Currently living in the US, Nigerian artist Wole Lagunju focuses on challenging and critiquing notions of imperialistic cultural idioms. He talks to AFRICA IS NOW about his exhibition Yoruba Remixed, the role of African history in his art and his exploration of the symbolism of Gelede masks.

Who is Wole Lagunju?

I grew up in Osogbo, a town in Western Nigeria famous for its art movement. Osogbo is also known for the annual Osun-Osogbo festival, an event which is a celebration of the river goddess, Osun. I graduated in 1986 from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) with a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a specialisation in graphic design. Over the years, my art practice has examined the cultural idioms and visual design of the indigenous artistic practices of traditional Yoruba women in Nigeria. In my paintings and installations, I have explored the design and motifs found in adiré textiles, traditionally dyed indigo fabric. Recently my art has also examined Gelede masks with a view to bringing fresh insights into Yoruba mask making.

Gelede is a male-oriented dance which celebrates women and their sacred powers of procreation and sexuality.’

How did you start painting?

My painting experience started as a youngster growing up in Osogbo, in the early ’70s. I grew up in the midst of artistic activities and participated in the Osogbo art movement under the tutelage and mentorship of some of the principal artists like Jacob Afolabi. Professional painting started for me while at the University of Ife, but I did not pursue it as a major. It was one of the electives I chose towards a degree in graphic design. After my graduation from the University of Ife, I worked at The Daily Times in the early ’90s as an illustrator. Thereafter, I had a brief stint in advertising and after some travelling in Europe, in the late ’90s I decided to practice as a full-time studio artist with an initial bias for painting and drawing.

What role does African history play in your paintings?

My relocation to the Western world has reintroduced me to societies with an historical background of colonisation and imperialism. My living experiences in them have exposed me to the present and historical roles these societies have played in the shaping of the African continent. For example, in the US there’s a historical and cultural background of slavery and racism. It has led me along a path towards re-evaluating the purpose of my art and the issues that I choose to address. The social experiences I have encountered have made me rethink the purpose of art in itself and the role of the contemporary African artist.

In my recent artworks, I address the issues inherent in African history by critiquing imperialistic cultural idioms and interrogating the colonisation of Africa and the subjugation of its traditional culture.

What place does African culture and tradition have among today’s African youth?

Globalisation has opened a vista of world culture to the African youth with access via the internet to a plethora of information, introducing them to a wide array of cultural choices. Traditional African and indigenous culture is now thought of as unfashionable or inferior.

The Yoruba Remixed paintings utilise a lot of traditional masks. Can you elaborate on their symbolism?

My paintings in this exhibition reference Gelede masks. Gelede masks are worn by Yoruba menfolk to celebrate women and their relevance to Yoruba society. Gelede is a male-oriented dance which celebrates women and their sacred powers of procreation and sexuality. The masks and dances satirise, entertain and educate onlookers and the society at large. As much as Gelede celebrates the powers of motherhood in Yoruba women they are also a salutation to their personal physical attributes and endowment. This is found in the meaning of the word Gelede itself. ‘Ge’ means to ‘pet or tenderly deal with’, ‘ele’ refers to a woman’s private parts and ‘de’ means ‘to soften them with gentleness’.

Gelede masks have elaborate wooden superstructures with carved human and animal imagery. These are spiritual and physical representations alluding to the awesome powers of ‘our mothers’ or women. They also represent the Yoruba notion of the physical head or ori of an individual. Ori being the seat of the life force in the physical and supernatural realms.

Check out the Yoruba Remixed artworks here.


