Glowing, patterned lines adorn every inch of human bodies, creating the appearance of a mysterious language glistening on their skin. These mesmerizing images are the work of Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo, who uses the body as a canvas upon which he illustrates bold geometric and swirling patterns. When Senbanjo finishes painting, his subjects become more than a body; they evolve into a moving piece of perplexing artwork. The New York-based artist is most famous for his collaboration with Beyoncé on her recent visual album Lemonade, for which he painted all of the dancers’ bodies and that of the singer herself, which catapulted him to fame. As with Beyoncé’s work, Senbanjo aims to empower black artists and push boundaries through artistic reinvention.
Inspired by African traditions, history, and spirituality, Senbanjo’s temporary but impactful creations have shed light on the skills and prowess of contemporary Nigerian artists. Senbanjo hopes that his work creates a better understanding of Nigerian culture and African identity by establishing a fresh, bold narrative. “I hope that people gain a better understanding of my culture (Yoruba). I want to bring a different African narrative that people might not have encountered before. I want people to see that when I paint, I paint someone with strength, confidence, and pride,” he tells Creators.
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Hand-painted using white body paint on bare skin, these beautiful designs are more than decorative patterns: they’re ancient Nigerian symbols and codes. What’s more, no two of Senbanjo’s designs are alike. Heavily influenced by his native Nigerian culture, Senbanjo employs elements from his Yoruba heritage, a culture in southwest Nigeria. Yoruba tradition follows a unique cosmology and asserts that every individual has a specific destiny and fate, placing importance on self-understanding, religious nourishment, and spiritual growth. “I translate my muse’s story onto their bodies with patterns. I use my patterns as a code,” Senbanjo says. “I call my style of art nxgafromysterics, which means the mystery of the African thought-pattern.”
“I use the ‘Sacred Art of the Ori’—a ritual that I created, coming from the Yoruba word and ethos, Ori. Ori means head, mind, soul, and essence.” In this ritual, Senbanjo has a conversation with his subjects, then chooses specific symbol and patterns that represent their individual qualities. Each one of his artworks takes take between six and seven hours, and the white patterns which are carefully coated onto their skin convey the special individual attributes associated with the person receiving the body art. “When I meet someone, I usually read their vibe, ask them a little bit about themselves, and interpret that into artistic lines, patterns, and shapes that have different meanings. No two ritual paintings are ever the same, because no two souls are ever the same,” Senbanjo says. “It is very interesting to see, when I paint someone, how they change after I finish painting them.”
To view more of Laolu Senbanjo’s work, click here.