Yusuff Aina Abogunde is a Nigerian multidisciplinary artist based in Lagos. He was born on March 18, 1997, in Lagos, Nigeria. Growing up in Surulere, art has always been part of Yusuff’s life. He draws inspiration from the stories and life experiences of the people surrounding him.
Yusuff Aina works using a medium called “Ainaism”, a self-taught and invented technique of creative lines, African patterns and symbols. Ainaism derives its name from “Aina”, a name used by the Yoruba to describe a child born with the umbilical cord entwined around his body. Yusuff’s style of art is expressed through a variety of media such as paint, ink, charcoal, colours, and atmosphere on textiles, body art, interior design, graffiti, and many more. Yusuff’s work examines Pan-Africanism, Black Power, sociopolitical issues and unveil human struggles with identity, isolation and survival of people in the world.
In this interview, Yusuff talks about what his art means to him and how he finds expression through it.
Omolola Okunlola (OO): Your art is so impressive. I love it.
Yusuff Aina (YA): (Laughs) Thank you so much.
OO: Have you always known you wanted to be an artist? What is your background?
YA: I decided to be an artist when I was about five or six years old. When I was in Primary 1, we were given an assignment to draw and colour a cake. I did it well and scored 10 out of 10. I started thinking, for me to do that and get that score, it must be something I’m good at. I wasn’t a very brilliant student so, it was a remarkable experience for me. I just thought, if I’m good at this, let me just keep doing it. From that point on, I knew that I wanted to be an artist. Although, at that stage of my life, I didn’t know they were called ‘artists’. We used the term ‘drawer’. Let’s just say I wanted to be a drawer. I wanted to be a ‘drawer’ but whenever we were asked what career we wanted to pursue, I would lie and say that I wanted to be a doctor because I didn’t know what to write about an artist. I’ve always known. Creating art is something that came naturally to me.
OO: That’s wonderful. I have to ask, why do you do what you do?
YA: I do what I do because I love it. I always find myself doing it even if I’m not actively doing it. If I’m sitting down, I draw in my head. I can be on a bus and I’m drawing in my head. I can already visualise what my next creation would be. I find peace creating art. In my art, I find joy. It has always been my escape and my gateway to loving myself. Growing up, I had low self-esteem, but when I create, it is an outlet to express myself. I also found that my art makes people want to be around me. People and opportunities gravitate towards me because of my art. I should also mention that I do what I do because I want to be rich…
OO: (Laughs) That’s part of it.
YA: …yes and I want to be the greatest artist people have ever known.
OO: Yes, you will. Amen to that.
OO: So how do you work? What is your work process?
YA: I call my kind of work process a direct inspiration. I don’t have to think too much about it. I just use the elements which the inspiration brings to create what I want. I pick inspiration from things around me. If I want to create and the idea is there, I do it. I play music to keep the flow going. If I feel like painting, I do. If I feel like drawing, I do. However it comes.
OO: I think you already answered this question. But I would like to delve deeper into it. What inspires you?
YA: Life, sufferings, struggles. What inspires me is the determination to make it in life. I didn’t grow in a condition that afforded me everything I wanted, so that kept me going. Some experiences just make you want to bring yourself and your family out of certain situations. That is one of the major things that inspire me. In the context of my work process, I look up to certain people in the art world. I am inspired by a couple of Nigerian artists and foreign artists. Both alive and dead.
OO: What Nigerian artists inspire you?
YA: The first Nigerian artist that inspired me was David Akinola. He is an incredible artist. He’s based in Lagos and we met through Instagram. He has been helpful and supportive. I am also inspired by Ken Nwadiogbu. He calls his method contemporealism – a fusion of hyper-realism and contemporary art. He is my major mentor. He opened my eyes to quite a number of things. He has been very helpful. I have a couple more that I admire but I am also my inspiration. I think I’m doing what no one else does and that is major for me.
OO: Yes, it is. What does your art mean to you?
YA: I don’t think there is an exact word for it but I would say, ‘everything’. My art is beyond exceptional, it means everything to me. It’s everything because that is what I live for. If I’m in the restroom, I’m thinking of it. If I’m sleeping, I’m dreaming of it. It is what keeps me going. It is what makes me feel relevant in society. It makes me feel like I can contribute what I can to the world around me.
OO: That’s inspiring. I’m going to ask you one last question. What is the one thing that you hope your art will help people achieve? When people see your art, how do you want them to feel? What do you want them to think?
YA: Well, it’s not just one thing. There are a couple of things. The first thing I want people to feel when people see my art is joy – this unusual joy. My art seems kind of sad but…
OO: I actually love the colours. That was the first thing I noticed.
YA:(Laughs) Thank you. That’s one of the elements I’m incorporating into my new body of work. I didn’t utilize colours before. So I want people to see my art and realize joy. I want them to find themselves in my art. Also, I want it to help them psychologically and enable them to experience the multiple realities that exist in life. I also want my art to represent Africa because that’s what my masks represent. My mask is a symbol of who we are as Africans.
OO: Thank you so much for agreeing to this. It was lovely having you.