Olatunji Sanusi addresses his Yoruba heritage, the global water scarcity and the effects it will have on future generations – especially children, as well as his hopes of one day exhibiting in Nigeria.
ART AFRICA: You were born, and spent much of your childhood years and young adult-life, in Nigeria before moving to Pretoria, South Africa in 2009. Has the juxtaposition in culture between these two countries informed your practice in anyway?
OLATUNJI SANUSI: The juxtaposition in culture between Nigeria and South Africa has informed my practice in many ways. For example, the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria that defines my culture has many similarities to the Venda people of South Africa – both groups impart immense importance to their cultural heritage.
In Nigeria, contemporary art depicts everyday scenes taken from the Yoruba culture; and I experience the same tradition when encountering the Venda culture, which inspires a lot of spontaneous interest in me.
Traditional values, such as respecting elders and marriage partners, as well as wearing African attire, play an important role in both cultures, creating a fascinating backbone for contemporary African visual art.
For your upcoming solo exhibition, ‘Save Water’, at Objekt Design Art (ODA) in Franschoek, you have connected your inner artistic world where ‘art is life’ with your Yoruba heritage to a topic of global significance – the water shortage currently hitting South Africa. Why is this issue of significant interest to you, and how does it relate to your Yoruba Heritage?
The issue of significance is very interesting to me – water plays an essential role in every human’s life, no one can do without water for water is the source of life. In Yoruba beliefs, the world was covered in water before it came into existence, and the first human was created from clay and water.
In the words of the late, iconic Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, “water has no enemy and no one can do without it” – essentially the core motivation for this body of work.
Addressing the water shortage in South Africa, and using children as your focal point, your body of work is significant and highly relevant today. How does the visual literacy in your work reflect and portray these issues surrounding water, and why have you chosen to depict children?
I chose to portray children in all my works for ‘Save Water’ because children will be the ones to suffer the water scarcity most in the future. The exhibition also reflects my own childhood memories, the way we used to love playing with water – especially when it rained.
Throughout your career in art, you have worked in many different mediums – only recently, in 2015, shifting your medium to paper collage. What made you decide to do this, and is it more effective in conveying the meaning of your work?
Shifting from other mediums to paper collage in 2015 simply just happened – I can’t really explain it. I just woke up one morning and I strongly felt the urge to explore another medium other than painting.
From what I can remember, we only explored the medium of collage in art class at school – maybe a circle is closing?
I have been working more and more in paper collages in comparison to any other medium, and I find joy and happiness in executing this medium. Also, the act of recycling paper feels appropriate in conveying the meaning of my work more effectively.
Lastly, you have exhibited in galleries across South Africa. Do you have any hopes to exhibit across the African continent, especially your birthplace Nigeria?
Yes, of course I wish to exhibit in galleries across the African continent, and especially my birthplace Nigeria. As an artist, I believe that one cannot stand still in one place. The world is a book, if one doesn’t turn to the next page, one won’t know what happens on other pages. I want to be out there, and I want to be known – not only in Africa, but across the world.
Exhibiting in Nigeria will be my joy, as that is where I originate from, and that is where I started my life as an artist. Nigeria is the country that made me realise I am an artist.
You can view ‘Save Water’ from the 30th March until the 28th April 2017 at ODA Gallery | 42 Huguenot Street | Franschhoek | +27 837743603