“…my work is conveying a range of emotions to speak to a larger narrative while questioning the audience. “
all images are courtesy of Kates-Ferri Projects and Hakeem Olayinka
How would you describe your work to a 5 year old?
My work uses worlds of color and figures to tell stories with facial expressions and body language.
What does color mean to you?
Color is everything. Color is mood, color is identity, color is style, Color is expression. Color is what gives this world life.
If your work had a soundtrack, what 3 songs must be on it?
i would say Just Like My by homeshake, Gold teeth by blood orange, & trouble sleep yanga wake em by fela kuti ‘Just like my’ has this feeling of chilling inside of your home as time passes. I think that speaks to the interior worlds my work consists of. ‘Gold teeth’ feels confronting but also calm and melodic. I think that describes a lot of the themes of my paintings. ‘In trouble sleep yanga wake em’ fela talks about the inescapable oppression that Nigerian citizens face just living their everyday lives through storytelling. This is something that many black Americans today can relate to and is expressed in my paintings.
What is the importance of identity in your pieces?
The figures of my work not only consist of myself but also other black people in my life. I feel like that’s important because we all might have not lived the same life but we do have shared experiences.
What is the importance of exposure of that identity?
Identity gives context to the piece. I would say representation in art is very important. Black people need to be able to see themselves in art, especially art of today.
As there are several pivotal pieces in art history that are specifically appreciated because the subject is looking at the audience, what conversation your subject is having with its audience?
Well, there’s many different conversations happening in my work. There are conversations of fear, anger, indifference, and compassion. But, sometimes the subject expects more and sometimes they’re just tired. Essentially my work is conveying a range of emotions to speak to a larger narrative while questioning the audience.
How does sculpture play a role in your work?
Sculptor really takes my work to a new level. Sculptor validates the existence of the characters in my paintings and gives the paintings a physical form. By making the subjects 3 dimensional, it brings this crazy world of color that I’m illustrating to life.
How does your family history inform your process?
HO: I am Nigerian. Nigeria has a strong sense of style and pride. The Ankara fabric informs my love for patterns in art.
How would you describe Kates-Ferri Projects Artist Residency?
Having a large studio space in New York City is difficult so being able to have that in the midst of a pandemic is truly a blessing. Before I started the Kates-Ferri Projects AIR program, I was hoping from space to space, and it was hard for me to challenge myself and commit to projects. However once I started, I had space to explore and take more risks in my work. Natalie is great. She’s very supportive, hospitable and makes sure you’re comfortable in the space.
What is next for you?
I’m working on paintings for a few upcoming shows, applying to more AIR programs. I’m eager to venture out into different mediums in the near future.