The Africa Report - - ART & LIFE - Bil­lie Mc­ter­nan

Some may say it all started with Bey­oncé. In one of the clips from her vis­ual-al­bum Le­mon­ade the singer’s en­tourage are cov­ered in in­tri­cately de­signed white paint on their arms, faces and chests. The video is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Laolu Sen­banjo, a Yoruba artist liv­ing in New York. Fans soon recre­ated the looks and his work was adapted across con­ti­nents, from the Afrop­unk fes­ti­vals in New York and Lon­don, to art fes­ti­vals and fash­ion shoots in Ac­cra and La­gos. Body paint­ing has a long tra­di­tion in some West African cul­tures, reach­ing back as far the cul­tures them­selves. In re­cent years th­ese artis­tic tra­di­tions have been mod­ernised. “The art of the peo­ple, it’s part of them, it’s their way of life, so when we talk about mor­ph­ing from the tra­di­tional to the con­tem­po­rary it’s just a nat­u­ral course,” says Chuma Anag­bado, founder of La­gos-based cre­ative arts brand Lizaad, which ap­plies mo­tifs in­flu­enced by the Uli body paint of Igbo cul­ture to ev­ery­day ob­jects such as bikes, fur­ni­ture and T-shirts. Other Nige­rian artists like Karo Akpok­iere and Osa Seven are adapt­ing tra­di­tional pat­terns and pro­duc­ing them on a range of sur­faces. Some are con­cerned that this new in­ter­est has caused a band­wagon ef­fect, en­cour­ag­ing new par­tic­i­pants to ap­pre­ci­ate the art with­out en­gag­ing in its his­tory and the cul­tures it stems from. “There seems to be a go­ing back of sorts, peo­ple are try­ing to dig back what’s in the past and make it hip and then of course glob­al­i­sa­tion plays a very big role,” Anag­bado says. For him, though, the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind it is pos­i­tive: “It ties back to iden­tity. We are seek­ing for our iden­tity, so any­thing that gives us that feel­ing of ‘Look this is me, I need to claim it back,’ then it’s fan­tas­tic.”

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