Early Life & Education
Laolu Senbanjo was born and raised in Ilorin, Nigeria. He is in his mid thirties. Both his parents are of Yoruba tribe origin. His father was a practising Lawyer while his mother was a professional Nurse.
He grew up just like any typical Nigerian boy, always under his parent watch, visiting church regularly and actively involved in Church activities, performing in his church’s choir.
He formed a Music Group called Light and Fire which performed original songs and covers while in school. Senbanjo graduated from the University of Ilorin in Kwara State and studied Law, although he nearly dropped out during his second year of law school, and end up receiving his degree in 2005.
In an interview about his disposition to Art and his immediate family, He said, “I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Growing up where I did, art wasn’t seen as a serious career choice. I studied Law because that is what was expected of me.
” My dad’s a lawyer; therefore I was to become one too. So I used to work 9-5 as an attorney while living in Abuja and it would take me an hour, sometimes more to get to and from work.”
“I would then spend the remainder of my time creating art pieces until the wee hours of the morning. I had to allocate these hours to music as well. I was so consumed when I created art or music – sometimes I wouldn’t even sleep.”
” There was just a point where I knew that my art was bigger than even me. That this would be my legacy to the world, and it couldn’t be wasted. I needed to share it with everyone.”
He worked as a Human Rights Lawyer for five years, spending his final three years working at the National Human Rights Commission as a Senior Legal Officer focusing on women and children’s rights.
Senbanjo travelled to different parts of Northern Nigeria visiting schools and villages to educate men and women about why children should be in school.
“I knew if I pursued a career in the arts, I’d have to live with the fact that some people in my hometown might never talk to me again,” said Senbanjo in an interview with 99U.
Despite this, in 2010 Senbanjo quit his job as a lawyer and started the Laolu Senbanjo Art Gallery in Abuja, Nigeria to pursue his Art career full time.
He normally uses charcoal, ink, or another medium to perfect his art and consistently finds different ways to apply it.
When asked how he managed to perfect his art, he said.”I learn through trial and error and by watching people. I have always paid attention to details and can look at any surface, even a table, and create complex patterns.”
“The challenge is taking the ideas in my head, and putting them onto paper. “It’s stressful when the two don’t match, but I’ve learned that what’s on the canvas is meant to be there. Once I nailed my style, I knew I could do it on any surface—even the human body.”
“When you find your gift, you have to own it. Art is pure and honest. Every time I put my mark on something, it’s going to stop you in your tracks, and you’re going to feel something. If it doesn’t, I’m not doing my job. People want a formula, but I say, “Just do you.”
Senbanjo moved to Brooklyn, New York in August 2013 to pursue his dream of Art and show Afromystetrics to the world.
He has coined his style of art, Afromysterics, meaning mystery of the African thought pattern. It incorporates African themes and African traditions.
He uses charcoal and distinct patterns to create complex, story-rich art designs that draw heavily on his Yoruba heritage and feature ancient Nigerian symbols and patterns.
Senbanjo says his Nigerian roots are a major source for his visual inspiration. Though his visual references have been described as sharing “affinities with Jean-Micheal Basquiat and Keith Haring ”.
Senbanjo did experience tough time in New York, success didn’t happen immediately, and it was difficult acclimating to the culture and pace of New York City.
” I joined fellow musicians in Brooklyn to form a band and consistently created artwork to post on my digital platforms and website. He recalled his father would call just to make sure I was alive or say, “When you’re done with this art craze, let us know.”
In June 2015, Senbanjo’s new mantra became “everything is my canvas” and he began painting on everything from shoes to jackets, to people. He created the Sacred Art of the Ori Ritual, which he describes and explains on September 11, 2017, TED Talk.
According to Senbanjo, his body painting artwork known as the ‘Sacred Art of the Ori’ that the origin of this practice derives from a spiritual Yoruba ritual.
“In my language, Yoruba ‘Ori’ literally means your essence, your soul, your destiny,” Laolu explains in his artist statement. “When I work with a muse, the muse, their Ori, and I become one. It’s the deepest, most spiritual experience I’ve ever had with my art as an artist.”
He recalled there were moments when he felt very misunderstood and isolated. It was painful to watch people downplay what he believed in.
People want to tell you “This is who you are versus who you know you are.” It’s difficult for people to understand because you can be a lot of things to different people.
In 2010, Laolu resigned from his job to pursue art full-time and started the Laolu Senbanjo Art Gallery in Abuja, Nigeria. He said,
“I put all my money into it and didn’t make much back, but I was happy. My family never bought my art, and that was painful.”
He won the Master of Air to create a T-shirt and sneaker design for AIR MAX CON 2016. He was the only black and Nigerian amongst the team of masters.
He recalled that his brother called to congratulate him, and said that his father was bragging about him to everyone. “That’s my son,” he’d say.
He has had commissions from and formed partnerships with, celebrities and brand titans including the Smithsonian Institution.
He has also partnered with Danielle Brooks (who plays Tasha Jefferson on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
In December 2014, his works as part of the selected Exhibitions and Talks at Art Basel Miami.
In 2016, his exhibit “Sounds of Africa” opens at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, CA in collaboration with BET.
In the same year, by September Laolu performs ” Creation as a Ritual: Performing Disguise”, a live art installation featuring three dancers and live musicians, at the Brooklyn Museum.
In April 2015 and 2016, Senbanjo and his Sacred Art of the Ori Ritual have been featured in various music videos, including “Come with me.” by South African Black Coffe (DJ) and Sorry(Beyonce song) from Beyonce Visual Album, Lemonade .
In 2016, Senbanjo has been invited to collaborate with several brands, Shoe designer Kenneth Cole and Laolu collaborate on a #MyStepsWill advertising campaign.
By 2017, He worked on Forthcoming from Swizz Beatz & The Dean Collection in London. He was also part of BVLGARI Man in Black Essence limited edition Cologne bottle.
When He was asked what he about the expectation of his now numerous clients across the globe, he said, “I never want to let my clients down, so I do what I’m there to do—my art.”
” As a pioneer in the Afrofuturism movement, I consider it my duty to keep creating and to continue pushing boundaries. My art is never a job, just another exploration.”
“My grandmother passed in 2001, and I recently just blurted out my Oríkì: “You are somebody who has what the West doesn’t have.” Now, it all makes sense. In fact, it’s never made more sense.”
We hope you have enjoyed exploring Laolu Senbanjo biography and his success story at the younger age of 35 have inspired you to new discoveries.
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