Arts and Culture, Featured

Meet Nigerian artist Ayobola Kekere-Ekun

Sep 10, 2019, Author: Carly Ritz

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun was one of few artists at this year’s RMB Turbine Art Fair whose work made us hungry for more – and that’s not because doughnuts and ice creams were the focal point of her series of work that was on display. 


Amid a sea of artists trying to get their message across, some more successfully than others, comes meaning fatigue. The reality about attending an arts fair, show or exhibition is that it’s subjective. One person’s brushstrokes are another person’s scribble, and what the artist is trying to say is partly irrelevant because how it moves the audience is unpredictable and beyond their control. 

It was all kinds of scrumptious to come across Nigerian-born artist Ayobola Kekere-Ekun’s work that landed its intended message boldly and deliciously for us with her combined unique style of quilling (a technique of working with paper), acrylic pigments and fabrics, and her daring commentary on Nigerian society. Her series titled ‘E No Concern Me’, which is pidgin English for ‘it doesn’t concern me’ or ‘it’s not my problem’, is a comment on society – in this case Nigeria – which as a result of various circumstances and infrastructure inevitably breeds people who are constantly in survival mode.  


Ours is a world where thriving and being happy is secondary to ‘acquiring stuff’ to stave off inequality and provide some kind of security. In Ayobola’s own words, “The junk food becomes a visual marker for consumerism that fuels that faux security. It’s also pretty poetic that junk food in Nigeria is actually rather expensive and it’s a treat for the most Nigerians. It’s a status symbol literally made up of empty calories.” The series, which showcases women wearing headphones and eating ice creams, lollies and bubblegum, perhaps symbolic of their deafness to their surrounds, is a comment on how junk food consumerism becomes an indirect mode of the privileged expressing that society’s problems are ‘not theirs’.  

Ayobola is now firmly on our radar. Having recently taken up residence in Joburg to pursue a PhD in Art and Design at the University of Johannesburg, she says there are a lot of similarities between the art scenes in South Africa and Nigeria. “They’re both very vibrant and consistently active – something is always opening or happening. I’d say the major difference is that the South African art scene is more ‘mature’ and more ‘structured’, which serves it well within the context of the global art ecosystem. Lagos is far more chaotic than Joburg and, ironically, safer,” Ayobola explains. She says her biggest adjustment was to the change in weather and climate. 


As for her personal inspirations, Ayobola finds meaning in the stories she hears, reads or experiences, which could mean that Mzansi will feature in her next installation of work – if we make a big enough impression, of course. For now, she intends to continue working on her degree and to keep exploring the South African art scene.     

Instagram: @ayobola.k 

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