In a conversation with mixed media artist Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, one which seemed like two friends chatting, she revealed how she discovered the technique she works with and how it remains an art form she is still exploring.

“I was walking to my hostel when I was handed a flier and I rolled it into a spiral. When I got to my hostel, I threw it on the floor and it landed on its edge. What I saw gave me an idea and from there I started to experiment.”

Ayobola has always been art inclined. Although she wanted to study architecture she eventually studied visual arts and majored in Graphics Design at the University of Lagos. It never occurred to her that she would end up as a studio artist but the not-so-ordinary encounter in her final year at the university changed her directions. She was working on a practical project that was required to graduate when she discovered paper quilling by chance. 

After a deliberate experiment to see if a paper would hold when used in the way the flier had landed on its edge, she became struck by how the rolls and folds become “little pockets of light and shadow”. As someone who is already fascinated by lines, she pursued this little discovery to see where it will lead. With the help of research and constant experimenting, she became quite proficient in paper quilling and called the technique “lines on steroids”

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Under the Sea

The ideas for her pieces stem from her experiences; things she has read, the things she finds interesting and most importantly an innate need to keep exploring the technique. A particular series called the Perception represents what she believes her thought process looks like and how it evolves as her thought process changes each day. This has prompted her to explore other materials like canvas and fabric which she claims behave surprisingly in similar ways to paper. 

In a series called Cultural Dysmorphia shown at a group exhibition in March at Rele gallery, Ayobola uses the medical condition ‘dysmorphia’ – which is when a patient sees a particular part of their body as deformed when it is not – to highlight the dysfunctional way our society perceives itself which is completely different from what it actually is. Ayobola believes that the society has become myopic and is using culture as an excuse for its narrow-mindedness.

“We tend to use culture as an excuse not to engage in what we find uncomfortable, new or threatening. We dismiss it as not being part of our culture. But we have to understand that change is inevitable, and it is not necessary to adopt every (new) thing that comes our way but we can’t simply dismiss them.” 

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Window to the Soul

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Sitting Pretty…Keeping Mum

Due to the cultural dynamics of the society that is constantly changing, the series according to Ayobola is still evolving as well. It features female subjects with blank eyes that projects blindness, myopia or selective vision. Using fabric, ankara to be precise, which is associated with asoebi is according to her “a visual metaphor for collective thought” and the hidden women are people who are literally hiding under the construct of culture. 

Ayobola is not one who feels the need to constantly claim she is a genius like some artists but she is aware of her proficiency in paper quilling and acknowledges growth is an important factor in any journey. She is currently seeking ways to bring her art into a more aggressively three-dimensional space so that people can literally walk through the art and experience it closely.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Your Elders Are Talking

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Peek I

The exhibition which featured the Cultural Dysmorphia series already closed but there is another chance to see Ayobola’s intricately done paper and textile works again. She is featured in the group exhibition Idanimo coming up this month, May 28, at Terra Kulture with some of her contemporaries; Promise Onali, Dipo Doherty, and Obinna Makata. 

Top image: Ayobola Kekere-Ekun (Courtesy:  the artist).