Artist spotlight: Ojei (femi.the.god) Omogie

#FeatureByFatimaOwoyemi

Artist spotlight: Ojei (femi.the.god) Omogie

Femi.the.god’s abstract figures, vibrant illustrations, collages and poems tell the unique stories of everyday people, portraying various scenarios of their lives as it ties to the highs and lows of living as a Lagosian, and the resilience of Nigerian people in history.

The original Lagos story

Femi.the.god was born in Lagos, Nigeria. His mother was a trader and his father was a radio repairman who was a lover of highlife music and art.

He soon began to pick up the scraps from his father’s work and started crafting these model airplanes, trucks, and battery powered hand fans.

“It was a stage in my life that led to a lot of confusion. The people around me were obviously very impressed with the potential I was beginning to demonstrate and began drumming it in my head that I was going to study engineering. As a kid I thought that was pretty cool, but we were all missing the obvious fact that it wasn’t really about what I was making at the time, it was just my creativity trying to manifest itself with all the elements that I had available to me. Maybe if they understood it better I would have ended up in the arts department in my secondary school, instead of the science department which I didn’t quite enjoy.”

After his secondary school, he began to find himself enjoying bits of popular culture that were more inclined towards the arts. Some of his influences were artists like Marc Ecko and Don Ed Hardy, who made him fall in love with the idea of putting art on clothing.

“I was in a hip-hop dance group that used to represent my secondary school back then. We were terrible of course. A lot of us were science students, so I guess being in the group was just a sweet escape for us. Our clothing inspired me a great deal, I remember looking at the Ecko unltd logo on my jeans and telling myself that I wanted my logo to be on clothing like that someday. It was all just a fortunate mix of happenstances for me, because being with those guys opened my eyes to the culture within my community – the music, the rich history of Lagos and its people, the art and the fashion. And at the time, making custom clothing was something that had started to gain some popularity through the likes of Sojo and Hypno – they made me see the possibilities of telling my own stories through art and clothing, so I just hit the markets and started learning the hard way.”

His journey of stencilling art on t-shirts soon led him deeper into the Surulere hip-hop clothing scene where he got to meet with and work with some of Nigeria’s top veteran music acts of the early 2000s.These interactions, coupled with navigating the city of Lagos to get work done made his love for the culture and its little elements grow even stronger.

Shortly after, Femi went on to study building technology and education at the University of Lagos where he founded his clothing brand platinum j co. and continued to further his adventure into the world of art as he went along displaying his abilities. His career at some point included a stint as a song writer, singer and guitarist.

“Studying building technology and education started out not being very exciting for me, as I had originally wanted to study architecture or philosophy. However in my second year I started to realize that what I was studying was a bit of both and I started to really fall in love with the education bit.

Something about understanding human psychology, effective ways of communicating and imparting knowledge was very much suited to me.

And of course apart from being comfortable with all of this, I had already started to meet with people of like interests outside of my department who were very instrumental to my journey as a clothing designer and artist.

I look back at it now and I can very much trace where it all started from. I met a guy in my hostel room who introduced me to a lady that I wrote a song for. It went viral and she introduced me to another guy who I wrote multiple songs and covers for. I then started working with his manager and met some other guys and the branches just went wild from there. It’s been a lot of ups and downs; my life as an artist has been very chaotic but I guess it’s just part of the gig. I just kept going and had these moments where I almost lost my mind and had to call myself to order, focus and redefine myself and chart a proper direction to be impactful.”

Regaining his core and crafting his identity.

Through Femi’s varying career as a clothing designer, entrepreneur, ghost writer, singer and creative director; his love for the culture and expressing that visually through the t-shirt medium remained a constant. He enjoyed telling untold stories of the underdog and expressing novel and existing ideas through his own lenses. Even though at this point his work with platinum j co. had led him to work with brands such as Google, Intel and influential individuals such as Kitchen Butterfly and Bovi, he found himself being drawn to telling his stories as opposed to just churning out custom work that made him money but not as much fulfilment.

“Right after the university, survival was my priority. I had come back from national youth service. Platinum j co. was making some money but it wasn’t enough because I was under some pressure from my family to get a regular job. I did try to get one in advertising as an illustrator or copywriter but I just couldn’t so at some point I decided to stick to my business against the odds. And it was great – it was making a livelihood for me, but at some point I realized that I had started to die as an artist because I was at a place where I was just churning out illustrations, designs and custom t-shirts for brands. It was sort of fulfilling because I got to prove to myself that I could make a living off my craft, but in a way it was draining because that wasn’t what I started platinum j co for, and I had all these ideas that I was afraid would just fade away if I didn’t do something fast.

So I took a year off to come up with more art, redefine myself and separate my brands. Platinum j co. became an apparel branding agency, femi.the.god started pushing more of his art and ideas, and I crafted ijapa co. to fulfil my original dream for an art based clothing brand. The journey has been smoother ever since.”

Up from nothing.

After a few years of creating more, connecting more and promoting his image as an artist (including the pandemic lockdown), Femi had brooded on how much work he had accumulated and eventually decided that it was time to show his work on a wider scale with the support of those who were already avid fans of his form of expression. This is where the idea for the up from nothing exhibition was born.

It was a showcase of a specific selection of pieces that portrayed and told the stories of individual struggles and the beautiful places that inspire their rise from bleak circumstances.

“I was taking a walk with my friend Tayo one evening when I realized that I had a considerable body of work, and it was high time I showed it. It was all very spur-of-the moment but

Luckily I had the support of most artists within my circle and other professionals in my field that had followed my journey. Im not even going to pretend that I wasn’t shocked at the success of the show. The amount of attention it got from collectors and the media blew my mind. It was almost as if the fruit was just ripe for the plucking. Definitely the highlight of my year and I’m very pleased I named it up from nothing.”

The exhibition featured pieces that explored abstract shapes portraying various individuals, vibrant illustrations showing the cityscapes Lagos, and stunning figures rendered in the most magnificent gold textures. The mediums were fresh and innovative, as he made use of various materials that aren’t currently in use in the conventional art world.

“People talk about how the pieces at the exhibition were subtle and innovative. I have done a lot of innovative things but I generally don’t consider myself an innovative thinker. I don’t even think of myself as a creative, I see myself more as creative conduit. I do think out of the box but this is not something that I do intentionally – I’m just wired to think differently so as I go through life, I see things and have ideas just fall on my lap.

People see my expression of this and call it creativity and innovation, which is true, but really, it is so much deeper than that.

I wanted the mediums themselves to tell a story of my journey as an artist and an urban clothing designer, because through my career I’ve amassed a lot of experience working with mediums that could be said to only have relevance in the clothing industry, but I wanted to bring that into the conventional art space to create hybrid mediums that are unique to me as an artist.

Femi.the.god feels fortunate and excited about coming from a place where the stories are limitless, and his goal is to keep making art and sharing those stories with the rest of the world.

All images are courtesy of the artist.

Ojei (femi.the.god) Omogie links:

www.femithegod.art twitter @femithegod instagram @femi.the.god

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