colorful face painting

The intricate journey of resilience

Interview with Oluwatobiloba Fasalejo

Born in 2000, Oluwatobiloba Fasalejo, a visual artist, painter, and storyteller from Ondo State, Nigeria, possesses a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art Education. His artistic storytelling skillfully merges African heritage with modern artistic interpretations. Prepared to step into the worldwide art scene, the SOCIAL MEDIA ART GALLERY is thrilled and privileged to be the first European gallery to showcase his artistic journey.

Oluwatobiloba, you are from Nigeria. Where are you conducting the interview right now?

At the moment, I am in Ondo City, in Ondo State. I have a small studio where I work as a full-time artist.


As a full-time visual artist do you tend to focus on a particular theme or topic in your work?

Yes, resilience and adaptability are central themes in my artworks. Through my art, I delve into the intricate journey of resilience, celebrating the strength and perseverance that define us as individuals. I examine how we evolve and overcome various challenges, celebrating the resilience that resonates deeply with us as Africans.


Why are resilience and adaptability such an important part in your life?

In my work, I focus on resilience and adaptability because I’m intrigued by how people cope with life’s ups and downs. I have always observed how individuals evolve over time, especially in my own community. This resilience is a big part of African culture. And it’s something we celebrate and use to strengthen ourselves.


It’s evident in all of your published paintings, that the clothing worn by the figures is meticulously and realistically depicted. How significant is the element and expression of “fashion” in your art?

Fashion holds great significance in my artistic practice for several reasons. Firstly, my upbringing with a mother, who is a fashion designer, has provided me with a profound understanding of the fashion industry. This exposure has allowed me to integrate elements of fashion into my work, enabling viewers to glimpse into my background and upbringing within the African community. By incorporating fashion into my art, I aim to authentically represent my identity and heritage to collectors and audiences alike. Furthermore, I believe that fashion plays a crucial role in shaping our lives. And I seek to illustrate this connection through my artistic expression.

painter Oluwatobiloba Fasalejo standing in front of acrylic painting colors
Oluwatobiloba Fasalejo in his art studio.

Besides being a visual artist, you also refer to yourself as a storyteller. What are the primary themes of your stories, and how do you tend to discover or create them?

As both a storyteller and an artist, I delve into themes of resilience, adaptability, and the human journey. My creative narrative draws inspiration from the rich tapestry of human experiences, particularly those observed in Nigeria and across Africa. Through my work, I celebrate the remarkable ways in which individuals, communities, and even children navigate and triumph over life’s challenges. Each story I tell reflects the resilience and strength inherent in the people and culture of my homeland.


Does it happen sometimes that you begin a project without a clear story or direction?

Yes, sometimes I embark on a project or painting without a clear vision of its final form or theme, lacking a definite title or topic. Nevertheless, I proceed with the work, allowing the creative process to guide me. As I immerse myself in the painting or project, I listen for its voice, allowing it to communicate its direction to me. This approach has led to intriguing discoveries and unexpected outcomes in several of my works over the years.


“Prior to even picking up a brush in the studio, I must first translate the ideas in my mind into sketches.”


What went into producing the portrait artworks? How long does a painting typically take? Do you work on one at a time or move between them?

Creating a portrait painting demands a significant investment of time and energy. Prior to even picking up a brush in the studio, I must first translate the ideas in my mind into sketches. Then the search for a subject or image begins, that aligns with these sketches. A process that can be quite time-consuming as I strive to find the perfect match to bring my vision to life on canvas. Additionally, for many of my paintings, I adopt a practice of working on multiple pieces concurrently. Typically two or three at a time. This approach not only allows me to maintain momentum but also provides a means of navigating through creative blocks. If I encounter a challenge with one painting, I can easily shift my focus to another, keeping the creative flow moving steadily forward.


Have you always focussed primarily on portraits or figurative art, or have you experimented with various mediums in the past?

I have also experimented with different mediums in the past. These creative experiments have broadened my artistic perspective and helped me cultivate a flexible approach to art-making.
Now, I primarily focus on portraits and figurative painting because it allows me to delve deeper into storytelling. It offers a richer exploration of my personal narrative and what I aim to convey to viewers through my work.


You were born in 2000. When did you realize your aspiration to become a full-time artist? And how did you make the step?