We spoke to the South African queer illustrator extraordinaire about his multi-cultural upbringing, influences and one-of-a-kind illustrations that address hard-hitting subject matter, spanning the spectrums of race, sexuality and gender identity, with mystical themes and colourful vibrancy.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I am currently 22. I was born to a Zulu mother and Cameroonian father who nurtured my artist’s dreams from a very young age. As a result, I have always been clear about who I am and what I’d like to be, with regards to my skillset, career choice, sexuality and transgender identity. Around grade 10 marked the first time I started doing graphic design for clients, ranging from government to other high schoolers. Starting graphic design and making money from it at such a young age made me enjoy the idea of freelancing, but my African parents were not about to let me do that (laughs). In 2014, I started first year at the Open Window Institute studying visual design and in 2015, I found my true calling when I had to select my preferred majors and electives. I fell in love with Illustration that year and it opened up my eyes to my design potential. In 2016, I left Open Window due to lack of funds. That was also the day I decided to embrace the freelance life I had initially wanted. Attending design school did make some things easier to grasp and I would definitely advise going to a school dedicated to your preferred craft, purely to learn and apply the fundamentals of the field. The choice to freelance is the reason ‘Khanya, The Designer’ , as you know him today, even exists.

‘The choice to freelance is the reason “Khanya, The Designer” as you know him today even exists.’

What did you learn when you were studying graphic design?

I learnt about how art can be applied and the potential that exists in illustrations. I designed everything, mostly using Adobe Illustrator, from stamps, storybooks, plush toys, murals, apparel design to how to draw faster and how to use a wider range of mediums. Although, once I started freelancing, I really started to embrace, explore and draw using Adobe Photoshop as a medium which isn’t something I would say I learnt during my schooling. But it shaped my visual art style to what it is today, no doubt about that.

Growing up, did you have any African creative role models, and if so who?

My aunt, my mother’s youngest sister, was the very first queer woman of colour whom I witnessed explore the arts and do amazingly at it. She would bring back huge paintings with dark narratives and nudity. I’d stare at her artworks as they lay on the dining room table and get lost in the colours and detailing. She also really encouraged me as an artist around that time and would use some of my ‘babydrawing’ techniques in her pieces. My mother was another creative role model. She studied fine art when she was young and was incredible at it, but unfortunately, her parents didn’t encourage her at all. I remember seeing her highly detailed, full-page drawings of my baby hands, feet and eyes. Honestly, my mother is far more talented than me.

How did your unique illustrating style come about?

With regards to the visual execution – the colours I use, shading techniques, effects and overall look of my work – it was intensely influenced by my long-term, serious relationship with pop style and 90s cartoon, as well as using Adobe Photoshop and exploring the effects, brushes, etc. I pretty much never draw on paper, which isn’t great, but damn impressive, if you ask me.

What influences the subject matter that your artwork depicts?

The narratives and stories behind my illustrations have been influenced by my experiences on Earth as Khanya. The experiences within my existence as a young, black, queer transman and my relationship with the lack of representation, and complete erasure, of those like myself in the art scene; my experiences with my blackness and masculinity, my two years of homelessness and my relationship with the Earth, to name a few.

Take us through the process of creating one of your pieces, from inspiration and idea to the Instagram post.

I usually either create a quote or phrase for myself or read through text messages, blogs or articles on specific topics to get the inspiration flowing. Thereafter, it’s a matter of looking at lots, I mean lots and lots, of pictures and videos, ranging from tattoo designs, avant-garde photography, portrait photography, memes; ranging from explicit content to make-up tutorials. Once I have an idea of at least three somewhat correlating artworks (because you can only post three artworks per row on Instagram), it’s a matter of setting up the document on Photoshop. I usually go for an A2 size page, 300dpi and I make the page an off-white colour. From that point, it’s doing the linework, or ‘the skeleton’ of the artwork as I call it. After linework, it’s the base colours for each element, and after the base colours, I add shading and highlights where necessary. After shading and highlights are incorporated, then it’s the final effects, like lens flares, patterns on clothing, piercings, text, tribal paints or any other markings. The final touch is my artist’s tag. It all takes me anything from two-and-a-half to four hours per artwork.

Does social media affect the type of work you create?

