From formal training in a construction discipline to five-year career in the financial sector, Gbemi Elekula was prepared, consciously or not, to be an entrepreneur. But neither the real estate, nor the financial sector would win her area of interest in adding value to Nigeria’s business circle – the creative industry won.
One of the most challenging areas for creative professionals in Nigeria — perhaps Africa by extension — is managing the business aspect of whatever they create. Very few artists have been able to successfully lifted their creativity into desired entrepreneurial level. Elekula, a graduate from Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, is one such artists whose entrepreneurial skills keep lifting the creative economy in Nigeria. More of an asset is that her works cut across the visual culture divides in art and design.
Unlike most children and young adults who lost their right in choice of profession to the dictate of parents, Elekula seemed to have a slight closeness to her first ‘love’ in art as an undergraduate. Working part-time in the built industry as a student of Quantity Surveying provided that link between art design and architecture. Between 2005 when she graduated and 2011, Elekula has generated the energies needed to place her dream on a flight of entrepreneurship. After leaving banking job, she set up DreamHome, an interior design company, in 2011 as a consultancy outfit. In
2016, she added manufacturing of design accessories, and 2018 boosted her growing buainess with an art gallery space.
In 2020, a fashion brand, HUMANx, was added to Elekula’s passion. The fashion brand is uniquely about improving ladies’ sanitary culture
However, pivotal to Elekula’s DreamHome and HUMANx is creativity — specifically, art and design. In a chat, few days ago, she shared her takes on. creating art, design within the context of identity.
AA. Artists, generally, are expected to have mastery in both decorative and functional art. This much applies in your situation,. creating fine art and design contents. Most professionals believe that fine art projects artists more, in both critical and commercial areas compared to design works. How does it work for you?
GE: I try as much as possible to avoid being put in a box when it comes to definition of my art. Depending on who’s viewing, my work could be described as visual art, which is the modern term for a broad category of art that includes a number of artistic disciplines from various sub-categories. Viewed from narrower lenses, you could refer to it as decorative art, or applied art, or simply craft. Because, as opposed to fine art that typically serves aesthetic functions, what I do is utilitarian. My pieces — be it furniture and soft furnishings, decor accessories or fashion items — are designed to be functional, not just beautiful. That said, I believe that all art forms are important and should be equally appreciated. For me — and, I believe, for every artist — success is possible in any discipline, as long as one remains authentic, deeply committed to his or her art, and gets the right exposure.
AA: There are two paintings behind you in a picture where you wear a yellow dress. What’s the title of each painting? Kindly explain the inspiration or motive that generated the paintings.
GE: The paintings in the picture weren’t made by me. Besides my own creative works — including design furniture, cushions, throw pillows, art dispenser bottle covers, table runners, door and kitchen mats and, of course, fashion items — the DreamHome art gallery also houses drawings, paintings and sculptures of other artists.
AA: In designing wears, what aspect of African motifs attract your attention to generate unique style even in hybrid of Western and native wears?
GE: It isn’t just one thing; it is many different things. I find inspiration in personal reflection on my experiences. I find inspiration in observing people, places and things (a book, a photograph, a movie, a piece of music, a remarkable cultural festival, or just an ordinary everyday event). For instance, I use the adinkra symbols in some of my works. Popularised in Ghana, it has been adopted not only across Africa but also worldwide, event seen in the popular Hollywood movie Black Panther. The symbols have very deep meanings and my designs are done according to the message I intend to convey and how it resonates to the buyer. There’s a better appreciation of our African culture and roots than ever before, so there’s less competition with the western clothings. People realize that they can wear both.
AA: Exhibitions are among the strong outlets in projecting an artist’s works. If you are yet to have one, what’s your plan for a solo exhibition of art or design or both?
GE: As a gallery, we have organized a number of exhibitions, involving other artists—the most recent one in November 2020 titled “United in a pandemic, United as a Nation.” On personal level, I have quite a lot to express as a restless creative. And I am planning a solo exhibition in 2022 that will feature my unique works, including artistic furniture, decor pieces and fashion.
Back to HUMANx, Elekula said it’s about educating rural women on period and sanitary culture. The goal, she assured, will be achieved through what has been coined by the brand as ‘Perioducation’.