the inside, what is in your soul, and your essence and being, on your canvas which is the skin. It’s the deepest most spiritual experience I’ve ever had with my art. It’s amazing and energizing. The connection is phenomenal!” In Omawumi Megbele’s Play na Play music video featuring Angélique Kidjo, he is seen in a hand painted white jacket, painting Omawumi’s body while one of his works serves as a backdrop.
The art of Ori being done on Seun Kuti.
Laolu Senbanjo with Davido before a performance.
Laolu Senbanjo with Angelique Kidjo before their performance.
Senbanjo’s musical style is deeply rooted in the traditions of Afrobeat and high life, mixed with Afro-soul and reggae, reminiscent of Fela and Pharrell. He often sings in his native tongue, Yoruba and in Pidgin English like Fela. The self-taught guitarist and pianist is the lead singer-songwriter of Laolu & the Afromysterics Band, a talented group of musicians from all over the world. Their diversity brings different elements to every performance and even though New York-based, they have performed in Germany, France and South Africa. As a human rights lawyer who specializes in women and children’s rights, Laolu Senbanjo often sings about social justice issues and feminism. Senbanjo has performed on stage with Angélique Kidjo in addition to painting on her body for one of her recent performances in New York. He has also worked with Beyoncé on her Lemonade music video, as well as with Seun Kuti, Davido and several other international music stars on their live performances and music videos.
As an actor, Laolu Senbanjo has starred in the web series, Assorted Meat by Oluseyi Olatujoye. The series is about three Nigerians living together in Brooklyn, New York and it highlights the social, political and cultural issues they face in their environment.
Image credits: Laolu Senbanjo
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