27 Apr #GraphicLemons: Good Reflection with Niyi Okeowo.
My articles are sometimes really close to me cause it’s also a mirror to who I am as I interact with these minds, I can find myself completely lost in their words. It’s euphoric meeting all these vibrant souls, you can’t find anything better than young black Africans rising to prominence. I always talk about the importance of getting more people involved in conversing, educating and recording the things going on around us by giving the pioneers a space to express themselves. First with their art, then their voice.
“Personally think art is a powerful form of expression, Visual or audio. As a social tool, it’s really powerful and deeper than surface level.” Niyi first few statements to an enlightening discussion. Art is a tool I find very raw and important in terms of reaching a large audience, the new age picked up on that.
“We’ve seen art used in different forms, From protests to campaigns and just as a way of improving society as a whole. In terms of being a social tool, Artists like Shepard Fairey and JR have mastered the art of using art as a social tool. A lot of ideas would be lost without art or it’s visual advantages. Art for me is expressing yourself, it has to come from a genuine place. That’s why people can almost feel the same feeling you felt when you were creating art.” Niyi couldn’t have said it better, tapping into this form could be the first state of setting us open and feeding them our perspectives liberation.
We can’t be caged and limited, “being a multidisciplinary creative comes easy because of it is one big ecosystem. Graphic arts, photography, 3D & animation all fall under the same umbrella and most of the projects I work on involve the first 3 mentioned, so it’s pretty easy for me, graphic arts are just stylized images (photography) and animations are just moving images (photography ). I’ve always loved the imagery, I can hardly read books without images.”
Finding the passion of others can be a great revelation for those fighting with the morals of society, sometimes the past of other generations hold our skin ransom, still as Niyi says “I look up to a lot of rebels, the people steve jobs spoke about, the ones that didn’t / don’t care about the status quo. I really don’t pay attention to anyone who tells me that I can’t do something because it’s foreign or hasn’t been done or because they can’t do it. It sounds cliche, but do what makes you happy, life is so short. I’m not about to spend my time on earth, worrying about external voices trying to drown me or kill my mojo. Most times, it’s hard for parents to understand why their kids will opt for the creative route instead of getting a SAFE job.” With those words, he shows a quality backed up in his work, his view in self-expressing without conforming to any rule, a direction we should all embrace in our craft as the new age is shaped up. The best way to interpret art is when you let it turn directly from within and Niyi seems to have this on lockdown. We have to solve our problems and find ourselves by doing us.
“Being a creative saved my life, I didn’t do well in school. I wasn’t dull, I just didn’t understand what I was studying. I passed courses that had to do with creativity and all but overall I didn’t understand why I was studying mass communication. Accidentally started using photoshop in year 2, and it was this new world to me, the endless possibilities. I’d spend day and night in the library and elect building in Covenant University, trying to wrap my mind around this software. It felt really alien at the time, but I was determined to see it through. Minutes before exams I’d be in the library researching new tutorial. Back then there was this site, it still exists anyways, “Abduzeedo” it was my holy grail, my bible in school. I’d go on the site every day and just learn all the tutorials I could learn, by 300level I was ready to drop out, but lord bless my parents and loving family with them I saw it through and it’s been magic since then. Don’t really care about the views of others, I’m the ‘if it works for me, I’ll do it’ type of person. I rarely suffer from peer pressure or the voices of others, 80% of the time I follow my intuition. I don’t know where I’m at now, but I know my intuition has rarely failed me. There are jobs, career paths and other opportunities I’ve turned down because of my intuition. Besides I hardly surround myself with people who either, don’t get the vision / or people who just want to bring down my mood/vibe.” Words from Niyi giving us a peek into what he was as an artist, the feelings he has, feelings of being connected to something greater than him. To be called for a purpose as we all feel in a new age.
