The Art of Àìnáism and the Heart of Humanity: A Dialogue with Yusuff Aina Abogunde
My name is Yusuff Aina Abogunde. I’m an artist and a creative designer. I’m into visual arts, I draw and create my pieces on any surface; wood, canvas, body. I was born on the 18th of March, 1997. I attended Kemiester Primary School, Surulere, and my secondary school was Penny International College; that’s where I completed junior high. I completed senior high school in Ikorodu at The Saint International School.
I discovered that I could do art when I was in primary one when we were given an assignment to draw a cake and color it. I drew it well and I was happy. I scored 10/10 and that was a very unusual thing because I was not the brainy guy when it comes to books. I picked up drawing from there and since then, I pushed towards becoming an artist. At this point I am mastering, creating and discovering myself, developing my style.
BY VICTORIA OLAJIDE
The interview took place in Yusuff’s studio, a mash-up of creative energy and genius. Spending hours there daily would make anyone work something up beautiful. The studio is located in Yaba, Lagos State, Nigeria.
Victoria: I want to ask, are you an artist?
Yusuff: Well, I’m a creative. When I say I’m a creative, it doesn’t stop at drawing and painting; it falls under every other form of creativity, and creativity is beyond just drawing things. I also do voice maneuvering. I just want to start doing my hype, being a hype man. I actually dance as well, I actually started dancing before drawing.
Calling myself a creative means anything I see, I can bring meaning out of it.
Victoria: What brought up the idea of Àìnáism?
Yusuff: Àìnáism started by accident. I was trying to write something down and I started scripting the lines, so, that’s why I tell people ”Àìnáism is a calling”. I discovered that it was looking great, so I continued and picked up a bigger paper and I created something nice. I kept doing it repeatedly till I got here, and in the process of doing all these, I had not even named it Àìnáism yet. Until my mum told me my name is Àìná and the meaning of Àìná is a child born with the umbilical cord around the neck.
When I was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck. It is a tough birthing process, with a very high chance of the child dying. It also gives more pain to the mother.
If you’re an Àìná, you’re always considered as a troublesome child. That was when I discovered my essence, because I looked at the umbilical cord and I see hydrospiral lines. If we look at the umbilical cord, it’s spiral, round the neck of the child and it comes straight down to the navel of the mother, so that’s why I discovered the symbol for Ainaism. Digging deep into the meaning of Àìná, I discovered that it also means breakthrough, joy, struggle. I also looked into the history of Àìná children, I read about them, knowing most of them face challenges like what I’m facing in the process of self discovery. I was very focused and determined, so I just decided to start Àìnáism. The art of breakthrough, joy, struggle… the art of life, talking about the story and the journey of humanity. That was all before I discovered the Ènìyàn.
Victoria: Do you believe that Àìnáism is going to evolve into a movement or that it’s going to be preaching something in the next few years?
Yusuff: Growing up, I’ve always told myself that I want to make history in arts and part of making history is creating something new. So, when I discovered Àìnáism and the Ènìyàn mask, I decided to take it as a tool to make that history.
Àìnáism is an art movement, I’m pushing and getting other artists to feature into it.
Basically, Àìnáism is the use of lines. Also, my mask expresses human existence and struggles in a unique way. I have a lot of factors considered for the movement. One of the main things in Àìnáism is what I did for my final-year project, which includes the use of lines to depict the human form, or anything. Imagine a face painted out of lines throughout.
I see Àìnáism as a kind of art which will trigger the energy of humanity; the spiritual and physical energy, trying to reveal what the eyes can’t see. It’s deeper than just drawing; it’s connected to the spirit and the mind, because I create my stuff without thinking. I call it direct inspiration and it’s an innovation, that’s why I call the brand I want to push when I grow older and have a company, “Àìnávation”. It’s creative innovation.
“Digging deep into the meaning of Àìná, I discovered that it also means breakthrough, joy, struggle. I also looked into the history of Àìná children, I read about them, knowing most of them face challenges like what I’m facing in the process of self discovery. I was very focused and determined, so I just decided to start Àìnáism. The art of breakthrough, joy, struggle...“
Victoria: Did you study fine art?
