My introduction to body art was the face painting sessions I would be taken for as a child, then later in the West African movies I overconsumed for a while. I had not the slightest clue the significance or depth of the art until just a few years ago when I started seeing some artists’ work on Social Media.
All the artist I’ve come across uses their work as a channel for cultural and artistic expression, whether for religious, social or ornamental reasons. Some of the symbols they use in their patterns might either hold some meaning, convey a message or simply be abstract.
Speaking of meaning: In West Africa, the Akan Ethnic group of Ghana have for centuries used Adinkra symbols. These symbols are extensively used in architectural features, fabrics, logos and pottery to represent certain ideas and concepts.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been keen on exploring body painting as an art, and here are a handful of artists whose work I think were totally worth my while. Plus, they are amazing visual storytellers.
Dan Oketch is a Nairobi based contemporary artist whose art speaks both pain and pleasure.
Most of his designs include a continuous array of 5’s; a pattern inspired by a number of things. There are handcuffs as a representation of the time he was an inmate. The continuity of the 5’s symbolizes chains. Both the handcuffs and chains also symbolize eventual freedom, as they break/open eventually. Apart from this pattern, Oketch’s other patterns to show the world his creative diversity.
My favorite of Busingye’s works of art is on two mannequin heads, which I spotted on Instagram. He calls them crazy, dumb freaks. The combination of neon colors, curves, tribal patterns and a Yin and Yang symbol is just the perfect blend. He also does and canvas art and is a sculptor based in Kampala, Uganda.
Laolu Senbanjo, a former human rights lawyer in Nigeria, is a New York based artist that shot to fame after collaborating with the Queen B, Beyoncé, on her Lemonade album. His art is heavily influenced by his native Yoruba culture, history, and spirituality; with an incorporation of ancient Nigerian codes and symbols.
Senbanjo’s methodology is translating the personalities and vibe of the people he works on into shapes, patterns and lines that hold a meaning.
It is for this reason that no two of his patterns are ever similar. No two people have identical personalities traits, right? There’s one identical trait in his designs though: the narrative, which is strength, confidence and pride.”
A graphic designer and, of course, a body paint artist, Mr. Salami’s art is unapologetic, poetic, fierce and revolutionary. How unconventional he is is also mind blowing. How you wonder? Most of his latest works have been some form of activism; from spreading body positivity, raising awareness on domestic and gender-based violence to joining the recent #ENDSARS campaign (a campaign calling for the end of police brutality in Nigeria). His is art that starts conversations and triggers change in one way or another. He uses his Xtrovarts platform for this.
Are we allowed to choose favorites? Because my heart might already be perched, you know where.
George Nsakie, @geraldo.360 on Instagram, is a Ghanaian muralist and canvas painter whose body art is majorly glow-in-the-dark; a concept that is an embodiment of unlimited radiance, shine and metaphorical glow against “a dark culture”. In the literal sense, seeing the glow in total darkness brings him joy. Also, glow in the dark to the artist is a sign of hope.
Over his 8 years of exploring these forms of art, Gerald has evidently mastered the art of perfection as well. How he achieves hi genius? “I listen to my mind,” he tells me.
“My mood sometimes determines what I paint, other times I follow a theme based on what’s happening”. George also puts in extra effort to get the results he (or his client) prefers, including studying the paints and patterns, plus a lot of practice and experimentation both indoors and outdoors in isolation.
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