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How lawyer turned artist Laolu thrives as a global creative in NYC

Living a dream

Ecommerce has modified the sport for struggling artists around the globe, particularly for these working in the creative (and cutthroat) capital of New York City.

Brooklyn-based artist Laolu NYC (born Laolu Senbanjo) has come a good distance since transferring right here from Nigeria in 2014. The former human rights lawyer says town was calling his title.

“From the arts, creativity, and culture, I consider New York City as the epicenter of the world,” he says. “Once you’re here, it’s easy to become engulfed in the city’s energy.”


Upon his arrival he discovered how aggressive the trade may really be.

“Early on in my career, a group of friends and I would get together, go down to the Lower East Side and find places to sell our artwork on the street — typical New York City hustle.”

To his shock, this led to his first sale when a collector drove by and returned with $1,000.

For Laolu, this was simply the beginning of his rise in the New York City arts scene. From presenting a Ted Talk gone viral, to operating his on-line hub, Laolu.NYC, he knew tapping digital avenues and creating a web-based presence can be instrumental to spreading his message on a global scale.


Today, he finds himself collaborating with manufacturers like Nike, Equinox and Starbucks, as nicely as celebrities like Lupita Nyongo, Alicia Keys, and even Beyonce.

As he says in his Ted Talk “Every artist has a name, and every artist has a story.”

Here, Laolu shares his story, a narrative crammed with inspiration for rising artists.

Q&A with artist Laolu

This interview has been gently edited for readability.


GoDaddy: What do you’re keen on most about being an artist in New York City?

Laolu: What impressed me to remain was realizing most individuals from New York aren’t really from right here, everybody has a backstory making town one of the vital numerous locations you might ever be in. The hustle jogs my memory of Lagos — so lengthy as you’re keen to offer a service, individuals will need to do work with you.

For the primary time in my life, I felt like I may very well be myself.


No one second guessed me once I launched myself as an artist whereas in Nigeria, there was a want to clarify I used to be a lawyer so individuals wouldn’t decide me or assume I used to be outright loopy. Here, I may present up totally as myself. I may paint my face and function at my highest self and folks welcomed it.

I felt so in tune with my Ori that it gave me permission to only be — New York made me really feel totally alive.

GoDaddy: Can you describe your mission and what motivates you?

Laolu: I’m motivated by the fixed need to point out individuals the other ways to be human outdoors the European gaze.

If you come throughout my work with no prior data of Yoruba tradition, there’s no means you’ll have the ability to depart the identical means. My objective is to point out the significance of Yoruba historical past and tradition as a result of it encompasses individuals whose tales matter.

Just just like the Greeks, the Chinese, and Europeans, Yoruba individuals had kingdoms, customs, kings and queens. Just as Americans have their superheroes in the likes of Superman and Batman, in Yoruba mythology, we’ve got our personal heroes which can be simply as mighty.

I need individuals to see us and our tales as actual components of historical past.


When somebody interacts with my work, I need them to see Yoruba historical past and be taught from the knowledge, artwork, and customs of our ancestors. There’s way more historical past about Yoruba tradition that isn’t coated in the realms of academia that I need individuals to find out about via my work.

GoDaddy: How has transferring to the United States influenced your work?

Laolu: My expertise in the States has had a large influence on the mission behind my work.

Up till transferring to New York City, I used to be by no means recognized as a Black man. In Nigeria, nobody ever referred to as me Black — this was a large tradition shock for me. Learning find out how to be Black is one thing that I’ve needed to inculcate into my artwork follow. If a police officer stops me on the road, I’m simply one other darkish skinned [person] — not Nigerian or anything. This influences my craft as a result of it pushes me to review a historical past that isn’t totally mine however, as a results of the colour of my pores and skin, I’ve been adopted into.

africa is not a country printAfrica Is Not A Country” by Laolu

I now draw inspiration from Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and others who appear to be me and the methods our tales intertwine. I take all of this and translate it into a visible language I name Afromysterics in which something from sneakers, partitions, automobiles, develop into my canvas to share these tales.

GoDaddy: What was one of many hardest or most surprising obstacles you needed to overcome in getting off the bottom?

Laolu: The tradition shock. Having the world view me as a Black man was one thing that was very unfamiliar. My entire life, I’ve recognized as a Nigerian so it’s one thing I’m nonetheless adjusting to.

I’ve needed to be taught that being a Nigerian man who’s Black in America comes with its personal struggles and societal expectations.

I additionally struggled studying find out how to use the subway. I’d ask somebody for instructions and in some way fully do the other of what they’d simply instructed me. So many instances I’d assume I’m headed in direction of Manhattan and discover myself again in Brooklyn or Queens.

At one level I spotted there was nothing I may do apart from get misplaced till this unfamiliar metropolis and I turned acquainted.

GoDaddy: What would you say to a struggling artist seeking to make it in NYC?

Laolu: There actually isn’t any different means than to only open your self up. Expect nothing and every thing all on the identical time. I’d sum it up by saying be like New York, be like water.

GoDaddy: Why a .nyc area?

Laolu: Many individuals assume my web site is merely due to my model title. But quite the opposite, it’s a not so refined reminder of my mission as an artist: to share Yoruba and Nigerian tradition with the world.

Seeing as my first cease out of Nigeria was New York, a place I contemplate to be a global epicenter, “Laolu in NYC” translated to communicates my objective to share my work, tradition, and heritage with the world, beginning proper right here in New York City.

GoDaddy: What’s subsequent for you?

Laolu: I need to give different artists the chance to faucet into my world by sharing the instruments and sources I’ve used alongside the best way.

Over the final seven years, New York City continues to present me the instruments that I must share my tradition on a global scale. I do know the sensation of determining how the trade works or lastly figuring out what imprint you need to depart on the world.

Whether it’s via educating different artists, giving perception into my course of, or sharing how I create the intricacy behind The Sacred Art of the Ori, I need to pour into the subsequent technology of artists in tangible methods.

As New York City continues to present me the prospect to reside out my goals, I need to do the identical for different artists.

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