Artist of the Week: Jekein Lato-Unah
What is the title of this featured piece?
When did you start your artist journey?
I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember, was always in the top 5 from kindergarten to high school. I started painting professionally in 2014 mainly because I was frustrated with the female representation in the art scene in my country. I wanted to see more young women artists and my subconscious said to me “you are a young female artist, be the change you want to see.” And that was it for me. I haven’t looked back ever since.
Describe your art.
My art is so simple yet so complex. That I am fascinated with creation and creating things leads me to the belief that in order to attain fulfillment, I must create something that enriches the lives of others. Marrying different techniques of artistic expression, I have created a world of form, of color, of vibrancy and pattern which compels one to stare for a while. My art is in constant evolution as I am inspired by real life experiences and emotions of women, this is where my life as a woman corresponds with my work as an artist.
What role does food and beverage play in the Nigerian culture?
They play a huge role in our love for parties. If there’s anything Nigerians love, it’s a party with surplus food & drinks. All types of parties, you know? From birthdays to naming ceremonies to weddings to funerals to nightclubs to graduation parties. Once food and drinks are involved, trust Nigerians to show up as these are two things that unite us.
What is one of your strongest memories of food you grew up eating?
Eba and Oha soup, it was one of my favorite swallow and soup combos. I would ask my mom to make me that every evening sometimes, twice a day. This one time, I was so excited for my meal, was ready to settle and devour only for my precious hot soup to spill! Woes!
Tell us about some of your career achievements and milestones.
In 2017, I won an award - SME100 Nigeria's 25 under 25 awards for my invaluable contribution to the Arts, Crafts and Culture. In 2018, I was nominated for Woman of the Year Award by Her Network Online. The following year, I was nominated for Woman of the Future. 2018, with the help of Africa’s top banks, GTBank and Sterling Bank, I had solo displays (one at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos) where I sold out. Selling out twice in one year? I was overwhelmed, I loved it. It meant so much to me. Earlier this year, I shipped to my 25th country - this was particularly important to me because who would have thought that people in Uzbekistan, Malta, Norway would know my name? Tajikistan? I had never even heard of Tajikistan before that day and this is all thanks to Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York who interviewed me in 2018 and bought a painting from me. I went from 2,000 to 20,000 Instagram followers in a couple of hours and it’s been a rollercoaster ever since. I have some more milestones but, unfortunately, I can’t speak on them yet.
What are some of your biggest artistic influences?
I think inspiration is fleeting, I’m inspired by many things and people; by the regular, good and bad experiences of Black women, by my own experiences, by my predecessors. The most influential to me will always be Toyin Ojih Odutola, Ndidi Emefiele and Marina Abramovic.
Check out Jekein’s work here.