Wale Oyejide. I’ve fallen through a revolving door of different lives, but currently, menswear design at Ikire Jones is my focus.
Olalekan Jeyifous [aka LEk], a rather discursive Nigerian-born and Brooklyn-based artist/designer with a background in architecture. For almost a decade now I have been fortunate enough to pursue my creative compulsions full-time; freelancing for a variety of clients while producing and exhibiting my own artwork in venues throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Can you tell me some more about the creative process for the work you did for Ikire Jones?
Lekan: Wale is incredibly easy to work with and the process was quite fluid. He contacted me to create a set of images for his launch and to design a couple pocket squares for his line. He emailed me his ideas for both tasks along with the sort of aesthetic language he was looking for, and sourced a few images for me to incorporate. I then a created draft of the various illustrations and we had a few back and forth design reviews before deciding on the final images.
As creative, I feel that collaboration is both important and beneficial. Who are three people you’d like/would have liked to collaborate with?
Lekan: Ben Okri – Not sure if this counts but I would love to realize The Famished Road in quirky animation form.Big Sports Brands – Many big brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma etc are open to collaborations with various artists, I would love to collaborate to get some of my prints on a shoe or some form of apparel but don’t really know how this happens!Supinfocom – Any recent grad of this University. These kids are immensely talented and have tremendous vision.
The illustrations from the collection look like storyboards for a movie – are there any plans to take the work you’ve created in that direction?
Wale: We definitely aren’t opposed to it. I think that given the right collaborators, we’d be open to taking the New Lagos concept to screen.
Lekan: There is nothing concrete at this time, but I’d say, in one way or another, absolutely. Escape To New Lagos definitely lends itself to a visual narrative that I’m sure we would love to see in motion at least as a series of short animated vignettes. Also, many of the projects I work on, both collaboratively and self-initiated, often are powerful catalysts for new work or are even remixed and reinvented as alternate takes or b-sides to the original and Escape To New Lagos is one of those projects that has immeasurable potential for this capacity.
What are you thoughts on the rise in visibility of African inspired fashion and also men’s style blogs?
Wale: I think it’s great, but I have no illusions about it. West African prints are “hot” right now, but for Africans, it’s what we have always worn. In a season or two, when people have cast their gaze elsewhere, we’ll still be innovating in that avenue, among others. It’s always good to see more people of various backgrounds represented in any capacity in the fashion industry, though.
You both recently had the opportunity to travel to Paris, can you tell me some more about that experience?
Wale: Our New Lagos images were used as the face of the Etonnant V0oyageurs festival in St. Malo. I think for both of us, it was somewhat eye-opening because we got to see the impact our work can have on an international level. It just shows that the things that one quietly creates in his studio can drag him across the world.
Lekan: For myself, it was an amazing and eye-opening experience. First of all, our images were everywhere: every hotel, restaurant, and shop in St.Malo as well as being the cover of the primary magazine, festival schedule, event invites and participant ID tags; it was pretty nuts and the response to the work was overwhelmingly positive. More importantly, however I was able to step outside of my self-imposed hermitage and meet many interesting filmmakers, writers, poets, actors, etc. It felt wonderful to be part of the whole zeitgeist and really inspired me to get home and get busy producing work that would allow me to take part in similar festivals around the world.
You’re both of Nigerian heritage, do you visit often or have any plans to showcase this collection there?
Wale: I personally do not visit often enough. I think when the time is right, we’ll take our talents there.
Lekan: I have not been back to Nigeria since I left as a young child. I grew up in a handful of cities all across the U.S. and have now resided in Brooklyn for 12 years. With Nigeria [especially Lagos] showing up more frequently in my work as a conceptual point-of-departure, a return is imminent. Through the popularity of Escape To New Lagos I have been contacted by numerous Nigerian venues, from online and print publications to galleries and potential artist residencies, who have expressed an interest in sharing my work locally. My father also routinely spends more than half of the year in Lagos and Ibadan so we are planning my return, hopefully for this year or early 2014.
How much of that heritage has influenced the work you do?
Wale: I think everyone’s heritage and experience influences their future direction. It would be disingenuous to state that our work was wholly influenced by being of Nigerian descent. I think our mixed Western (American) backgrounds are just as influential. The ability to blend these two lenses and perspective is what makes our work unique.
Lekan: Narratively and conceptually it has always influenced my work. My architectural thesis was about the Yoruba myth of the Abiku and its re-appropriation as a commentary on Nigeria’s political and social evolution. I utilized various computer programs in order to diagram this idea of intentional mis-representation of this mytho-cultural phenomena in order to generate new building plans and spaces; the resultant images looked like digital rock-fragments projected into abstract plans. In this regard, I might have stated at one time, that aesthetically, my heritage has absolutely no influence at all and that my work is derived from sci-fi both in literature and film, Japanimation, Brutalist Architecture, Russian Constructivism and a whole mess of random visual effluvia discovered on the internet. However, that would be to accept the long-standing and generic Western perspective of Kente cloth and African masks as being the primary defining visual characteristic of “African” art and we know, and/or are learning more and more that this is not the case. So visually, my work is very much steeped in how contemporary African art is being defined and re-defined.
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
Wale: In no particular order, Yinka Shonibare, Kanye West, Saul Williams, Wong Kar Wai.
Lekan: I am inspired every single day by a wide variety of visual, musical, and literary work. My daily regimen consists of checking numerous art, design, music, literature, political, and cultural blogs in order to stay abreast of what my contemporaries are up to, so it is somewhat difficult to distill this down to a handful of influences. However, I will say this: I recently came across filmmaker Kibwe Tavare’s short film ‘Jonah’ and thought it was absolutely amazing. It got me very excited about creating a new animation, something I haven’t done in a very long time.
What’s next for the both of you and for Ikire Jones?
Wale: I think we’re still working on building our stride, so people will be seeing more art in the same vein, but probably with a bit of a broader perspective. We’re very interested in pushing the Future Africa perspective, but we aren’t a one trick pony either. Of course, there is continued work on print designs for Ikire Jones as well.
Lekan: I’m back to being busy producing artwork for a variety of corporate and private clients, which I certainly enjoy, but I’m also excited about further developing my own work. And of course, Wale and myself are collaborating on the next round of Ikire’ Jones accessories: scarves. I’m very excited to see the brand development and ascend to the next level. Wale is very talented and a tremendously easy person to work with and he’s given me the opportunity to collaborate on, and create some of my most interesting work to date.
Afro-futuristic pocket squares anyone? To find out more about Lekan and Wale’s work check out the following: