Sandra Okpara®

Controversy and creativity with Sash

2023-07-26

Controversy and creativity with Sash

In the world of art, illustrators play a vital role in storytelling and visual communication. Their singular talent for using pictures to convey ideas, evoke feelings, and initiate discussions frequently results in provocative and occasionally divisive works. In this interview, we gain insights into the creative process of an illustrator who has seen both critical praise and public controversy.

Meet Sash

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Samuel Jolayemi aka Sash is a talented Nigerian illustrator who dedicates his time to transforming his thoughts into captivating vector illustrations. He employs his creativity as a powerful instrument, unlocking and expressing the beauty of various stories from around the world. His work is particularly focused on portraying African narratives, with a special emphasis on Nigerian stories, which he skillfully brings to life through the intricate lines of his artwork. Samuel's illustrations are visually stunning and carry relatable and profound tales, making them both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful.

Hey Sash, tell us about your artistic background, what inspired you to become an illustrator?

Growing up, I was that kid who enjoyed being fixated all day on cartoons as opposed to my school books hehe! The stories these beautifully drawn characters told were always a delight to watch. This triggered my adventurous mind to redraw what I saw on TV, which turned into a hobby. I often found myself trying to replicate any and every image I could spot across the house and fast forward to some years after, I realized I could use this skill to more or less tell my own story, hence my journey as an Illustrator began.

Interesting, your illustrations have sparked controversy in the past. How do you navigate the fine line between provoking thoughts and potentially offending people?

For me, I would define that fine line between thought-provoking and offending people as the viewer’s perception of the illustration based on the overall knowledge possessed of the message behind the concerned illustration. I understand there are certain offensive triggers of which I try to steer clear off especially if the message I am trying to communicate is also my reality but how my illustrations are interpreted is totally beyond my control.

Your Mother's Day and Father's Day illustrations received a lot of attention and criticism, I saw a lot of mean comments on each post. What was your intention behind those illustrations, and how did you respond to the backlash they received?

The plain intention behind those two illustrations was to express the strengths, sacrifice, and joy of motherhood and fatherhood respectively, which heavily focused on the strengths which I understand isn’t all that pleasant but is one of the sacrifices a parent endures through the growth of their child. Once again, these illustrations more or less were a means of expressing the nature of my upbringing which I understand is quite different for everyone but the message was clear.

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Have you ever altered your approach or style in response to negative feedback or controversy? How do you balance staying true to your artistic vision while considering public reception?

No, I have never tried to alter my style or approach but I always ensure to be considerate with how I express certain ideas in a bid to not trigger the wrong emotions in people.

Do you believe art is responsible for reflecting and commenting on social issues? If so, how do you personally approach incorporating social commentary into your illustrations?

Every artist has a unique medium of communication and also has a particular story they want to share. I believe there are no rules to how art should be expressed or specific topics to be commented on. 

Controversial art often stimulates discussions and debates. How do you view the role of art in fostering dialogue and encouraging people to think critically about certain subjects?

Firstly, I would not say art is saddled with any role but more or less a function of expression and this is majorly dependent on the artist or artists involved when an artist decides to be expressive on controversial topics or issues I believe it serves as a wake-up call or to bring awareness to that certain topic. 

How do you handle the emotional toll that may come from being involved in controversies surrounding your work?

I first try to understand the outrage and why people are being emotional about their responses because at the end of the day life should not be viewed through a lens but when the angry comments begin to get excessive, I mute them out. 

Have there been any instances where you've reconsidered or reevaluated an illustration due to valid critiques or feedback? How do you approach self-reflection and growth as an artist?

No, I haven’t. Self-reflection is a thing I do every day, not just as an artist but as the human that I am. I evaluate and study everything that meets my eyes and use that as a guide to how I live my life and often express my work.

How do you view the relationship between an artist and their audience? Do you feel a sense of responsibility towards your viewers when creating controversial artwork?

