“Oluwaseni Akinyemi is a visual artist and student. Through paintings and other media his work engages the conversation of life and community using black bodies. From the sustained idea of drama and the dramatics to everyday interactions riddled with absurdities that camouflage as chance encounters, Akinyemi’s work explores the intimacy in human interaction and the legitimization to the levels of violence between genders”.
Hey, it’s your girl Kilali from THE PANBLACK TONE (TPT @the_panblack_tone) in collaboration with AYA Africa, as mentioned in last month’s article (if you missed it, make sure to check it out) TPT and AYA Africa are joining forces to spread the love for artists & creatives across the African diaspora. This piece is our first collab IN CONVERSATION segment with artist, Oluwaseni Akinyemi aka Seni (@oluwaseniakinyemi), click the audios to hear excerpts of our convo. For complete transparency Seni just so happens to be my cousin, hailing from Lagos, Nigeria. Our in-conversation segment with Seni takes us through his journey of honing his talent and love for art.
Untitled, Trace Monotype 2020
So, let’s get into it, Seni was born in Baltimore, Maryland but from a very young age was raised in Lagos, growing up he frequently travelled on family holidays to Europe and America which exposed him to life & culture in the West, no doubt having influence on his work; in my opinion that’s one of the advantages of straddling worlds, being able to merge the good, bad, beauty and ugly from them and creating something iconic. Now, let’s be frank about something, it is NOT uncommon for Africans over the past few decades (and century) to straddle worlds and grow up privileged, something that Seni is fully aware of and relates too, it is interesting how that privilege can sometimes blind you from the environment you’re surrounded by.
Though growing up in one of Africa’s most vibrant cities, and having access to various resources, and experiences Seni recalls not really having any true passion, in the sense of being consumed by a singular thing that drives him, however he knew that he liked to draw, and soon “settled in the understanding that I’m good at this thing, I may as well push it to the limit”. Though the Lagos art scene is still in its infancy there is a steady emerging access to galleries and exhibitions such as Art X that is inspiring for upcoming artists. Seni identifies as painter (with a low-key interest in photography, he talks about photography in more of a hobby and interest capacity, as opposed to his artistic discipline of painting). He is truly fortunate that he has family support and the influence of his uncle Kolode Oshinowo a renowned and respected painter in West Africa, that has nurtured him to push and explore his talent.
His mum’s encouragement by way of signing him up for local art exhibitions and having the foresight to provide Seni with an art tutor that grounded him in basic art principles, led him to sell his first painting for ₦200,000 before leaving for University. It’s comforting to know there are African parents who support their children’s creativity, and acknowledge that it may not fit the cultural parameters that have been set for so long, far too often it is not the case, and most times unheard of for African parents to encourage their children to pursue a creative path, typically we’re often prompted to pursue traditional careers such as becoming, a lawyer, doctor, engineer etc. (and then get married and start a family (a loaded topic for another day).
<–Praise To… 2020
Though we should acknowledge that over the last few decades, and maybe more so in recent times, there has been a shift in mindset brought about by globalization, a massive dose of social media influence, and the popularity & commercialization of Afrobeat has maybe given our African parents the prod they needed, said in a Nija accent “EH- HEH! SO, you wan be like Burna Boy, EH let’s make it happen”, jokes apart we’re ready for the shift, about time! Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware of the privilege surrounding this, and ultimately understand the conundrum that most face, it’s not easy and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Jus a lil hand, 9×12″Oil paint and Pastels on canvas 2020
At some point most of us find something that undoubtedly resonates with us, and when speaking with Seni it’s clear that his interest in art grew as he fell more and more in love, establishing it as his passion [PSA: lean into your talents and skills, strive to break social/ cultural taboos that may hinder you]. Finally, acknowledging that art is his calling, he started to focus on how to harness this raw talent, as you can imagine Nigerian schools and education system doesn’t invest in art as a discipline as it would do with more traditional academic subjects. It is extremely challenging for young people to get the educational support to help guide them, none of this is new news to many of you reading this, but one of the takeaways I had from the conversation was establishing a “squad” (i.e. a creative coalition) of peers, of whom you can share information and support one another on your journey, something Seni and his artsy friends did and as a result learned the value of archiving their work and the time it takes to build a portfolio, as well as researching art schools, and the insane drawn out application process to Universities.
His drive and determination are what got him into one of the top-ranking art schools in the U.S, The Cooper Union located in NYC. Talking to Seni about the art scene in NYC vs. Lagos, he sincerely described NYC’s scene as an old person, well established, operating on its own beat and complicated to understand, sounds like he’s still in discovery, being fresh to the game is exciting!
So, here’s thing, you’re now at this amazing institution, following your passion and then BOOM just like any discipline you’re hit with an intense workload, lets set the record straight for any skeptics out there art is NOT easy, it is 100% a craft that you continuously practice. Seni and I touched upon some of the taboos surrounding art and the frustrating comments that artist and creatives contend with, as well as lightly grazing the subject of race.
It’s interesting, I often find when the subject of race comes up, the conversation surrounding gender soon follows (maybe that’s just me), on the TPT IG page (@the_panblack_tone) I deliberately do a HIS & HER segment on each Episode, it is a commemoration in light & love to all of us. In today’s world we are learning to become more sensitive to gender fluidity and sexual orientations, our behaviors, choice of language and perception affects others and is something to reflect on. This is something that Seni learned very early on in his journey, where he was heavily critiqued by a peer of his work on the female form, which intimidated him, consequently he stopped painting women for a longtime however the conversation “forced me to really understand why do I want to talk about women through my art, what is my motivation to paint this woman and what is my motivation to paint her this way” coming to the realization that tough conversations need to happen, and will happen regardless, so long as he knows the meaning and reason why he created his art.
As an individual Seni has a gentle soul, from his demeanor, chill vibe, and low soft tone, is somewhat of a contrast to his work. I often find his creations to be dynamic, whether that’s his use of saturated colours, defined facial features, or use of textures are all far more dramatic than the calm energy of the artist himself. Naturally, we talked about colour and for both of us realized that we have rotating favorites, by way of our mood and/ or where we’re at in life.
I’m signing of with Seni’s recent painting, Dilemmas of the Pick Me, a great example of his use of colour, texture, the female form and the social dilemma of women proposing to men. Be sure to check out his website (www.oluwaseniakinyemi.com) for further info on Seni and details of his work.
Dilemma of The Pick Me, 20×24“ Oil on canvas 2020 & Audio- Dilemmas