Ayobola Kekere-Ekun is a contemporary visual artist who attempts to unravel the connections between the self and identity and how they interface with individual and collective memory via her art. In creating the paintings that make up this body of work, she toys with the most wholesome of ideas/experiences: childhood. Seemingly random and benign scenes of existence are shadowed by objects that become breadcrumbs of the artist’s attempts to understand her own trauma and beyond.
Our interview with Ayobola Kekere-Ekun explores the malleability of memory, her creative process, and words of advice for fellow artists applying for grants.
Can you share a little about your background and how you first heard of Thinkspace?
My name is Ayobola Kekere-Ekun. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2018 to study for my PhD. I’m a mixed-media artist, and I really enjoy working with paper and lines. I first came across Thinkspace on Instagram a couple of years ago. I remember thinking they ran a visually interesting program, and it could be pretty cool to work with them.
In your body of work “She and I,” you are exploring your own childhood memories or the awareness that there are memories you’re unable to reach/unlock. What are some truths about your childhood, or even what you know of yourself now, that ground you in that mining for information as you build your pieces? Will there be pieces from that series in this exhibition?
All the pieces in the show are from the She and I series. They’re actually a continuation of the first piece I created in the series, where I realized my memory of my mother and I swimming couldn’t possibly be real. I think for me this process of reclamation has been incredibly empowering. When I realized how big the chasm I was dealing with was, I’m not sure I even have the words to even describe how soul-crushing it was. Something had been taken from me, and there was no way I could ever truly get it back. There was a moment when I knew this was either going to kill me or be a catalyst to do something interesting. I chose to do something interesting.
What does your creative process look like? Can you walk us through a day in the studio?
My day usually starts with a cup of tea. I’ll wander around the garden a little bit and hang out with whichever neighbour’s cat is visiting that morning. I’m not sure if it’s the bird feeder I put out there, but they really seem to enjoy the space. After tea, I’ll run through my emails and general admin and figure out what needs to be prioritized in that regard. Only then do I get down to doing something creative. That varies a little from day to day. It could be working on existing paintings or planning new work.
Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?
I’m not sure I do, to be honest. I’m rather obsessed with my work, and It’s quite literally always on my mind in one form or another. I suppose the upside of working in such a time-consuming style is that I’ll never be able to keep up with ideas I’d like to explore. There’s always something I want to try, and that keeps me going.
What do you have playing in the background while you’re in the studio – music, movies/tv shows, podcasts?
It’s either music or a TV show I’ve already seen, so I can watch it in my head as I listen to it.
Do you have any advice for other artists who are looking to leverage grants to help pursue their ambitions?
Learn to process rejections because there will be a lot of them. Don’t take them personally; there are a lot of variables that go into those types of selections. Apply to everything you might be even remotely qualified for, and don’t be afraid to reapply. Creating a solid application is a skill, and like all skills, it requires practice.
“Perspective” is a group exhibition along with three other talented artists. Could you share with us an element of your fellow exhibitors’ work that inspires, challenges, or intrigues you?
I have a lot of admiration for the other artists in the show, and it is such an honour to be sharing space with them. I have to admit I have a particular soft spot for Chigozie Obi. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her work grow over the past few years, and the sensitivity she handles her figures with is something I’ve always found beautiful.
You’ve shared in interviews that you are an avid reader of what you like to call “bubble gum,” just fun reads – nothing too taxing. Can you share with us what some of your favourite tropes are?
I really enjoy reading romance novels. I find the guarantee of a happily ever after very comforting. I am a sucker for historical romance in particular, and depending on my mood, I tend to lean towards tropes around rejection and miscommunication, betrayal, enemies to lovers, plain janes, wallflowers, heiresses, and jaded, morally ambiguous characters.
If you could have any skill downloaded into your brain, what would it be and why?
This might sound very mundane, but I’d learn how to swim and drive. I think I’ve put them off so long they’ve become these insurmountable hurdles in my head.
If you could have a dinner party with 5 people, dead or alive, who would they be? What would be on the menu? And what is your icebreaker question?
This is a tough one. I’d invite Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Gustav Klimt, Artemisia Gentileschi, and my grandmothers. We’d have a hot pot.