To me an audience is a bunch of enjoyers, people who can relate to, appreciate, and enjoy what they see. Hence, an artist-audience relationship is a mutually beneficial relationship when one who enjoys creating is being appreciated by people who love what they create.

What are some of the biggest challenges or struggles you have faced as an artist throughout your career? How have these challenges influenced your artistic journey?

To me, I take every challenge or struggle as a lesson. A lesson that helps me guide my thought process and better prepares me on how to avoid or handle such challenges in the case of a recurrence. 

Have you ever encountered creative blocks or periods of self-doubt? If so, how do you overcome them and find inspiration to continue creating?

In the case of experiencing a creative block, I often try to be one with the block, I acknowledge that I have a creative block and I do not struggle to overcome it but also give my mind the freedom to wander whilst consciously consuming inspirational content because just like every other part of the body, the brain also needs its resting time.

Are there any specific themes or topics that you find particularly challenging to illustrate? How do you approach the process of tackling these difficult subjects in your work?

Well, I am yet to encounter any topic that was difficult to illustrate maybe because I don’t perceive anything as being difficult but as a challenge, it’s nothing going through serious rounds of brainstorming and ideation cannot solve. 

Can you share any personal experiences or moments that have significantly shaped your artistic style or perspective?

I wouldn’t say I have one personal experience that has shaped my artistic style or perspective. I have just been that little boy who found art as a solace and safe space where his mind was free to wander and explore but I would always consider being Nigerian and African as a major influence in how I express my work.

That's very interesting, are there any particular artists, movements, or cultural influences that have profoundly impacted your work?

I would say my biggest artistic inspiration would be the infinite pool of not only African culture but specifically Nigerian culture and several amazing artists daily inspire my work but leading the pack would be Niyi Okeowo; an amazing creative director and designer, Eun Ho, and lastly Lucas Wakamatsu.

How do you find a balance between staying true to your artistic voice and adapting to evolving trends in the industry?

There are no rule books to creating, trends sometimes help develop or shape ideas so I always try to find a way to blend both, if I have to.

Has there been a specific project or illustration that you consider to be a turning point in your career? If so, how did it influence your trajectory as an artist?

 I would tag this as an eye-opener and this would be my ‘Baba Blue’ Illustration which was my first illustration to amass a lot of engagements and likes. I have always valued creating and expressing things that people on any level can relate to, and trigger some sort of memory in them and I am glad it did so. More importantly, it opened my eyes to an endless path of relatable ideas.

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Are there any specific mediums or techniques that you enjoy experimenting with or find particularly challenging to work with?

Not really, everything is a learning curve for me. 

Do you have any rituals or routines that help you get into a creative mindset or overcome creative blocks? How do you maintain your artistic momentum?

I do not particularly fight my creative blocks but more or less welcome them and whilst that I always try to have myself immersed in a creative environment. For me, this could be going to an event, taking walks, having fun, and amidst all this still finding a way to stay tethered to creative content and I do this by consuming other creatives work.

Can you share any advice or words of wisdom for aspiring illustrators who may face similar challenges or controversies in their artistic journeys?

Set your mind on a creative adventure, be open and attentive to the world around you, and more importantly keep creating. 

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Art can stir feelings, alter perceptions, and start discussions. In the world of illustration, artists frequently struggle with how to strike the right balance between being provocative and perhaps insulting their audience. Through this conversation, we had the honor of learning more about the world of an illustrator who bravely travels through this space, maintaining their artistic integrity while embracing the discussion their work sparks.

It is crucial to keep in mind that art, by its very nature, stimulates a range of perceptions and feelings. Their duty as artists is to truly express themselves while also being conscious of how their works may affect others. These illustrators provide a distinctive space for conversation and critical thought by incorporating their experiences, sources of inspiration, and cultural influences into their works.

We should celebrate illustrators who push boundaries, provoke thoughts, and illuminate our understanding of the world, highlighting art as a mirror reflecting human experiences and shaping society.

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