During my childhood I spent time playing and doodling on any available surface, combining lines and colors without fully grasping the concept of art or what it meant to be an artist. However, after finishing college, I made the decision to pursue art as a full-time career. Along the way, I have been fortunate to receive support and guidance from a few individuals, colleagues, and professional artists whom I have had the privilege of meeting and befriending. Their encouragement has helped me to embrace this path wholeheartedly. And I continue to grow and learn with each passing day.


Who is an artist you particularly admire?

One artist I particularly admire is Yinka Shonibare. His evolution within the art community is truly inspiring to me. I am fascinated by his incorporation of contemporary elements into his paintings and sculptures, particularly his innovative use of Ankara fabric designs. Shonibare’s ability to consistently weave these elements into his work while establishing a unique identity for himself resonates deeply with me. I am passionate about creating a distinctive artistic identity as well.


What would you say are the biggest challenges you are confronted with as an artist?

As an artist, I encounter significant challenges, particularly in securing materials when my art is not generating income. Starting fresh in my career, with minimal returns, presents quite the challenge. Additionally, as a full-time studio artist, determining the appropriate pricing for my work becomes complex due to fluctuations in the art market, the perceived value of my paintings, and the affordability for potential collectors. This ongoing struggle impacts both my creative process and livelihood.

sitting man painting a man on a chair
Fasalejo working on the details of a portrait piece.

You are currently in the early stages of your career. What would you say has been your most significant achievement so far?

Participating in various projects and exhibitions has been a significant milestone in my career. These platforms provide me with a chance to showcase my work to an audience that is keen to interact with it, listen to my story, and appreciate my artistic evolution. Through this interaction, I do not only share my story but also educate and inspire others. I am fostering a deeper understanding of my art and the creative process within the wider community.


Where have you exhibited or published your artworks so far?

Apart from the exhibitions here in Nigeria, I have had the privilege of exhibiting in Kenya. Galleries like Tewas Art Gallery in Nairobi and Sena Art Gallery have provided platforms for my work to reach a new audience.  Furthermore, my art has been featured in esteemed publications such as the Business Daily Africa Newspaper in Kenya, Shout Out Miami, and various other publications worldwide. These opportunities have not only expanded the reach of my art but also enriched my experience as an artist on a global scale.


Building upon that discussion, looking into the future, what would you say is your ultimate dream?

As I gaze into the future, my ultimate aspiration is to solidify my presence as a globally recognized artist, sharing my works and inspiring individuals across various regions. My dream extends beyond mere recognition. It encompasses a commitment to continuous learning, educating diverse audiences, and making a lasting, positive impact on society through my art.


As of April 2024, you have entered into a partnership with the SOCIAL MEDIA ART GALLERY. How did you hear about the gallery and what made you consider working with us?

During my journey of networking within the art community and seeking galleries to represent my work on a global scale, I stumbled upon the concept of the SOCIAL MEDIA ART GALLERY. Intrigued by its innovative approach, I found that its vision resonated deeply with me. The gallery is promoting artists and their work through tailored online marketing, which aligns with my desire to reach a broader audience and engage with art lovers globally. The opportunity to collaborate with the gallery also resonated with me as a chance to amplify my presence in the digital art sphere and connect with like-minded creatives in a dynamic online environment.

The SOCIAL MEDIA ART GALLERY is showcasing three of your portrait artworks: “Mother”, “We All Lose Sometimes”, and “More than this”. Would you care to share with potential art buyers what they can anticipate from these original paintings?

In the three works I am exhibiting with the SOCIAL MEDIA ART GALLERY, I deliberately chose specific colors to evoke emotion and convey the essence of each painting at a glance. 

Through my color choices, I aim to offer viewers a glimpse into my background and experiences. Drawing from my mother’s influence as a fashion designer, I integrate elements of her craft into my paintings. Additionally, I draw inspiration from my local environment, highlighting themes of resilience and adaptability that are prevalent in African and Nigerian cultures. My intention is for art collectors and buyers to not only appreciate the aesthetic appeal of my works but also understand the narrative behind them – ultimately fostering a connection that inspires them to invest in my art.

With the art piece Mother, for example, the art collector can anticipate a heartfelt portrayal of the maternal bond, capturing the unconditional love and nurturing essence of motherhood. Whereas the artwork We All Lose Sometimes delves into the universal experience of loss and resilience, offering a poignant reflection on the human journey. 


That was a great deep dive. Thank you for the insightful interview, Oluwatobiloba!


Anna Kristina Stoffel

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