Niyi’s words come from a man who’s honestly happy about the growth he’s always pushed for, “everything I create is a reflection of my life, observation, and mood. FUTURA was based on my depression and anxiety and me wanting to kill myself and becoming a recluse. When I take pictures and distort colors, it usually comes from a place of wanting to be in some wonderland type scenarios. I am not a fan of ‘basic colors’ not to discredit God’s amazing use of colors on the planet but I like ramped up colors that’s why movies with a lot of colors always make me happy, regardless of bad acting. the new ‘Thor’ trailer gets me in terms of colors, Big Sean’s Bounce back is another example of the colors I like, everything I work on is a reflection of my mood/observation of the world unless it’s a project where I had little or no creative control but when it comes to personal projects, I go all the way out with colors.” His words definitely color the mind too.
More is happing in the art scene for Africa, Nigeria, there’s a lot more curiosity in the will of expression, we want to know who we are and why we are creating, and art being the most explosive form of creativity is growing to really give us a voice. Just recently AfriKultur by A&I concept curated through the beautiful minds Isabella Agbaje and Ayo Lawson was a showcase of New Age/Millennial minds was done by A&I concepts and it touched my fucking soul
Not only are we expressing more we are bringing ourselves together to feel this greatness, to explore it within a space and you’re damn right Niyi showcased, his work FUTURA. “the idea came last year in May, I think, originally it was supposed to be one artwork but I became heavily invested in it emotionally, I didn’t want it to end. So I made it into a collection of images. Draws a lot of inspiration from isolation and depression and discovery. The music of Youth Lagoon, MGMT, Frank Ocean and Ratatat inspired it, movies like a Space Odyssey and The Martian and the colors takes a lot of influence from retro space movies and the work of James Turrell. At the time I was reading articles about famous and notorious recluses like, Bobby Fischer – famous chess player who disappeared to Iceland. J.D Salinger, the author of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ who disappeared from the public eye. Howard Hughes and Bob Dylan, I’d talk more about it, but I’ll be giving away the plot of MAJORA EXPLORA..” and he didn’t anymore instead he told me a story of how he met Joke Silvia gazing at his work “Nkem Mere called me and said, ‘this woman is in front of your artwork, she has been staring at it for like 5 minutes or something’, I was like, “word, for real?” Anyways I introduce myself, and she tells me to talk about it. Mind you, I didn’t know it was Joke Silva. So we spoke about the work, and how Christian imperialism inspired it, how the white man used Christianity to rob Africa of her resources and traditions, just full on having a convo about religion and the piece, she tells me it’s really nice and that I should keep up the good work. I’m like ‘thank you ma’, as soon as she leaves I’m thinking about how that woman looked familiar. I found out it was Joke Silva minutes later, I almost peed myself cause you know JOKE SILVA is like NOLLYWOOD ROYALTY. I had a convo with Joke Silva and didn’t even know it was Joke Silva. Afrikultur was amazing, surreal experience. The first exhibition, don’t really like putting myself out there but it was amazing. It was packed! Shoutout Isabella Agbaje and Ayo Lawson amazing women who brought a bunch of people together and created a mad vibe. Number 5 in my ‘Top moments in my life’, number 4 being having a convo with Joke Silva about art and religion.”
Niyi emits so much excitement like a kid who finally got a new console, he was genuinely happy about what the new age art scene is becoming as a mind I feel was one of our generation’s pioneers.
“The new age is LIKE FUCKING AMAZING. One thing I’m a big fan of, if you are genuinely expressing yourself then I fuck with you. Well in a positive way though, it has to be a positive self-expression, it brings competition, it brings collaboration and just space for people to keep adding to the creative ecosystem. The freedom of self-expression, not even trying to act like I’m in my 30’s but look at the crop of people creating stuff, from TSE to Odunsi to Santi and DJ feMo lets not even talk about Bobby Trauma or Yadi or these other dudes creating a movement. You have UAX with his videos, you have Idris with 90’s baby you have Mubarak with GARMSPOT, Seyi of DA Design Studio, what Isabella Agbaje and Ayo Lawson did with Afrikultur, Jimi Agboola, Kitan and Chuka and every other creative out there, Lubee and even [you] guys at Baroque Age. I really don’t get when people say, ‘everybody is a photographer, DJ, MUA’. It’s expression and its dope, at the end of the day, everybody has their target market.”
