I met Aina Eniyan via Instagram. Like many of his clients.
Our conversation was brief and we set up a time that would be convenient for us both to meet. To be honest I was not exactly nervous, because like many other artists I have met, they always seem cool and humble.
So I went to his studio.
The studio was a mash up of creative energy and genius. Spending hours there daily would make you work something beautiful up, no matter how crude you are. He told me many secrets to his consistent growth and success.
Kindly read on.
I was born on the 18th of March, 1997. I attended Kemiester primary school, Surulere and my secondary school was Penny International college, that’s where I did my junior high. Did my senior high school in Ikorodu at The Saint International School, that’s where I finished my secondary school.
I discovered that I could do art when I was in primary one, we were given an assignment to draw a cake and color it, I drew it well and I was happy. Scored 10/10 and that was a very unusual thing because I was not the brainy guy when it comes to books. Then I picked up drawing from there. I started drawing Santa Claus and drawing people, since then I pushed towards becoming an artist. In secondary school, I did drawings a lot till I got to where I am now, mastering, creating and discovering myself, developing my style.
Victoria: I’m curious. Are you an artist?
Yusuff: well, I’m a creative. When I call myself a creative, it doesn’t stop at drawing and painting. It falls under every other form of creativity and creativity is beyond just drawing things. Sometimes, I do voice maneuvering.
Also, want to start doing my hype, being an hype man. I dance as well, actually started dancing before drawing.
Calling myself a creative means anything I see, I can bring meaning out of it.
Victoria: What brought up the idea of Ainaism ?
Yusuff: Ainaism started by accident. I was trying to write something down and I started scripting the lines, so, that’s why I tell people ”Ainaism is a calling” . Then I discovered that it was looking great, so I continued and picked up a bigger paper and I created something nice. Kept doing it repeatedly till I got here and in the process of doing all these, I had not even named it Ainaism yet. Until my mum told me my name is Aina and the meaning of Aina is a child born with the umbilical cord around the neck.
When I was born the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck. It is a tough birth process and with a very high chance of the child dying. It also gives more pain to the mother.
If you’re an Aina, you’re always considered as a troublesome child. That was when I discovered my essence because I looked at the umbilical cord and I see hydrospiral lines.
If we look at the umbilical cord, it’s spiral, round the neck of the child and it comes straight down to the navel of the mother, so that’s why I discovered the symbol for Ainaism. Digging deep into the meaning of Aina, I discovered that it also means break through, joy, struggle. I also looked into the history of Aina children, I read about them, knowing most of them face challenges like what I’m facing in the process of self discovery. I was very focused and determined so I just decided to start Ainaism. The art of breakthrough, joy, struggle…the art of life, talking about the story and the journey of humanity and that’s before I discovered the Eniyan.
Victoria: Do you believe that Ainaism is going to evolve into a movement or its going to be preaching something in the next few years?
Yusuff: Growing up, I’ve always told myself that I want to make history in arts and part of making history is creating something new. So, when I discovered the Ainaism and the Eniyan mask, I decided to take it as a tool to make that history.
Ainaism is an art movement, I’m pushing and getting other artists to feature into it.
Basically, Ainaism is the use of lines. Also my mask expresses human existence and struggles in a unique way. I have a lot of factors considered for the movement. One of the main things in Ainaism is what I did for my final year project which includes the use of lines to depict the human form or anything. Imagine a face painted out of lines through out.
I see Ainaism as a kind of art which will trigger the energy of humanity, the spiritual and physical energy, trying to reveal what the eyes can’t see, it’s deeper than just drawing, it’s connected to the spirit and the mind because I create my stuff without thinking. I call it direct inspiration and it’s an innovation that’s why I call the brand I want to push when I grow older and have a company, “Ainavation”; it’s creative innovation.
Victoria: Did you study fine art?
Yusuff: I studied fine and applied arts in Federal college of education.
Victoria: Is the movement for everybody or just to create an awareness of African arts and creatives?
