The Afro-Diasporic Fantasy Art Of Nigerian-American Illustrator Odera Igbokwe

Nigerian-American illustrator Odera Igbokwe explores the intersection of identity & imagination by depicting black bodies in the realm of fantasy

All images courtesy of Odera Igbokwe

Odera Igbokwe is a Nigerian-American illustrator who explores the intersection of identity and imagination through racebent character archetypes, Afro-diasporic mythologies and magical girl transformation sequences. The Brooklyn-based creative, who recently featured in our story on Mikael Owunna's Limit(less) photo series, tells us their work is also very much about celebrating the African diaspora and all its narratives, mythologies, and metaphysical memories.

"Sometimes it is as simple as seeing our people present and represented in the realm of fantasy art," the artist told us over e-mail. "As a child, the characters I drew were not black unless it was Storm from X-Men, or an actual real person. One day around the age of fifteen or so, I just noticed that none of these original fantasy characters I was drawing looked like me or my family. By the time I went to college, I unplugged myself from that system of white supremacy that allowed for none of my characters to be black."

The Maplewood, New Jersey native, who was raised as the youngest of five, spent nearly every childhood summer in Nigeria. "My parents took us back to Nigeria every single summer for more than fifteen years," Odera shared. "I remember being kind of miserable there but I've grown to value the lessons they taught me. It really forced me to delve into my imagination and always generate creative energies. Back then it was just playing lots of Crash Bandicoot and Final Fantasy 9, and learning Aaliyah dance routines with my sister."

After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration, Odera continued on to Brown University to study movement-theater and West African dance. The visual storyteller counts Oumou Sangare, Zaki Ibrahim, Beyoncé, Solange, Janelle Monaé, Erykah Badu, and Zap Mama among their musical influences.

"Femi Kuti's 'Beng Being Beng' and 'Stimela' by Hugh Masekela are some of my favorite songs of all time," Odera says. "All of these musicians stand out to me because of their position and perspectives in the African diaspora. It is just truly beautiful to see all these diverse expressions of blackness and African culture."

Odera's love for music, dance, and performance serve as creative fuel for their illustrated celebrations of the African diaspora. Their work includes depictions of Nigerian deities like Anyanwu and Shango, a series titled Vogue Knights, which casts the five elements of vogue dancing as different members of a sisterhood of Knights; and images inspired by the music of Erykah Badu, Dawn Richard and the Afrofuturistic music videos of Missy Elliott and Aaliyah.

When it comes to pushing the boundaries of the fantasy genre, Odera's biggest influences stem from two seemingly disparate sources--the popular Japanese manga series Sailor Moon and celebrated African-American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler. "Sailor Moon and Octavia Butler function as sacred text to me," Odera says. "The lessons I learn from them definitely help to set my moral compass."

Last year, Odera's work went viral after they released a series of illustrations that re-imagined the cast of Sailor Moon as women of the African diaspora. "There was a lot of internal struggle about casting and identity politics going on," Odera says of the Sailor Moon series. "What does it mean if Sailor Venus who is about love and beauty has blonde hair and lighter skin? Whatever. It doesn't matter. I will make the main character Sailor Moon have dark skin and long box braids. I think my favorite part of the project was just managing to show that all ten of these women can be black and completely themselves rather than be limited to a token."

As a freelance artist, Odera is currently working on art for card gaming companies, illustrations for a short story coming out later this year, and a number of zines and anthologies. "My friend Angelica Alzona and I are in the process of creating a zine, PEPPER BREATH! to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of Digimon Adventure," they said.

"Ever since I was a kid I've been disturbed by the trends of the fantasy genre to simply disregard and erase entire groups of people. There would be amazing world building that drew from rich cultures, but it was always very obvious whose fantasy we were celebrating and who was welcome to the table; who was allowed to exist dream, envision, and fantasize. So every time I start a new piece, I think to myself: You can create any fantasy to put out into the word, so this is your sacred time to express your vision. Be the change you want to see in the world. In the words of Janelle Monaé: 'I can make a change. I can start a fire.'"

Click through the gallery above to view Odera Igbokwe's Afro-diasporic fantasy illustrations. Check out more of their work on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and their official website.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Netflix Launches 'Netflix Naija' and Announces First Nigerian Original Series

Netflix is stepping up its game in Nigeria.

After much anticipation, Netflix has announced its presence in Nigeria.

Yesterday, the streaming giant, which had been procuring Nigerian content throughout much of last year after acquiring Genevieve Nnaji's Lionheart in 2018, announced the arrival of Netflix Naija with a new Twitter account.

"N is for Naija. N is for Nollywood,"read the account's announcement tweet. "N is the 14th alphabet. 14 is also how many great talents you're looking at. N is for Netflix. But most importantly...hello, Nigeria!"

The tweet was shared along with a photo of some of the Nigerian film industry's most notable actors and filmmakers, including Banky W, Adesua Etomi, Kunle Folayan, Kemi Adetiba, Omoni Oboli as well as veteran actors Ramsey Nouah and Richard Mofe-Damijo and several others.

Keep reading...
Still from YouTube

Watch the Music Video for Rema's New Single 'Beamer (Bad Boys)'

The buzzing Nigerian artists shares a catchy new banger.

Buzzing Nigerian artist Rema shares his first single and music video of the year "Beamer (Bad Boys)."

The track is the first single since the release of his 2019 EP Bad Commando. Produced by Rvssianm, the song features a sultry, drum-heavy beat and a catchy hook in which a chorus of female voices sing of their love for "bad boys."

The steely music video features several love interests and flashy cars as Rema moves through the city on an undisclosed mission. The video features crisp, scenic shots directed by Fxrbes.

Keep reading...
"Zion 9, 2018" (inkjet on Hahnemuhle photo rag)" by Mohau Modisakeng. Photo courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery.

South African Artist Mohau Modisakeng Makes Solo NYC Debut With 'A Promised Land'

The artist will present the video installation 'ZION' and other works centering on the "global history of displacement of Black communities" at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in Brooklyn.

Renowned South African visual artist Mohau Modisakeng presents A Promised Land, his latest solo exhibition, opening at Brooklyn's Jenkins Johnson Gallery this month. This marks the New York debut of Modisakeng's ZION video installation, based on the artists's 2017 performance art series by the same name. It originally debuted at the Performa Biennial.

"In ZION the artist deals with the relationship between body, place and the global history of displacement of Black communities," reads a press release. "There is an idea that all people are meant to belong somewhere, yet in reality there are millions of people who are unsettled, in search of refuge, migrating across borders and landscapes for various reasons."

In addition to the video, the show also features seven large-scale photographs that communicate themes of Black displacement. From 19th century Black settlements in New York City, which as the press release notes, were eradicated to clear space for the development of Central Park, to the scores of Africans who have faced conflict that has led them to life as refugees in foreign lands.

Keep reading...
Rema in "Beamer (Bad Boys)" (Youtube)

The 10 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Tony Allen x Hugh Masekela, Sarkodie, Rema, Costa Titch x Riky Rick x AKA and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keep reading...

get okayafrica in your inbox