The face of GUAP’s 31st cover is the British-Nigerian figurative painter Sola Olulode. A rising star in the professional art world, Sola attained a good spot at the world-renowned 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair last year in London with her solo show at age 26. Her recognisable art style blends layers of indigo, rays of yellow, brown-skinned queer narratives, and traditional West African textile patterns.
Anyone familiar with West African contemporary art and textiles would instantly recognise Sola’s references to the African Art monarch that is Chief Dr. Nike Davies Ogundaye. Nike, also known as Mama Nike and Nike art – regarding her ownership of West Africa’s most extensive African Art gallery in Lagos – is known for wearing oversized geles (a traditional head wrap famously worn by Yoruba women) coated in traditional indigo-dyed patterns and large red coral beads. We wanted to know more about Sola’s connection to Nike and traditional indigo fabric dying in West Africa.
GUAP: Your work seems to draw on artistic references that can be traced to Nike Okundaye’s practice and fashion. When did you first learn about Nike?
Sola: I first learned about Nike while studying at art school and looking at Nigerian artists and textiles. I was looking at are special.
Adire is a traditional pattern-making process that exceeds the visual elements we typically assign to fashion, i.e., aesthetically pleasing patterns and creative silhouettes. Beyond these elements, this classic fabric-making process was also used to communicate. Designs were constructed to narrate specific storylines since the 12th century. During this periodic era, pure indigo was extracted from Indigofera and Lonchocarpus cyanescens plants, while chicken feathers, pieces of igbale (a West African broom), dirt, and knives were assembled to provide the base tools needed to produce this communicative fabric.
In 2021 Sola visited Nike’s prestigious gallery upon having her exhibition that year in Lagos, Nigeria. While there, she took a workshop coordinated by Nike in which traditional fabric dyers trained her to create adire. Like other contemporary artists of west African heritage, Sola incorporates the practice within her art. Her night-time bed installation showed off her incorporation of adire at her solo exhibition at 1-54 last year (see images below).
Community and intimacy are two critical themes in Sola’s murals from this exhibition and across broader work. Sola remains dedicated to representing her community and life experiences by seeing more depictions of black queer love and joy.
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