Honourable Mention Laolu Senbanjo Yoruba

“The ife head is a sacred work of art of the Yòrùbá people that was made in the 12th century. It has been misappropriated by Damien Hirst and this needs to STOP! No more stealing from our people and denying our excellence.”

A visual artist, musician, human rights lawyer and activist, Laolu Senbanjo puts his mark on everything from canvas, to shoes, to walls and buildings, to clothing and even the body with his Sacred Art of the Ori. Born and raised in Ilorin, Nigeria, his Yoruba heritage is ever-present in his work, which marries modern detail and ornate style to create a vision of Afrofuturism.

His preferred medium is charcoal, “because it’s something as natural as life and death,” he writes, and he also works in acrylics, inks and even wood. Senbanjo created work for the astonishing “Sorry” video from Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and he has worked with Angelique Kidjo, Kenneth Cole, Alicia Keys, Usher and many more.

In 2017, Laolu called out world famous artist Damien Hirst for appropriating bronze Ife heads, on display at the British Museum. Ife Heads are a sacred work of art developed by the Yòrùbá people in the 12th century. Laolu addressed the issue by making his own version of the Ife Head and explained in a statement to OkayAfrica why Damien Hirsts’ depiction of the Ife Head is considered misappropriated:

” Cultural appropriation is when, in this particular case, an artist took a culture, took something very symbolic to a culture and the person profiting off that culture, the person doesn’t make any reference, or say where he or she got the inspiration from, there’s no reference whatsoever. The person is passing it off as their original work. And in a lot of cases, when the original artist comes up with this kind of work, in the past they were criticized and called all sorts of names. But now, some other famous rich artist now takes the same work and is passing it off as his and everyone is calling it brilliant. So, I think that’s cultural appropriation because the person is taking something that’s not his and that’s demeaning. It’s just out right unfair. I don’t even have the words because I’m really upset about it.”

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