Yusuf: First of all, I’m a more general person. I grew up with a mentality of oneness. I only started drifting towards Africa based art due to what I started hearing when growing up on African history but still I believe we’re all one. My heart has an African touch but not African sometimes.
I put my heart on Africa because I’m trying to bring the world to Africa based on location but looking at the piece; I combine African patterns with an unusual kind of pattern which is not really pre-existing.
So, it’s an art I want to use to unite the world, that’s why I called my art “the art of humanity”, trying to change the mentality and the mindsets of people that we are one. That is one of the main reasons I use the mask, the mask stands for anybody, eniyan in Yoruba means human being or person, so, if you’re wearing the mask or you find out the mask is used on a body, you don’t know who is under. So, you just have to accept that person. It’s also a kind of concept whereby I’m trying to use the mask to make people embrace everybody, when you see the mask, you’ll want to know who the person underneath is. Thereby creating curiosity and interest towards that person, so, I’ll say Ainaism is an art for the world from Africa.
Victoria: How would you react if in a bid to take your work global, you had to tweak a particular feature or asked to present it in a particular societal standard.
Yusuff: I won’t do that, you have to accept my art the way it is. That means you’re telling me what I’m creating is not nice and I don’t think art should be judged, it’s being selfish, it’s exploitation. You are trying to use me to gain attention because you know I have the skill and I can create anything. You are trying to change my narrative and you are trying to change my concept to steal it.
I’ll take it as stealing because if I tweak it, it becomes yours and the one I created before is no longer there. So, I won’t do that, you have to accept it.
It’s like telling adidas or a brand to change their logo to and turn it to half. If you want to commission something commission it but don’t tell me to change it, I won’t change my idea because of any brand.
Victoria : What’s your advice to young creatives? What would you like them to do differently? I want you to tell them what steps to take to get their Heart out to the world.
Yusuff: First of all, I’ll just say do what you do for yourself not for anybody. I started without anybody because I grew up alone not physically, but mentally. The second child out of four children and I was very uptight. Art was a medium to speak to myself, relax myself. In the process of creating, I create to want to get better, I create to make a difference.
I’ll say you just have to believe in yourself, believe you can do it, make research, embrace the internet and make use of it very wisely. The internet has given me 90% of all I’ve gained right now based on platforms, publicity, clients etcetera. Most of the things I’ve gained is based on publicity, all my clients started from Instagram specifically. I started Facebook a long time but Facebook has not paid me N10,000.
Clients, exhibition, connection. Although encouragements started from facebook. I started getting encouragement from my friends and groups on Facebook, because I saw badass artists and I challenged myself. Challenging yourself is also very important. And also go out to events, exhibition.
Don’t procrastinate, do it now, time keeps going.
Just believe in yourself, use the internet, meet people, do research and also try to discover your essence in what you are doing because if you don’t know the reason why you are doing something, or the root of what you are doing, you would be lost and confused. You won’t have a particular direction.
When I discovered the essence of Ainaism, I never drew people again. I use to draw portraits, but I stopped when I discovered that the essence behind Ainaism is deeper, that I can’t finish it till I die.
I can draw you but it will be in an Ainaism way not the regular way. I’d draw you with lines, it will be in such a way that will define and reflect me, that when people see it they would know it’s Aina.
Victoria: Answer a question no one has ever asked you ever since you’ve been interviewed or talk to you about your art work?
Yusuff: Under myself or under art?
Victoria: Either and both.
Yusuff: I have never been asked if I am single or married? Or if I have a girlfriend?
I’m single and I’ve been looking for babe ever since but they’ve been doing “shakara”. When you are rich though, many will come. And I believe it’s more difficult when you’re trying to choose because you won’t be able to tell the difference. But I believe whoever we end up with, we end up with. That’s why I try to make female friends, try to understand women. Trying to understand women is even part of my art because as an Ainaism artist I have to understand the human mind.
Victoria: Do you plan to take a course in psychology too?
