Canvassing the Body: A Dialogue with Aziz Olamide
Aziz Olamide is a Nigerian body painter dedicated to Art. He uses body paint like an inspired poet uses language. His work conveys different shades of emotions. He grew up in Lagos and has a B.A in Theatre Arts from Lagos State University, Nigeria. Aziz’s talent cannot be tied to one form. And so, he has delved into the production of eccentric T-shirts that create the same impression as his body painting.
While submerged in the buzzy mix of Art and book vibes at Aké Festival 2018, I saw his hands dash lines and drop dots in dazzling displays, which to me is persuasive evidence that he has a fine mind ─for only such a mind can generate such beauty. I knew I was going to talk with him. So here we are.
BY TEGA OGHENECHOVWEN
This conversation took place in Nigeria via email.
Tega: Someone said every artist has a name and a story. I am curious to know what yours is.
Aziz: My name is Aromasodun Azeez Olamide. I use my first and second names, “Aziz Olamide.” I coined this style from Kendrick Lamar. He only uses his first and second names. Like me, he’s a Gemini. We are of the same birth month and day. I grew up in the hoods of Mushin. Growing up in Mushin isn’t Nasco Biscuit. I’ve been using pencils and papers since my childhood. My interest in Art started after I encountered an Art teacher we nicknamed Mr. Boat in Secondary School. Mr. Boat made Art so loveable and easy to learn. My interest in acting made me study Theatre Arts. While I was in university, I constructed and painted sceneries and props for a course on Set Design. Since then, I have been moving it.
Tega: Did your Theatre education influence your art?
Aziz: Yes, it did. I was exposed to different concepts and designs at the university. I took a course in Theatre History where I came across Aztec designs of Mexicans. The members of this culture absorbed symbols and their meanings as they grow up. These symbols were around them, on their temple walls, jewelries, on their dresses and so on. They used these symbols to express perceptions and experiences. I consumed their symbols. My art was also influenced through learning about Mesoamerican cultures. Members of these cultures used body paint for communication, especially warriors going into battle. I also feasted on Egyptian hieroglyphics, which was used in telling deep stories.
Tega: I had my first body painting done by you at Aké Festival 2018. It made me high-spirited. It brought a raw, urgent feeling of freedom. I didn’t wash it off when I got back to my hotel room. I woke up the next day and the paint was smudged all over my face and duvet. Do you get such reactions from people?
Aziz: I’ve painted on a huge number of persons and they received positive energies from the art. A girl said she felt celestial afterward. Another told me it made her feel a kind of peace she had not counted upon.
Tega: What are the things you consider when you are about to paint someone?
“My art was also influenced through learning about Mesoamerican cultures. Members of these cultures used body paint for communication, especially warriors going into battle.“
Aziz: When painting, I consider the person’s gender, complexion, and physique. A connection is mysteriously created when I look at or talk to the person. This connection informs me on just what to do. Some persons would tell me they want small portions of their bodies painted. As I proceed, they would say they want more and more designs. Isn’t that the power of art?
Tega: I wonder if you ever face the limitation of ideas. I say this because your designs are elaborate and different with every person you paint. And you are so fast about it. Are there times you have to wrack your head before you achieve a design?
Aziz: I actually do pause at times when working but it won’t be for long. Sometimes the cause may be a distraction from people around, mostly noisy spectators. I don’t really think too much before I achieve a design. At times, before I start painting I would already have what I want to do in mind but a little mistake will turn the concept around. There are times I won’t even know what to do but once I place the tip of my marker on someone’s body symbols, signs, patterns start to flow.
Tega: The origin of inspiration can never be overlooked. Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most important painters in Western history said, “I dream my paintings and then I paint my dream.” Other artists chalk inspiration to creative instinct or something incomprehensible. Where do yours come from?
Aziz: I draw from my inner well. This well is characterized by the things that I’ve seen, learned, read, and everything I have surrounded myself with. I also draw inspiration from the fantasy realm, hieroglyphics, Aztec designs, Tatau, Pélé Òyó, Nsibidi, African mythological characters, and African thought patterns.
Tega: Not everyone will agree to get his or her body painted. Some people consider body painting diabolic, archaic and so on. How do you deal with these opinions when they surface?
Aziz: I preach otherwise. I tell people that body painting has been in existence since time immemorial. I can’t force people to get their bodies painted. I can only try to lead them to beauty.
Tega: Early body painters used vegetable dye, clay, animal dropping and juices of wild fruits to work. Now body painters use specialized markers. Have you worked with anything other than these markers? Also, do you think a chunk of the art has been lost to modernity?
Aziz: I have only used alcoholic based markers, which make the art easier and don’t cause skin irritation. However, people still practice indigenous body painting. The world has been spinning uptown since modernity took over but it has only served to make the art more and more sacred.
Tega: I am fascinated by your i-collections T-shirts. They speak of Black identity. What moment did you decide it was time to shift into the clothing business?
Aziz: In 2015, I drew ‘god of war’ with no head, just his eyes, nose, mouth, and beard, and I showed it to a friend who said it would be nice to have the drawing printed on a T-shirt. We made plans to do it but abandoned the idea. In 2017, I couldn’t secure a job after my NYSC experience. I got bored staying at home so I decided to learn how to do T-shirt customization. During that time, I was doing body painting too and so I began to infuse my face painting ideas on the t-shirts I was making.
Tega: The designs on your latest brand of T-shirts are conspicuously unconventional. Can you talk about the concept behind them?
Aziz: My latest brand has an integration of historic designs, that’s why I refer to the shirts as ‘Contemporary Urban Wears’. The concept celebrates black culture and is in contrast with the present age.
Tega: The Nigerian fashion industry is highly concentrated. How do people receive your brand? What plans do you have for it?
Aziz: My brand has been highly appreciated and recommended by people who own i-collections T-shirts. I strongly believe that i-collections is more than a clothing brand, that it is a movement. Our brand is moving gradually. Many people want to connect with something esoteric and full of soul, and we are right here for them. Soon i-collections will be moving clothes to other parts of the world.
Tega: Being an Artrepreneur comes with diverse challenges. It could be terrible mostly when one comes from the backsides of the mountain. What challenges do you face as a clothier and how do you surmount them?
Aziz: I don’t like challenges. But without challenges, one can’t learn and grow. I have had rough times but I have been pushing my business relentlessly. I am grateful for my growth. I just have to stay true to my values and keep pushing.
Tega: Visual artists are drawn to colours. Which colour gets to you and why?
Aziz: I am so drawn to black. I love working with its positive and negative connotations to send profound messages.
Tega: Can you drop any advice for fellow artists out there?
Aziz: Ah! I need advice too. I’m still learning. I need to maintain my authenticity. I need a big market. I’m not in competition with anyone. I have to cleanse myself of ugly feelings. I need not be afraid to make mistakes because with every mistake comes another head-turning concept. Ryan Gander says, “Never believe that you know something because the world will change around you.” Have I even said anything?
Tega Oghenechovwen is interested in psycho-trauma, human liberty and the battle between innocence and experience. He has work with the Rumpus, Litro Magazine, Black Sun Lit, AFREADA and elsewhere. He tweets @tega_chovwen