As excited as Niyi is about the creative scene he also knows how powerful art is to the ones who perceive it, his work is a way he passes narratives of his own ranging across issues he feels plague the world, highlighting one particular is his fight against depression.
“It comes from a personal place, I get depressed a lot. I’ve always maintained, it is your duty as someone who creates to use your craft to speak on social issues, doesn’t have to be every time but speak on issues you are genuinely passionate about. Me, talking about depression and mental health is a win-win situation. I feel talking about it helps others who go through the same thing. This project ‘Hand’s That Speak‘, I tried to talk about social issues from consumerism to suicide. I look up to guys like JR, Shepard Fairey and a whole bunch of artists out there. People actually using their work to comment on social issues, and its deeper than just creating stuff. This year, I have plans to use photography to raise funds for a whole bunch of issues, from mental health to rape. If I can’t use my work to give back or help a cause then there is a question mark on my work as a creative or whatever. It’s really important to push narratives like this as a creative, not trying to come off as a savior of mankind but it’s that important. It’s like becoming a billionaire and giving back, nothing is too small. People consume information in different ways, lets take Stormzy for instance, opening up about his battles with depression or Cudi opening up about his battles with suicide that gave his fans hope or people going through that especially Stormzy, we both know grime artists have this ‘nobody can touch me persona’ to see someone like Stormzy open up about depression, it gives you this sense of ‘it can happen to anyone’ most people know this, but until they see it happen to someone they really look up to or respect they won’t really understand how important it is to talk about issues like these or when Sheifunmi opened about his experience with bipolar disorder. It’s important, super important, we have to keep talking about these issues, the moment we stop, the messages dies little by little and everyone forgets.
Niyi, the man of mystery and a lot of thoughts going through his head which he lays in a “Minimalist/psychedelic” as art. I wondered towards it, ending the journey he’s taking me on with what he currently thought,
“Death, been thinking about death a lot, the concept of people growing old and dying. Mortality is an interesting concept to me. Mental health, because of its super important, we need to make sure the kids of tomorrow don’t feel weird talking about their emotions. We need to make sure we prepare the next generation, if schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and every other influential place can talk about it, then we’d be helping the future generation, if not this one.
Space, because I’m prepping for MAJORA EXPLORA, plus I’m a big fan of space, just the idea of leaving this planet and discovering other planets (ARRIVAL really fucked my mind up). Drugs, mostly psychedelic drugs, I am a big fan of trying new things… would like to go on a trip one of these days and see what it feels like. Suicide, sometimes I get overwhelmed with life and think of pushing the off button but you know, music gets me through, especially the music of Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi and Youth Lagoon. Exhibitions, I really want to have a Futura themed exhibition, where space feels like a James Turrell room, the skies illuminated with the frames of the artwork all glow in the dark, the room dark and off course play music curated by possibly NKVBI and me.”
Going forward “I love what I do and ready to put my life on the line for it, I enjoy it. I’m going to stop using the name NIYIOKEOWO, starting something with someone, a digital agency to be honest. It’s already started, and we have a healthy number of clients, most people don’t know it’s me and someone else so that’s good. It’s been a wonderful journey, I’m still kinda young though.”
A man for the kids, a man for the new age art scene, a man for himself.
Niyi ends with words from one his best artist “Frank Ocean’s letter to the Grammys, everybody should read it, a snippet:
‘WINNING A TV AWARD DOESN’T CHRISTEN ME SUCCESSFUL. IT TOOK ME SOME TIME TO LEARN THAT. I BOUGHT ALL MY MASTERS BACK LAST YEAR IN THE PRIME OF MY CAREER, THAT’S SUCCESSFUL. BLONDE SOLD A MILLION PLUS WITHOUT A LABEL, THAT’S SUCCESSFUL. I AM YOUNG, BLACK, GIFTED AND INDEPENDENT. THAT’S MY TRIBUTE’.
I go back to that letter every time.”