It used to. I would make more aesthetically pleasing artworks that always surrounded the trending topics on social media. But that all changed when I started focusing on a specific portion of the population – LGBTQIA+ of colour. From that point on, social media has not had an effect on my artwork or stopped me from being more ‘obscene’ or vulgar. If anything, the only way social media has affected my work is with regards to its reach and the speed with which I work.

Your Instagram says ‘Vulgar, Feminist, Surreal, Unapologetic art’ – could you elaborate on how these words define you as an illustrator?

Vulgarity and nudity have always been the ideal aesthetic to me. Feminist is how I was raised and how I remain living. Surreal is defined as being ‘bizarre’ and I am neither ordinary as an illustrator nor as a person. I have a firm love for being surreal. I’m a very unapologetic, especially when it comes to empowering myself or my group of people. I have no concern as to how people feel about the nudity and the queer content of my artworks. I am very unapologetic about my attempts to represent those who don’t exist in mainstream or ‘underground’ art in a beautiful and empowering way. Living unapologetically does not mean ‘living without shame’, we need shame as it keeps us in line and aware of what is okay and what isn’t. Living unapologetically means ‘living without fear’ and that is the one thing I want to push onto those I represent through Illustration. Sexuality and gender identity are strong themes in several of your artworks.

As a South African queer illustrator, what message do you hope your audience to receive pertaining to these topics?

I’d like my audience to understand that they are deserving. Deserving of being depicted in their natural and beautiful glory. That there is more to them than what the mainstream media will ever say. I’d like to understand their aesthetic and how powerful their narrative is, even on paper. I’d like them to see my efforts in trying to make us and our images familiar, but never basic. I’d like them to see that in order to get things done right, we sometimes have to do it ourselves rather than waiting for the world to grow up and see our magic; that we are here to dominate all spaces from which we have been erased and kept out of for far too long. Our voices are louder than you think.

‘Facing your inner demons and taking control of your happiness and existence as a black queer is not the easiest thing to do and a lot of us are still in the process of doing that. But once you do, despite what people say, you will feel yourself grow a few inches, I swear to the Universe. It’s so liberating.’

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get to a point where you express yourself and your art so freely?

Finding my worth as an artist, as a young artist and as a black LGBTQ artist was the biggest obstacle. I found myself treating myself like the world treated me. I never thought I could be as good as I am now, never thought I’d be celebrated or accepted – it didn’t feel possible. I lived in an odd state of consistent fear, but eventually, I realised that it’s no way to progress. You will never step outside of your comfort zone if you keep telling yourself it’s going be effortless. Admitting to my parents that I was transgender and having them accept me was the biggest breath of fresh air this year (2018). Facing your inner demons and taking control of your happiness and existence as a black queer is not the easiest thing to do and a lot of us are still in the process of doing that. But once you do, despite what people say, you will feel yourself grow a few inches, I swear to the Universe. It’s so liberating. I don’t see myself having any obstacles now unless I make them myself.

What message do you have for other African queer creatives who might fear being ridiculed for expressing themselves as intimately as you do?

The best advice I can give you is: if you are worried about what other people will think about you, then stop thinking about them for a moment and think about you. Your will and worth are stronger than their words. Remember, your comfort zone isn’t the same as your safe zone. Always remain safe because you are the most important figure in this process, but don’t allow yourself to get comfortable with a certain arrangement – ‘get out of your comfort zone’. We are never sure about how people will react to us, so if you are worried, then make sure you are safe if you’re going to take that step of letting people know. But have no fear, show no remorse about telling the art world who you are. You do not and will not (ever!) stand alone.

‘The same goes for the attitude towards woman creatives. Our experience, regardless of the route it takes in our art, whether it’s black queer orientated or black womxn orientated, etc, will always be the black experience. Why? Because we are black and experiencing experiences. It’s that simple.’

What is your opinion of the status quo of the African creative climate, and is there anything that you would like to see changed?

