The Nigerian artist's NFT collab with Djimon Hounsou runs from November 10th to 15th and urges us to recognize the past, celebrate the present, and project a future drenched in our rich African history.
Nigerian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Láolú's latest project is one centered around the beauty and grace of the human body. The visual art series, titled Time To Heal, consists of five unique portraits featuring Academy Award-nominated actor Djimon Hounsou as a canvas onto which Láolú applied his famous body art known as the "Sacred Art of the Orí". The body designs have been featured in many of Láolú's exhibitions; as well as on Dj Tunez's "Energy" single cover; the artwork for US personality Charlamagne Tha God's Tha God's Honest Truth show; and more.
Time To Heal looks at the artist paint Yoruba patterns and symbols related to alertness, compassion, and the quest for freedom onto Djimon's head, right hand, and left shoulder. The outcome is a bright image of the actor as an African Warrior of Light. (In a press release, the Beninese-American actor says, "I feel this compelling need, this inherent obligation to give back to my continent, to my people, and to champion the idea of reconciliation and reconnection.") The artwork series will be sold in a premium auction on the Binance NFT Marketplace between November 10 and 15, 2021, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Djimon Hounsou Foundation.
The visual artwork comes to the world as the artist's debut in the NFT market. An NFT, (Non-Fungible Token) is a piece of art that is stored as a unique digital file hosted on a server and then sold through encrypted blockchains.The NFT's are acquired through auctions (sold in cryptocurrency) and the highest bidder is crowned as the owner of the "one-of-one" piece.
In this project, Láolú manifests his beloved 'Sacred Art of Ori' through Djimon's body, but asks viewers to look at the artwork and ask themselves, "What would I look like as a God?" The series focuses on empowering young Africans to honor their heritage, as well as bringing them closer to the history and stories of gods and goddesses from Yoruba mythology. "You're not just looking at art on the walls of a museum", he says, "You are the museum. You are the art, you embody it."
We spoke with the Brooklyn-based artist about his come-up, his ability to stay present and true to himself, and taking his designs to space.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
You have worn many hats; human rights lawyer in Nigeria, Afropop musician when you moved to Brooklyn and now you're a world-renowned visual artist. Which hat felt closest to your dream self?
I would say art. I've always been an artist, but then it was from art to law then back to art. I would say art is something that comes to me pretty naturally. I didn't have to go to school for that.
How did you keep finding your way back to art through all those career changes?
Honestly, it's always been a matter of when. I wouldn't say it was a career change. I was doing a lot side by side. While I was back in school, studying law, I was also engaged in making art and music. When I started working at the human rights commission, I had a gallery. So, my daytime was work, and my weekends and evenings were art, poetry, and music. It's always been like that.
For me, it was always a matter of when I was going to finally appease my Nigerian parents. And they were cool after sacrificing to the gods, and like, "OK, great. You've done right by us." Then it's like, "OK, I'm going to follow my dreams now and just pursue an art career, logically, and with the full zeal that it demands. And I've been doing that full-time since 2013.
And within those almost 10 years, you've worked with Beyoncé, Lupita Nyong'o, Nike, Serena Williams, and so many more international names and game-changers. How does it feel to be one of the leading voices curating the image the world has of African culture, African art, and beauty?
It feels good, nice. It's also very tasking. The goal for me is to have a lot more artists, hopefully on the same platform, so there's more enlightenment. As a Nigerian from the diaspora, I can only speak for a certain part of Nigeria in terms of the style of my artwork, my viewpoints, and how I see the world. So, I hope for more art from other prominent artists from different parts of the continent, and more representation in terms of art. But it feels good. I'm just happy that the world is coming to terms with the complexities, the beauty, and also the ritual and genius of arts from the continent, and also from Nigeria. I'm just more than happy to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm really excited about the future.
And with rituals, your body rituals, The Sacred Arts of Ori, have manifested in a lot of different ways. Why do you think people resonate so strongly with those designs?
The look of the art on melanated skin, on dark skin, is just ... It's nothing that I can put into words, it just glows.
It's just something that we have done, time immemorial. But now, with better tools, I'm able to use different symbols from Yoruba mythology and put them on the skin. What I do is use the art to celebrate and recognize who we are, recognize the past, celebrate the present, and project the future. I take those elements and put them on your skin, and that way I'm able to put our people in such a light so they look like orishas, they look like gods.
That's the whole point of the Sacred Art of Ori and how it was born. It's like "What would you look like as a God?" That's how I think about it, what would it look like if we all walked around like gods and goddesses from Yoruba mythology? People love to see themselves in that light.
You're not just looking at art on the walls of a museum — you are the museum. You are the art, you embody it. So wherever you go, you can be art, you can wear art, you can put art on your clothes and your shoes. It could be on the walls or the subway. It could be on a spaceship. It's not limited. That's what makes it amazing.
And people engage with it in such amazing ways! They DM or email me about how the art makes them feel seen or just makes them happy and kids keep drawing their own portraits in schools — I've seen third and fourth graders. And that's something that I didn't anticipate. I wanted to create art, but I didn't know how visceral and how powerful it would be in terms of connecting with a very large audience and fan base. I'm forever grateful.
You've said that anything can be a canvas, whether it's paper, walls, cars, and even people. Where are you challenging yourself to go next?
Good answer. What lead you to create your digital series "TIME TO HEAL"?
One of the reasons why I got involved in this project is the altruistic importance, the fact that it gives back to charity, and the fact that I'm a human rights attorney, and what Djimon cares about in terms of ending modern-day slavery. I can't even believe we are still talking about slavery. That's what drew me in. I'm excited to be a part of a project that gives back to be able to fight this unpleasant situation that we have. And as an artist, linking this art from the continent to the diaspora has always been a passion of mine. This actually helps us, helps me to be able to connect art from the continent, art from Nigeria, with the diaspora. Also, it's an NFT. The fact that this also puts this art in a very new light in terms of technology, I'm all for it.
Why did you decide to position this project as an NFT?
It provides transparency, and also the digital aspect of sharing art is expanding. I think that NFTs are creating great opportunities for artists right now, artists like myself. It also allows you to track everything, through the whole process. I like the fact that you can see everything happening, it's on the app, it's going to be on binders. It's also the cool thing to do right now.
Is there anything that you're currently working on that you're excited to share with the world?
I'm working on new music, I think I can talk about that. I've been in the studio working on music with art. So, you're going to see a blend of art, in a way that it's never been shown. It's more of a merge of visuals, digital, and music. My team and I have been working on some dope stuff.
That's great! The last time you spoke with us, you said that your music suffered a lot because you had to put most of your energy into your art. So that's fantastic to hear.
The truth is, I was hoping to have more downtime when things aren't too busy for me. But, I realized it's always going to be busy, you just have to create time and do what you want to do. I'm thinking about just going all-in right now and creating content that is going to be shared on all platforms. So, fingers crossed.