Komi Olaf Interview, A Poets' Poet
Komi Olaf reflects simplicity, elegance, God given talent and everything art. He's not just a visual artist but also a spoken word champion, a photographer and an architect. Komi is art and art is Komi. Those close to him, refer to the man as "a poets poet". This superb young man from Northern Nigeria (now a resident of Toronto Canada) has already had his work (drawings and paintings) exhibited at Canada's National Arts Centre in Ottawa and at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto among other respectable venues. An artist who once turned down an offer from a gallery owner of drawing and painting flowers as he had "better stories to tell", Komi's work is a reflection of his persona; a proud noble son of Africa.
Last month, The African Perspective magazine was fortunate to spend an evening with Komi at his studio in Toronto.
Among many things, we talked about his debut and journey into art, his inspiration, challenges, upcoming projects, promoting art within African communities and collaborating with Fela Kuti's son's.
We hope you enjoy the conversation below and do not forget to check out more of Komi's work on Komi Olaf.com
TAP; Introduce yourself to our audience. Who is Komi? Where did you grow up e.t.c
KOMI: My name is Komi Olaf, I’m Nigerian. I grew up in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria. I’m originally from the west, the Yoruba part, but I grew up in the North.
TAP; What was your favorite moment growing up?
KOMI: My favourite memories growing up are from Boarding school. Boarding school is rough but it teaches you about life at a very young age. We didn’t have any money, but at the beginning of every year; our parents used to put something like $500 Naira in our bank account and we would write cheques to get like 2 packs of biscuit or 1 spoon of milk and that would become our currency. People used to buy valentines gift for their girlfriends using biscuits for example. So that’s definitely one of my best memories growing up.
TAP; Was it much of a culture shock moving to Canada?
KOMI; Of Course. But you adjust. For example, when I was in BC in High school, me and my cousin were the only black kids! That's a lot to take in, moving from a country where you see the occasional white guy, and you’re in a place where you’re the only black guy and everybody points at you. People were very curious about us.
TAP; Interesting, and how did your childhood impact the man you are today?
KOMI: See, my dad is a reverend; his dad was also a reverend; so a lot of biblical and religious influence is very much in who I am. At the same time, I grew up in the North, so when we were younger, we used to play with our Muslim friends and I can quote some part of the Quran just because my friends at that time were reciting the Quran, so that also plays a part in whom I am. Thirdly, both my parents are architects, so i guess that had an influence with my curiosity for the arts.
TAP; Now let's talk about your trade. We all know Komi the artists, the spoken word phenomenal, photographer etc.. But how exactly did you get into the arts?
KOMI: I seriously just stumbled into it. Every day I wake up and I thank God for that, I can’t lie to you. Because it came so suddenly, so sometimes I wake up and think, maybe it has gone! No joke. But I believe that once you start doing something, automatically the universe and everything comes together to start making it work. So when I started doing it, and became more serious about it, EVERYBODY wanted to help me in a certain way, and that really pushed me to continue.
TAP; Were your parents supportive of you becoming an artist?
KOMI: Yes, in their own way. I understand where their difficulty to accept comes from, however they do accept it in the way that they can. Whenever I have an exhibition, they’re there, but you know 3 days later I would get an email from my mum saying : You have an architecture degree, what are you doing with it? So it’s a matter of balance. They are still happy and I’m happy , that’s enough for now.
TAP; What's the biggest challenge about being an artist?
KOMI: The first challenge about being an artist is to try not to be influenced by either compliments or criticism. It’s easy when you try to do something and everybody likes it, then its automatic for you to keep on doing it. But the moment you do something and somebody doesn’t like it, sometimes you can get discouraged. I find it hard sometimes when I present a piece of work to an audience and it’s rejected. But in terms of the needy-greedy, finding time and at the same time, trying to balance being able to survive. Because you know, people don’t buy art, Period. Because it’s not tangible, it’s not something you can use, it’s a luxury.
TAP: What can we do to encourage/promote the arts in African communities?
KOMI: People always think that art is expensive, and you have to pay so much to get it. Artist produce work that they can give you for free, it’s not even about the money. But if you see something that you really like, paying something, even as a token, to the artist is so encouraging, plus it’s always something that you can always have, and always remember. And you know, when you get something for free, you don’t cherish it as much as when you purchase it. So yea, we need to encourage our community to promote the artists we already have (financially) that way others will be encouraged to join the trade
TAP: What is it like being an African artist in the middle of Toronto.