A change in how people police the content black artists can produce is something I would love to see transform. I have had people come up to me and ask me to do art that’s ‘less LGBTQIA+ and POC orientated’ because ‘I would also like to see myself in your art’. I have had a person say my art won’t get far because it’s ‘too obscene’ while looking at an illustration of two masculine bodies making out. I have had white people tell me they want to support me but I am too ‘against white people/heterosexual people’. I have had older male creatives tell me that my art doesn’t speak to the black experience and that I should start producing content that speaks to black people, ‘like taxi ranks, slum areas, men at work, women with their breasts out in traditional attire, you know? Black people things’. It’s wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. The policing of queer African and African creative’s content is literal discrimination (literal homophobia and racism). We need to stop being targeted to ‘water down’ or change our content so that it makes those who aim to erase us feel more comfortable and represented and helps them to remain on their pedestals. The same goes for the attitude towards womxn creatives. Our experience, regardless of the route it takes in our art, whether it’s black queer orientated or black womxn orientated, etc, will always be the black experience. Why? Because we are black and experiencing experiences. It’s that simple.

Tell us more about your work as a DJ and the types of music you like to play.

My existence as a DJ (DJ Qing) has been a short one and I really hope it develops into a path I can explore alongside my Illustrator existence. Being multi-dimensional is the ideal form I would like for myself as a creative. It’s mostly centred around hip-hop and rap (old and new). I love watching my queers dance and have fun dancing and a dancefloor full of POC queer bodies in motion is one from the Gods, so I aim to play music that allows that to happen.

What are you working on right now?

I have merch underway and I’m currently working on a mural at Neighbourgoods Market in collaboration with Sunday Edition ZA @sundayeditionza.

Where can people buy your work?

I have taken the firm decision to no longer sell prints and I work on a commission basis. All posted work is solely used to build my portfolio. If prints are sold, there will only be a limited supply and no prints will be redistributed. However, if anyone would like to get hold of me or access my content – follow me on Instagram @khanyathedesigner or email me at Message me with any queries and we can make magic!


Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Ken Nwadiogbu harnesses his artistic talent to highlight the socio-political issues facing young Africans. He’s part of an emerging hyperrealism art scene in Nigeria.

How did you discover your talent and when did you decide to make a career of it?​

I was a high-school science student, so my plan was to go to university to study something science related, and then graduate and search for job. I never prepared for a life and career in the art world. Six years ago, I began studying a Civil and Environmental Engineering degree at the University of Lagos. During my first year of study there, I met a young man who was painting the then Vice Chancellor. I used to doodle in my books while in class, but that was just a bad habit, I thought. Once I saw this young man painting this amazing work of art, I wanted to know more. So I went back and started to research. My research turned into hunger, hunger turned into addiction, addiction turned into love… And that was when I fell deeply in love with art. My career in art wasn’t planned, but it changed my life. I was always very enthusiastic to create, and this was a perfect way for me. Over the past five years, I’ve read, studied, practiced, and grown, not just in my craft, but in the art world. I fell in love with hyperrealism, and it influenced me so strongly that I became a figurative hyperrealist.

You have a BSc in Civil and Environmental Engineering, how hard was it for you to convince your parents of your new-found path?​

In an African home, there are few career choices parents impose upon their children: lawyer, doctor, engineer, or scientist. Any other career choice, especially a creative one, is ‘second rate’. It’s not because they do not appreciate the talent their children possess, but they fear that society, particularly Nigerian society, will dismiss and devalue this type of career choice. My father had this ideology, but my mother was very supportive. Fear is one of the greatest issues in any man, and the growth of a family or a nation lies in its defeat. Convincing my parents of the people around me wasn’t necessary – I had to show them! I spent many nights creating art while reading on the side, trying to balance both career paths, just so that my parents were happy and fulfilled. It took a lot out of me and I sacrificed a lot of time, energy, socialising, etc. But it was the sacrifice I paid for success.

What made you decide to use your artistic talent to talk about socio-political issues and to ‘advocate for positive change’?

