Finding Destiny: Laolu Sebanjo – The Sacred Art Of The Ori


Image by Laolu Sebanjo

A few years back I picked up a book by Wole Soyinka called “Of Africa”. The book is an essay on different topics addressing the politics, economics and culture of the continent. Of the many areas he addressed, what struck me was his argument that the traditional religions in Africa ought to be cherished and not cast away due to the adoption of more secular religions like Christianity and Islam. After reading his book, I recall having flashbacks of me walking through certain neighborhoods’ in Nigeria and seeing homes hanging sculptures connected to the Yoruba religion. At the time, my position was to judge the practice without understanding that these traditions are very much a part of the fabric of Africa.

Fast forward to 2016, I was listening to The Brilliant Idiots Podcast and they had two guests speaking about their Afro-Latino background. During the conversation, one of the women highlighted Yoruba as a religion that is practiced in her native homeland. They pray to “Oludumare” and follow many of the traditional customs started by the Yoruba people. I thought that was the end of it, until the Beyonce Lemonade album dropped and while reading some of the articles, a visual artist by the name of Laolu Sebanjo was highlighted.

Sebanjo contributed to Beyoncé’s visual album through his body paint using ancient traditional Yoruba markings on his subjects. He calls it the Sacred Art of the Ori. Ori, means head or destiny. His markings are done to capture the energy he feels from his subject then proceeds to mark their bodies. There is a spiritual connection he aims to achieve through his work not only on Beyonce’s video treatment but also going forward in his artistry. He has managed to land a deal with Nike to design sneakers using some of his designs. There is a renaissance in which African art is embraced by the Diaspora hence, Sebanjo can contribute his artistry to other ventures, whether it is designing for major fashion houses or building his own through the sale of his merchandise.

I appreciate artists who have conviction in their work. I am certain Sebanjo was discouraged from embracing his form of art. It is not mainstream enough or it will scare people away are likely words spoken often to him. He chose his path and is now thriving. To have an art presence that expands beyond Nollywood and Afrobeat music shows the multi layered aspects of Nigerian and broader African art.

Ideas, ArtFemi Adeyinka