True, true, that title sounds familiar. Consider it a variation on a successful theme. After coming across the work Olalekan Jeyifous did for “menswear brand” creator Ikiré Jones, we wanted to know more and asked Olalekan to share his 5 favorite designs which — not surprisingly — included one of his sci-fi inspired West African scenes called “Escape to New Lagos”. But that’s for later. Where and how did you start designing, Olalekan?
Olalekan Jeyifous: I graduated with a degree in Architecture from Cornell University In May of 2000. This image above is from my thesis which utilized the inadequacies of various 3d software programs as a means of examining notions of intentional mis-representation and re-appropriation within specific Nigerian political and mytho-cultural phenomena. That’s a very academic way of saying that from the outset my work has been driven by complex political and mythical narratives, rendered simply.
As the first image in my selection of five of my favorite works, its significance to my aesthetic language as well as artistic trajectory is immeasurable. It was both a catalyst for my creative process which often involves blending hand-drawn sketches with digital computer models, and my career as an emerging artist. In the absence of a fine arts degree and portfolio, I submitted this image and others from my architectural thesis in order to land an Artist Residency with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. This residency with the LMCC allowed me to further develop my artistic language and was essential in providing me with the opportunity to exhibit my artwork in some rather notable venues.
This next image is of four architectural models I created for the “Flow” exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem and that were also shown at La BANK in Paris as part of the S.P.A.C.E.R. exhibit. They translated many of the ideas explored in my prior works such as confronting the tension between the given, experienced and imagined aspects of “place”, while marking a significant formal departure from the detailed and narrative two-dimensional collage-like images I produced during my LMCC residency. They are also prime examples of my tendency to remix and resample my own work as each of the four models started out as digital renderings created for various architectural housing competitions. Barring a series of small-scale “shanties” I designed and built for another exhibit, these are the only physical models I have created and they serve as a persistent reminder of my desire to set aside time to return to the built medium. For that alone they are definitely among my favorite works to date.
As for the exhibit itself, “Flow” was a survey of new work by twenty emerging artists that reside and work across Africa, Europe and North America, and that were either born in Africa or born to African parents. The show was ground-breaking in that it challenged the idea of “African” art as a fixed or clearly defined aesthetic typically perceived or understood from a Western perspective. Personally, it marked an important milestone in my career and I was tremendously proud to have been included amongst such diverse and talented artists.
This next image was part of my Settlements and City Strategies series exhibited at Skoto Gallery in New York and Blanc Gallery in Chicago. It is a dense and labyrinthine, yet eerily-serene cityscape. The series it belongs to represents an idea of a degenerate futurism, yet one might find similar typologies and scenes in places such as the urban settlements of North Africa, and in overpopulated mega-cities such as Lagos, Mexico City, and Mumbai. Though outputted digitally, the drawing possesses a textured and painterly quality as a result of combining hand-drawn sketches, industrial textures, surfaces of deteriorated paper, and architectural models.
I particularly love this work because, similar to the built models I created for “Flow” it marked a notable departure from the abstracted, diagrammatic drawings and collages that defined my earlier work. Much of the imagery that I created until this point involved a haberdashery of small vignettes, varied iconography and meticulous notes and it was refreshing to create a straight-forward, pastoral scene. Consequently, my personal artwork has become much more about creating imagined and speculative dystopian landscapes, cityscapes and other architectural artifices.
I have always enjoyed textile design and pattern-making although I am rarely afforded the opportunity to explore it in my personal and commercial work so you can only imagine my excitement when I was approached by the owner of the independent menswear brand: Ikiré Jones to design several pocket-squares that would accompany his line of ready-to-wear sport jackets. Since the brand is one that combines functional, high-fashion garments with an “African” aesthetic (however that might manifest), I set out to do the same with the pocket-squares. The result was an intentionally kitschy yet well-executed “African” parody on the hand-rolled silk pocket-squares, depicting scenes of fox-hunting and greyhound races, that one might find being worn by English dandies. This is one of those purely enjoyable design exercises that have much more to do with organizing color, composition, and pattern than with examining social, political, or historical narratives…although some of that might still be present in the finished designs.
And this last image below, which is from a series of sci-fi inspired West African scenes called “Escape to New Lagos”, was created as part of the promotional/marketing campaign for Ikiré Jones. Out of the four images in this series this particular image: “New Makoko Village [Lagos 2081 A.D.]” is my favorite. It is a blend of photographs of various signages my mother took in Ile-Ife in the late 1970’s, cobbled-together photographs of Makoko Fishing village shortly before it was tragically demolished, and of course my computer-generated architectural interventions.
I wanted to resurrect this remarkably self-organized community in a commercially-technocratic future where improvised settlements containing crowded and chaotic knots of human resilience coexist alongside imposing futuristic super-structures. I feel that this image achieves the aforementioned in how it combines the past, present, and future in a way that hints at a politicized social infrastructure while completely re-imagining Africa in a way that hasn’t been seen before.
We might as well turn this into a new regular feature. To be continued.