Yusuff: I’m a psychologist too, it’s just that I don’t have a certificate.
Its something I’ve wanted to do, I want to further my degree, masters and everything is between.
I’m changing my course from art to maybe psychology, I don’t know yet, but not art.
I will still do art, but I want to infuse my art with one other department.
So, I’m single and searching, in case anybody is interested. Maybe you too.
Victoria: How much do you want to reach with your art?
I want to be rich to the extent that my success can get to any community and fit the community. Let’s take Bariga for example, I was born and brought up in Aguda, Surulere, Lagos State.
I schooled around Bariga. My college, my higher institution was at Akoka- Federal college of Education.
I want to be able to impact the community. To be successful enough to be able to bring people out of the slum through education because I aim to have an academy.
So, it’s going to be called Ainavation Academy. It’s going to involve different aspects of creativity. We wouldn’t talk about biology, we would talk about creativity.
Victoria: Did you do sciences?
Yusuf: No, I did art but Biology is a compulsory course.
I’m passionate about finding love and money because one thing is if you don’t have love, you’ll always feel incomplete and I’m someone that didn’t really get attention growing up.
Victoria: What is Eniyan?
Yusuf: It’s an abstract representation of a human being. It is the human identity, it’s a form of art that would be trying to give people a new form of identity and a new face to communicate, to relate in life and also art. Whenever I’m creating my eniyan art, I depict it in the form of solid Rock and wood kind of texture. I’m using that to express and explain the journey of humanity to the stage we are right now. We know that human beings originated from dust and we were created from dust, so, if we’re to look at human beings with a straight perspective of dust, what form would humans take?
We would be a solid Rock because we’re becoming more complicated, complex, rigid in form of living or mind set and we’re cracking up. If you study my works you’ll notice some of these forms.
A narrative and a form where I’m trying to make humans remember the cause of the problems of the world. We’re the cause of the problems of the world, if we can try to face facts , try not to be too selfish, put away discrimination, racism and not be self centered because self centeredness is what’s causing a lot of problems.
If Donald Trump was not self centered, he will not be a racist. If African leaders were not self centered they would have done the right thing and everything they promised us all these years.
As humans if we are not self centered we’ll check on our fellow human beings and relate with them. So, Eniyan is an art which is deep in the sense that I want to use it to really express the huge details of human nature. It’s going to be coming out in sculptures, gigantic sculptures and so many others in the nearest future, thank you.
Victoria: How did you leave your personal space? How did you come out basically?
Yusuff: When I was back there in Ikorodu, I was with a friend who showed me the internet, I met and I’ve been following people.
When I went to school and through out my schooling, people have been following me online and I felt close to them.
I kept doing my art, without keeping school in mind because it might distract me. Kept posting on Instagram, on the internet and more people started reaching out to me. Sold my first art to an art collector and that encouraged me.
It is by consistency. I draw everyday, I post everyday. I even have about 300 images archived from Instagram and there’s still over 300 more.
Even before I started archiving more I had to delete some. I draw everyday and that’s what every creative who wants to get to the top should do.
Draw everyday, create everyday, make use of every object around you, every space; create an art piece out of a socket.
Look at your eyes and create an art piece out of it. I can make an art that’s very sick, a painting, a sculpture, anything out of a cloud. So , it’s basically a mind thing. Coming out of your comfort zone, attend exhibitions, going out, you have to come out yourself, find a way, visiting people, communicating, be eager to know galleries, attend events relating to creativity, it doesn’t have to be drawing alone.
Right now I do body art, when I do body art, it’s an art form; fashion buys into it, events, parties, clubs, galleries, companies. They ask you if you can do these things. I’ll be doing a mural today in paystack office at Ikeja. It just about coming out of your shell , when you decide to do it, it doesn’t matter where you are.
Victoria: Thank you so much Yusuff Aina. I had a very pleasant time learning from you.
Yusuff: Thank you.
I had a swell time with Yusuff Aina and I am so sure you enjoyed that read!
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