A painting becomes art when it transcends merely looking aesthetically pleasing and speaks about a cause. In my country, my society, my environment, you’ll experience so much pain, war, fights, mental battles, problematic ideologies, feminine denigration, and more. It affected me as a person, and my family, too – every day became another fight for survival; a fight to breathe and grow. This happens all over the world, too, and no one seemed to be talking about it, and even if they were, the public wasn’t listening. I knew hyperrealism had great appeal, especially when carried out on a large scale. I began to use that as a platform to speak out about these things, so that people would be attracted to listen and ask questions. In this way, I could drive home my ideologies and narratives, speak about socio-political issues and advocate for positive change.

‘Fear is young people’s biggest barrier. The fear to start. The fear to succeed. The fear to grow. The society in Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, breathes fear into young kids.’

What would you say is the biggest barrier for a young person in Africa who’s looking to realise their full potential?

Fear! Fear is young people’s biggest barrier. The fear to start. The fear to succeed. The fear to grow. The society in Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, breathes fear into young kids. Start from the issue with slavery, then move on to racism, then tribalism, educational institutions and the numerous obstacles you have to pass before you can be admitted into schools. It continues on to corruption, the unemployment and poverty rates, and then on to wars: Boko Haram, xenophobic attacks, etc, and then on to money and its value… I can keep naming issues and problems. These things collectively kill the dream of every young person and drive them into bad businesses, scamming, killing, etc. If only we could conquer that fear and strive to be who we want to be, every young person in Nigeria would have a brighter future. That’s why I’m here, my goal is to inspire people, even just one person, to follow their dreams. If I can do it, they can do it.

‘In the end, it’s your relentless attitude, your precision, your perseverance and your patience that wins. Success, for me, is only brewed for the strong!’

How has the world opened up for you since you decided to follow, or rather create, your own path?

The world is an amazing place if you keep growing, think positively, approach the world with optimism, and turn deaf ears to discouragement. I can’t say I’ve had a smooth journey because honestly, I’ve hit some bumps along the way. Bumps like my age bracket [he was born in 1994], my location, my chosen genre, as well as many other things. But in the end, it’s your relentless attitude, your precision, your perseverance and your patience that wins. Success, for me, is only brewed for the strong!

What is the inspiration behind The Black Mentality series?

The Black Mentality series brings together the relationship between black resistance and survival. It strives to explain that the mentality of survival can be painful and destructive, as well as inspiring and powerful. It speaks in-depth about the meaning of survival to humans and the extent they will go to achieve it.

Tell us more about The King’s Diary.

The King’s Diary is an ongoing series that attempts to present African women in the light of kingly power; decorated in the regalia of the traditional rulers. The motive is to encourage the acceptance and respect otherwise ascribed to the kings of Africa – and any realm, actually – as a right of the African female, which is depicted in the art pieces. This new light will help see the girl-child in sub-Saharan Africa, and all of Africa, as privileged as the sons, and not doomed to the woes of forbidden education, and early marriage against her will.

Any African artist/creative we should be looking at?

I would recommend you check out Nigerian artist Babajide B Olatunji – @babajideolatunji on Instagram.

Any upcoming events?

I’ll be showing at Art X Africa from 2-4 November 2018. Also I’m starting a new installation project called 1005 Portraits. It’s inspired by my quest and hunger for feminine empowerment. In this project exists 1005 portraits of different women of different races from different countries coming together against feminine denigration. Women sent in pictures of themselves through any of the 1005portraits platforms, along with a caption on what they feel about feminine empowerment. Together, they can collectively have a voice against feminine denigration.



We sat down with digital designer Jean-Luc to find out about his path to creating arresting artworks.


Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in rural Rwanda until the age of nine when my family relocated to Cape Town. I’m the youngest of four siblings and I’m currently in my second year studying for my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Information Systems at the University of Western Cape. I also work part-time as a bartender.

How did you start making digital art?

