While observing Ayobola Kekere-Ekun’s work, what stands out the most is the vivid narratives portrayed and the intermixing of lines and fabrics to create these portraits. Oh her fascination with lines, Ayobola states that “a line can connect and separate, enclose and exclude, direct and misdirect, all at the same time.” In her portraits, she finds herself “constantly oscillating between admiration for the tenacity of the human spirit and anger for humanity’s seemingly unwavering commitment to cruelty and hypocrisy.”

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun - Africa Is Now Magazine

Your skillful use of quilling in your art is amazing and that combined with your ability to creatively tell stories is a unique and refreshing combination. How did you learn your technique?
I started quilling and working with paper entirely by accident. In my last year of undergrad, a guy gave me a flier on campus one day and I was rolling it and playing with it, and when I got to my room, I dropped it, and it landed on its edge. I remember looking at the coil and seeing how it had its own little pocket of highlights and shadows; like a mini-universe onto itself; and I thought: “if there’s some way to secure this, surely it would stay put”. So I left the house, got a bunch of papers, cut them up, started experimenting, and didn’t stop till the next morning. At the time I didn’t even know there was a name for the technique, I just knew I had found something truly interesting.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun - Africa Is Now Magazine
Real Housewives of Old Oyo: Aja (2018) – Mixed Media (paper and acrylic on canvas)
Ayobola Kekere-Ekun - Africa Is Now Magazine
Real Housewives of Old Oyo: Obba (2018) – Mixed Media (paper and acrylic on canvas)

How was the process of marrying the technique and the storytelling?
If there’s a way to marry the two effortlessly, I haven’t found it yet. I still struggle from time to time. Quite often, I have a very clear idea of what I want to say and how I want a piece or an entire body of work to feel. What that it might look like isn’t always clear right off the bat. I’ve found that it really helps to just let ideas percolate for as long as they need to. There isn’t a lot of room for error in my practice, so I don’t start the process of actually making the work till I’m sure about its visual direction.

Progress for a talented person such as yourself seems inevitable but what does progress mean to you and your craft?
This is a tough one for me. I tend to be an aggressively future-oriented person, and the dark side of that is that I’m rarely pleased for long. A year ago I’d have said progress is never ever staying in the same spot. Now progress for me is enjoying or at least trying to enjoy whatever part of my practice I’m experiencing at a time.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun - Africa Is Now Magazine
The Crown V (2018) – Mixed Media (paper, fabric and acrylic on canvas)
Ayobola Kekere-Ekun - Africa Is Now Magazine
The Crown III (2018) – Mixed Media (paper, glass beads and acrylic on canvas)

In your series, The Crown, you address issues of misogyny while also acknowledging the progress we’ve made as a society towards achieving gender equality. What are some of the things that society can do to fast-track this progress?
I think we need more empathy and radical honesty as a collective society. The main crux of the Crown series is the idea of performative progress. Too often we’re more concerned with the appearance of progress as opposed to actual growth. Yes, we’ve come a long way in our journey towards equality, but it would be disastrous to think we’re there yet, especially when we consider the issue from a global perspective. Women can ‘get an education now’, but in many spaces, girls are statistically less likely to be prioritised for formal education, in addition to being statistically less likely to complete secondary school. Women can ‘occupy space in the workplace now’, but they are still routinely subject to discrimination and harassment in a myriad of forms. We need to stop acting like everything is fine and dandy and acknowledge that there are still a lot of systemic structures in place that actively prevent true equality.

What motivated you to pursue your PhD in Art and Design?
My research is exploring place branding in Lagos. In my academic life, I’m a graphic designer. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I’ve always been fascinated by how manipulative advertising can be. I’m fascinated by how the dance between information and ‘seduction’ plays out visually. My PhD is an extension of that interest.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun - Africa Is Now Magazine
The Crown V (2018) – Mixed Media (paper, fabric and acrylic on canvas)

Would you say you have mastered the balance between work and study so far and what is the key?
I actually laughed out loud at this. I don’t think I have. Maintaining a balance between the two is a bit like walking on a tightrope. Every time I think I’ve got the hang of it, my hubris tips me out of balance. It’s quite difficult, to be honest. It requires a lot of discipline and careful time management.

As this year ends, what are you looking forward to the most?
I have to admit; it’s been an amazing year for my practice. There have been so many changes. I had my first solo exhibition this year. This is also my first year being signed to my fabulous gallerist Julie Taylor of Guns and Rain gallery. I’d say I’m most looking forward to continuing bodies of work I’ve had to delay working on and completing and PhD next year.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun - Africa Is Now Magazine
Real Housewives of Old Oyo: Osun (2018) – Mixed Media (paper and acrylic on canvas)