Yusuff: I studied Fine and Applied Arts at the Federal College of Education.
Victoria: Is the movement for everybody, or just to create an awareness of African arts and creatives?
Yusuff: I grew up with the mentality of oneness. I only started drifting towards Africa-based art due to what I started hearing about African history as I was growing up, but still, I believe we’re all one. My heart has an African touch but not all of my work reflects that. Basically, I put my heart on Africa because I’m trying to bring the world to Africa not only based on location but looking at the piece; I combine African patterns with an unusual kind of pattern which has never been seen before. So, it’s basically an art I want to use to unite the world; that’s why I called my art “the art of humanity”, trying to change the mentality and the mindsets of people so that they realise that we are one. That is one of the main reasons I use the mask, the mask stands for anybody, Ènìyàn in Yorùbá means human being or person, so, if you’re wearing the mask or you find out the mask is used on a body, you don’t know who is under. So, you just have to accept that person. It’s also a concept where I’m trying to use the mask to make people embrace everybody; when you see the mask, you’ll want to know who the person underneath is, therefore creating curiosity and interest towards that person. So, I’ll say Àìnáism is an art for the world, from Africa.
Victoria: How would you react if, in a bid to take your work global, you had to tweak a particular feature, or you were asked to present it to fit a particular societal standard?
Yusuff: I won’t do that. You have to accept my art the way it is. That means you’re telling me what I’m creating is not good enough, and I don’t think art should be judged. It’s being selfish, it’s exploitation. You are trying to use me to gain attention because you know I have the skill and I can create anything. You are trying to change my narrative and you are trying to change my concept to steal it.
I’ll take it as stealing because if I tweak it, it becomes yours and the one I created before is no longer there. So, I won’t do that, you have to accept it. It’s like telling Adidas or any other brand to change their logo. If you want to commission something, commission it, but don’t tell me to change it. I won’t change my idea because of any brand.
Victoria: What’s your advice to young creatives? What would you like them to do differently? I want you to tell them what steps to take to get their heart out to the world.
Yusuff: First of all, I’ll just say this: do what you do for yourself, not for anybody else. I started without anybody, because I grew up alone. Not physically, but mentally. I am the second child out of four children and I was very uptight. I use art to speak to myself, to relax myself. In the process of creating, I create to want to get better, I create to make a difference.
I’ll say you just have to believe in yourself, believe you can do it, do your research, embrace the internet and make use of it very wisely. The internet has given me 90% of all I’ve gained right now based on platforms, publicity, clients etc. Most of the things I’ve gained are based on publicity. All my clients started from Instagram specifically. I started Facebook a long time but Facebook has not paid me N10,000.
Clients, exhibition, connection. Although encouragements started from facebook. I started getting encouragement from my friends and groups on Facebook, because I saw badass artists and I challenged myself. Challenging yourself is also very important. And also go out to events, exhibition.
Don’t procrastinate. If you don’t do it now, time keeps moving. Just believe in yourself, use the internet, meet people, do research and also try to discover your essence in what you are doing because if you don’t know the reason why you are doing something, or the root of what you are doing, you would be lost and confused. You won’t have a particular direction.
When I discovered the essence of Àìnáism, I never drew people again. I use to draw portraits, but I stopped when I discovered that the essence behind Àìnáism is deeper, that I can’t finish it till I die.
I can draw you but it will be in the way of Àìnáism, not the regular way. I can draw you with lines, it will be in such a way that will define and reflect me, that when people see it they would know it’s Àìná.
Victoria: Answer a question no one has ever asked you ever since you’ve been interviewed or talked to you about your art work?
Yusuff: Under myself or under art?
Victoria: Either, and both.
Yusuff: I have never been asked if I am single or married, or if I have a girlfriend.
I’m single and I’ve been looking for babe ever since, but they’ve been doing “shakara”. When you are rich though, many will come. And I believe it’s more difficult when you’re trying to choose, because you won’t be able to tell the difference. But I believe whoever we end up with, we end up with. That’s why I try to make female friends, try to understand women. Trying to understand women is even part of my art because as an Àìnáism artist I have to understand the human mind.
Victoria: Do you plan to take a course in psychology too?
