Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Appreciating cultural heritage, and using it to imagine a better future, is one of the goals of photographer and self-taught plastic artist Ade Okelaren.
Professionally, the artist is called “Àsìkò”, a word meaning “time” or “moment” in the Yoruba language, one of the languages of his native Nigeria.
Drawing on aspects of traditional Yoruba culture was an important aspect of his creative journey.
The god “Usanin” embodies in this image forests, plants, and everything that has a medicinal property.
In his latest two series, Guardians and Of Myth and Legend, O’Kellaren explores the iconography of the Yoruba deities known as the Orishas.
In Yoruba history, the Orishas were sacred beings with divine powers, and belief in them extended beyond West Africa, after enslaved people and their descendants spread these beliefs to regions including the Caribbean and South America.
Since the artist grew up in Nigeria during the 1980s and 1990s, where mainstream teaching about indigenous beliefs was not popular, O’Kellarine said his journey as an artist revolved around deconstructing prior knowledge.
Goddess of commerce and wealth.
“My work revolves around exploring and understanding things that I did not learn in school,” Oclaren explained, in addition to “creating a space for me to understand heritage, and create what leaves legacy.”
Portraits and Orishas combine traditional photography, artificial intelligence, digital editing techniques, and photo collage, and are Oclaren’s way of creating connections between different world myths, in which we are all connected to our own deeply rooted stories.
Olokon represents the sea.
While conducting research to begin his projects, the artist noticed similarities between elements of his culture and Western mythology, such as the Yoruba god Sango, the Norse god Thor, as well as the god Olokon, who represents the sea like her Greek counterpart, Poseidon.
The artist indicated that the principle of his work revolves around “looking back to looking forward” to see where Africans came from as a society, and to help build a future that “was not shaped by Westernization, but based on cultural ideology and aesthetics.”
“In an increasingly globalized world, it is important to maintain a sense of identity that leads to better societal structures,” Oclaren said, adding, “We need a combination of our identity and what we offer the world, otherwise we will lose what makes us who we are.”
The photographer uses artificial intelligence and various means to create his works.
Although he had long been drawn to art and photography, with his upbringing surrounded by African art collected by his father in Nigeria, O’Kellaren studied chemistry and worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a data engineer, in part because his Nigerian parents didn’t want him to become a “starving artist”. According to what he said.
The artist explored various social issues through his work, such as female genital mutilation.
But over time, his change of mind led him to focus on photography full time, by 2015.
O’Kellarine stated that it is part of his role as an artist to raise awareness about the social and political issues affecting his community.
His work explores topics such as female genital mutilation, masculinity, spirituality, identity, and race.
This work of art celebrates the beauty of femininity
In 2022, O’Kellarrin created world artwork for a British art history educational project called “World Re-imagined”, centering on the transatlantic slave trade.
His work has been exhibited in the UK, Nigeria and the US, and the artist recently launched his first collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in collaboration with Bridge Gallery.
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