Yusuff Aina Abogunde making art

Yusuff Aina Abogunde, who is 25, is most interested in illustrating experiential themes — telling stories of identity — and hoping that anyone who comes across these stories feels represented.

Photo: by UNEARTHICAL (Ayanfe Olarinde)

Nigerian Artist Yusuff Aina Abogunde Uses His Experiences to Tell Stories on Identity

We spoke to Nigerian artist Yusuff Aina Abogunde about discovering art, developing a niche, being multidisciplinary, and finding a voice through his work.

Nigerian artist Yusuff Aina Abogunde conjures art from a multidisciplinary view, spanning from painting to sculpting to minting digital works.

Abogunde’s work is as experimental as it is exceptional. His art is made from the concept he calls “Ainaism”— a technique he carved from his name Aina. In Yoruba culture of Nigeria, Aina is a name given to children born with their mother’s umbilical cord wrapped around their necks. Because his own birth experience had been that of struggle, Abogunde decided to make his work represent that ideology. The artistic concept of Ainaism is conveyed from textural lines, self-designed patterns, and symbols.

Abogunde, who is 25, is most interested in illustrating experiential themes— telling stories of identity— and hoping that anyone who comes across these stories feels represented or has a beneficial relativity. His art simply transcends race, sexuality and gender, expressing oneness where it does not live and also exploring the versatility of human nature amidst.

In a zoom interview, OkayAfrica spoke to Abogunde about discovering art, developing a niche, being multidisciplinary and finding a voice through his work.

Yusuff Aina Abogunde

Abogunde’s work is as experimental as it is exceptional.

Photo: by UNEARTHICAL (Ayanfe Olarinde)

How did you start making art?

It started when I was four years old. When I was in primary one, my teacher had given us homework to draw a cake. When I got home, I picked up my pencil and drew [the cake] so well that I scored a 10 out of 10. Because I scored a very good mark, it came to my realization that I wanted to be an artist. Though, I wanted to do other things— like being a goalkeeper or a dancer. But art was inherent to me and I wanted to do it— draw, paint, do something unique nobody does.

When did you decide to become an artist?

I started my career as an artist in 2016, that was the time I was surrounded with a lot of artistic energy and I felt it was the best time to share that with the world. So I verged on the journey, discovering my niche, my style. And I wanted to explore it in a versatile way, in several mediums. In the long run, I was able to understand my artistic potential and that helped me create my Eniyan character in 2018, which became my most recognizable niche. I’m happy that after several years of my career, I have been able to use my Eniyan to capture a lot of stories navigating identity and human emotions and it has touched people’s lives in the most perfect way.

Your artistic process spans several mediums of art. Was that intentional?

I think I would refer to myself as a multidisciplinary artist— that’s like the best way to describe me. I work with different modes of creation: I paint, I design, I can work on any surface and any medium. I also sculpt. My work ranges from different elements of art creation.

Tell me the inspiration behind your Ainaism concept?

Ainaism is coined from my name Aina. It’s a name given to children born with an umbilical cord wrapped around their necks. Children born in that state always face life and death moments. Every child who survives that birth fatality is called Aina because it’s a sign of breakthrough and patience. My patterns came to me while I was trying to write down something and I just typed toothlane in the lines in motion, but I didn’t know what to call it then because I didn’t even know my name was Aina then. So one day, I was just having a conversation with my mother and she started telling us our pet names and she told me I was Aina. I started reading the meaning to my name and it led to my style of art. I use the lines to represent the umbilical cord. I started using my lines and my motion patterns to express the possible pressure and break through of life. I have incorporated it in my paintings and I’m also associating it with my character which is my dominant style of painting.

Who has inspired your artistic journey?

My inspiration is myself. I’m most inspired by things I pay attention to. Over the last year, I have started paying more attention to myself and my wants, creating things that are personal to me. I’m most inspired by things around me, the human mind inclusively. My inspiration comes from my thoughts, things I want people to know but the zeal to learn more about myself inspires me most.

Eniyan mas art

"The mask was a character I designed some time ago which I did know how powerful it was until after I came across a couple of mentors," Abogunde said. "They saw me repeatedly creating this character."

Photo: by UNEARTHICAL (Ayanfe Olarinde)

I love that your work strongly embodies the theme of identity

My ode to identity- driven themes is associated with my character which is Eniyan — the mask. The mask was a character I designed some time ago which I did know how powerful it was until after I came across a couple of mentors, they saw me repeatedly creating this character. I had to look deep into what the character was about, I started seeing something beyond just a mask, I started seeing life and humanity in it. I decided to use it as my voice to express oneness in the identity of people. It’s a mask that can be anybody and nobody specifically. It was a link to unity. The mask is a phenomenon of relativity to several persons. It represents everyone regardless of gender, sexuality and race.

During the EndSARS protest, you made a series of paintings referencing that tragic moment. What were your emotions like while doing that?

I created pieces during the EndSARS period. I called them “Unbound no more.” I wasn’t protesting physically but I did protest through my art and space. It wasn’t easy even trying to be creative at that time, I went through a lot of subtle emotions. At one point, I told myself I had to finish “unbound no more” within a month because it was an overwhelming period and also getting to the 20th of October when a lot of people were killed. I took it personally because I wanted to go for the physical protest but I got ill that morning. I started realizing how much it must have affected me because I would be there physically and I could have been one of the dead or injured or missing persons at the massacre. So during that period, I could feel every mark of Ainaism. I was creating with those pieces, incorporating my Eniyan. A lot of thoughts and imaginations were involved in creating them. The pain wasn’t my own, it was the pain I have experienced from the government, from police harassment and brutalities, everyday in my life in Lagos and also the ones my close friends have experienced whereby they were also assaulted and put to jail for just looking good as a young person.

Eniyans NFT purple

Yusuff Aina Abogunde is starting to mint NFTs.

Photo: by UNEARTHICAL (Ayanfe Olarinde)

You recently made a couple of 3D Eniyans? Tell me about it.

I’m now into 3D creations. I did a test on some of them through NFTs and there are works in which I’m just introducing my mask as an element of life and introducing the idea behind the character Eniyan. It’s just basically me trying to understand what the NFTs is all about, I also was a part of NFT residency under voiceHQ. I did an animated piece because all my NFTs are animated. I haven’t done anything major because I’m taking my time to create my own community. Let’s see what the year unfolds and I will definitely launch a collection of 3D Eniyan. NFTs are kind of challenging. One of [the challenges] is finding an NFT platform to upload that was free but in the early stage. It cost some fees to mint NFTs. After minting, I paid some gas fees to lease the NFT because I didn’t have crypto in my wallet. So I had to buy ethereum from the black market.

Do you have any current projects we should anticipate?

My new project, “Escape Room” explores my observations and study of the human mind regarding our daily psychological issues of decision making and how we deal with stepping out of our problems. I use my mask-like-character Eniyan as a medium to represent humans and persons by placing it in-between an open doorway in an unusual space, a space which represents my view of what the mind looks like by using references from real physical structures, like windows and door to pass my message. The idea of placing Eniyan between these doorways is to show a stage of confusion and indecision of people, a moment or period whereby they just need to take a step out and move to the other side. Issues I explore are both physical and psychological issues like domestic violence, low self-esteem, egos, child

imprisonments, anxiety and many more. My goal with this project is to create physical experience through installations, and sculptures in large and small spaces, indoors and outdoors around the world, as a way for people to confront their issues and find courage to make their decisions, for them to find themselves in my pieces.

This project is currently being explored as paintings on canvas but in the coming months I am looking forward to opportunities and ways to bring this idea to life .