Yusuff: I’m a psychologist too, it’s just that I don’t have a certificate.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do, I want to further my degree, Masters and everything.
I will still do art, but I want to infuse my art with one other department.
So, I’m single and searching, in case anybody is interested. Maybe you too.
Victoria: How much do you want to reach with your art?
Yusuff: I want to be rich to the extent that my success can get to any community and fit the community. Let’s take Bariga for example, I was born and brought up in Aguda, Surulere, Lagos State.
I schooled around Bariga. My college, my higher institution was at Akoka- Federal College of Education.
I want to be able to impact the community. To be successful enough to be able to bring people out of the slum through education because I aim to have an academy.
So, it’s going to be called Àìnávation Academy. It’s going to involve different aspects of creativity. We wouldn’t talk about biology, we would talk about creativity.
Victoria: Did you do sciences?
Yusuf: No, I did art, but Biology was a compulsory course.
I’m passionate about finding love and money because one thing is if you don’t have love, you’ll always feel incomplete and I’m someone that didn’t really get attention growing up.
Victoria: You spoke about Ènìyàn before. What is Ènìyàn?
Yusuff: Ènìyàn is an abstract representation of a human being; it’s the human identity, it’s a form of art that would be trying to give people a new form of identity and a new face to communicate, to relate in life and also art. Whenever I’m creating my Ènìyàn art, I depict it in the form of a solid rock and wood kind of texture. I’m using that to express and explain the journey of humanity to the stage we are right now. We know that human beings originated from dust and we were created from dust, so, if we’re to look at human beings with a straight perspective of dust, what form would humans take? We would be a solid Rock because we’re becoming more complicated, complex, rigid in form of living or mindset and we’re cracking up. If you study my works you’ll notice some of these forms.
A narrative and a form where I’m trying to make humans remember the cause of the problems of the world. We’re the cause of the problems of the world, if we can try to face facts , try not to be too selfish, put away discrimination, racism and not be self-centered because self centeredness is what’s causing a lot of problems.
If Donald Trump was not self-centered, he would not be a racist. If African leaders were not self centered, they would have done the right thing and everything they promised us all these years.
If we as humans were not self centered we would check on our fellow human beings and relate with them. So, Ènìyàn is an art which is deep in the sense that I want to use it to really express the huge details of human nature and it’s going to be coming out in sculptures, gigantic sculptures and so many others in the nearest future, thank you.
Victoria: How did you leave your personal space? How did you come out basically?
Yusuff: When I was back there in Ikorodu, I was with a friend who showed me the internet, I met and I’ve been following people. When I went to school and throughout my schooling, people have been following me online and I felt close to them.
I kept doing my art, without keeping school in mind because it might distract me. I kept posting on Instagram, on the internet and more people started reaching out to me. I sold my first artwork to an art collector and that encouraged me.
It is by consistency. I draw everyday, I post everyday. I even have about 300 images archived from Instagram and there’s still over 300 more. Even before I started archiving more I had to delete some. I draw everyday and that’s what every creative who wants to get to the top should do.
Draw everyday, create everyday, make use of every object around you, every space; create an art piece out of a socket.
Look at your eyes and create an art piece out of it. I can make an art that’s very sick, a painting, a sculpture, anything out of a cloud. So , it’s basically a mind thing. Coming out of your comfort zone, attending exhibitions, going out. You have to come out yourself, find a way, visiting people, communicating, be eager to know galleries, attend events relating to creativity, it doesn’t have to be drawing alone.
Right now I do body art, when I do body art, it’s an art form; fashion buys into it, events, parties, clubs, galleries, companies. They ask you if you can do these things. I’ll be doing a mural today at the Paystack office at Ikeja. It just about coming out of your shell, when you decide to do it, it doesn’t matter where you are.
Victoria: Thank you so much Yusuff Aina. I had a very pleasant time learning from you.
Yusuff: Thank you.
My name is Victoria Olajide. I am a Litterateur and Editor.
I am also an Author, Entrepreneur and Content Creator. I enjoy conversations on Culture, Afrofuturism, Art, Human rights, travel and most importantly helping writers get better.
I blog at www.thevictoriao.com. Contact: email@example.com.
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