My interest in art began with free-hand sketching, which I pursued for many years but felt that I hadn’t made the kind of progress I could be proud of. I found sketching challenging, which might have been one of the reasons I found it so appealing… or maybe it was a movie I’d seen in the past where there might have been a mention that girls like guys who can sketch.

I was introduced to digital art through BlackBerry mobile applications, namely PicMix and Photo Studio all the way back in 2011/12. I would use these ‘primitive’ applications to compulsively add filters, change contrast and continuously experiment with any and all the features available.

I didn’t start making decent digital art until I owned an Android smartphone. The app which I used and still use to this date is called PicsArt. It was a revolutionary addition to my then minute artistic artillery. With more features, I was able to combine images, download and install fonts, add stickers and all for the pursuit of a greater aesthetic appeal.

In 2017 after my phone got stolen I lost the app and some works of art that I hadn’t backed up – a blemish but it was not the demise of my artistic endeavours. As a countermeasure I finally got Photoshop and with no prior experience with the program, I once again began experimenting with filters, layers and masks. Something clicked, I guess I had found my niche.

What I loved most about creating via Photoshop was that it I did not need to premeditate. All I had to do was sit in front of my laptop and see how far my imagination could go – before it got to 4am! I realised there was so much that I was still oblivious to, so I began downloading and watching tutorials on how to use the program. This basically lead me to where I am today.

What inspires your pieces?

My art is inspired by all that my eyes consume and my somewhat loose imagination. To find inspiration I usually log into my Tumblr account and save pictures that I find aesthetically appealing, provocative or even, on rare occasions, repulsive. At a later stage, I go through these saved photos and more often than not an idea is sparked. My other source of inspiration comes from artists whom I admire like Jean-Michel Basquiat.

What conversations are you hoping to start?

Right now, I’m more focused on making aesthetically pleasing art with the exception of a few

pieces that focus on current political, social and ecological issues. In the future, I’d like to be able to make art that conveys strong messages about different factions of our society, but still make art that provokes emotion whether in the viewer admiring the art piece or via the message behind it.

What influence does social media have on your work and why do you think Instagram is a good platform to promote your work?

What I value most about social media is how easy it makes it for me to connect and interact with likeminded people on a global scale. These interactions allow me to see, appreciate and be inspired by a wide spectrum of art, poetry, memes, current events and even history. I find this exposure highly influential as it offers me my widest window and stage to the rest of the world. Personally, I think Instagram is currently one of the best platforms to promote anything, especially as someone starting out. It has a large community, simple and clean interface, as well as a large number of up-and-coming artists and creatives. It can be seen as a competitive environment where everyone is competing for likes and followers, but the way I see it is that by being exposed to so many people doing and creating one cannot help but be fueled to resist being mediocre and actually start making something.

What are your favourite three accounts to follow on Insta?

*In no particular order*




What do you hope to achieve with your work and where do you see your career going in the future?

I’d like to one day see my art being used as cover art for music albums. I’ve also started doing commissions and in the future, I’d like to have an exhibition in an art gallery and to have my creations become a prominent feature in people’s homes. But most importantly, I’d love it if my art could open wonderful new and spontaneous opportunities such as getting featured in the first-ever issue of AFRICA IS NOW magazine (laughs). Lastly, I would like to collaborate with other artists and creatives.


How does being African influence your work?

The influence that being African has on my work is that I am and will always try to create art that celebrates what it means to be African. Of late my focus has been to celebrate African women by showcasing them as the centers of my work. This is not because I to conform to modern society, but rather to position myself as an expressionist who believes in making a statement against what the contemporary world considers as beautiful. I accept the responsibility that it’s up to African creatives to bring our cultures to the rest of the world in ways that the world has never seen.

Why do you think African representation is important?

African representation now more than ever is of paramount importance in our global society. We, as African creatives, need not conform to Western standards of what African art is, but to rather celebrate the values and cultures that make us a unique people, and use to these aspects fuel our creative minds. We need to learn to appreciate our differences and that the best representation of who we are can only be done by us.

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