KOMI: It’s lovely. There are lots of us. What’s amazing is that the Caribbean and African artist have a big community that’s all supportive.
TAP; Who are the other respected African artists in your genre that you look up too:
KOMI: There are lots of them:
- Kalkidan Assefa
- Allen Andre, Haitian artist
TAP; Are you working on any project at the moment?
KOMI: Yes, as a matter of fact I started working on a project that will feature Fela Kuti. He was a musician from Nigeria, he was very political and his life was really interesting. I’ve been pretty obsessed with him for a long time. His compound in Nigeria is called “Kalakuta republic”. I want to do a series of paintings about them. I’m working on one right now with his sons that continued his legacy after he was gone.
TAP: How does the mind of an artist create? Is there a process or is it all spontaneous inspiration……
KOMI: I don’t believe in inspiration, to be honest. Sometimes I do see it in a dream, like this one I’m working on right now. But I don’t particularly believe in inspiration, because I feel if you sit down and you’re waiting on an inspiration; you can be waiting a while, because the idea will come and if you don’t start doing it, it’s just going to pass and go to somebody else. And one day, you’re going to wake up, and the painting you had in your mind, somebody else already done it. I believe and trust the process, which is: Once I’m done a painting, then I will start drawing, and then from that, the magic will happen. If you have an idea, even if it’s small, it will start growing.
TAP: What tools/ equipment do you use?
KOMI: I have a couple tools. I have a magnifying glass that I use when I want to go into details; I have a paint retarder which is a solvent you add to the paint, and it makes it last longer. I have my computer, Photoshop and my drafting table. I also work together with my roommate sometimes.
TAP; Congratulations on being on the cover of Tchad Magazine, I know your work has been exhibited in a few galleries in Ottawa and Toronto, Where and how can our audience get their hands on your art work?
KOMI; On my website. They can also see it at Daniel spectrum in Toronto, on Dundas
TAP; Komi is also an architect, with an architect master's degree from Carleton University? How is that profession working for you?
KOMI; Well, it’s sort of just hanging there right now. *laughs*. Once in a while I will do a design project with someone, or design a few small things.
TAP; Now let's talk a bit about Africa. What is Komi’s relationship with Africa as a whole and also with Nigeria? How often do you go back?
KOMI; I try to go back whenever I can. You know, those tickets are expensive, who are we kidding. But whenever I can, I go back. I went back recently, and that was nice.
TAP; If you were the president of Nigeria for a year, what two policies would you implement?
KOMI; Oh lord, I will be too busy working on my paintings that will be terrible. *laugh* Nigeria’s problems they are too many, I wouldn’t even know where to start. From oil businesses, religious problems, corruption, I would just tell everybody to RELAX.
TAP; Last time I saw you; it was at Chinua Achebe’s life celebration in Ottawa, was he a big inspiration to you growing up?
KOMI; I didn’t really know Chinua Achebe until I moved to Canada, I knew of him in Nigeria; we had a TV series called “things fall apart” from one of his book. But I started reading his books when I was in Canada. He was so smart, he was thinking of things way ahead of time. It took time for other people to catch up on him, until he left this world; he was still speaking his mind regardless of what the consequences were. He was one of the only people that documented the Nigerian civil war, which is a great way of educating our younger generation.
TAP; At that time, you also read a passage from one of Deepak Chopra books: Synchro/Destiny; is he an author we can find in your books library?
KOMI; Yes, definitely. He’s one amazing author. In that specific book, he’s talking about how there are NO coincidences in life, that everything that happens is pre-ordained. It’s really interesting.
TAP; Is Komi religious?
KOMI; Oh yes, I’m religious. I like the church a lot. I can see where people have problems with the church, in terms of “the politics” that's associated with the church, however, I’m a Christian.
TAP; Let’s talk a little about fashion, style, etc.. Do you consider yourself a fashionable guy? Are you into fashion and the hottest trends?
KOMI; Yeah for sure. I don’t know if I’m a fashionable guy, my brother is a fashion guy; so whenever I go visit, I will check out his style and see what he’s wearing and copy it. There is this cool hat that my dad gave me that I rock from times to times to spice up my outfits.
TAP; What is the most expensive accessory you’ve ever bought?
TAP; Lots of black women are embracing their roots by going all natural hair…what's Komi's take on that?
KOMI; Oh I love that. I love natural hair. Actually I love short natural hair. Once I see a woman with short hair, automatically I can’t stop looking at her. In boarding school, all the girls had to cut their hair. My sister is also into natural hair, so I’ve been seeing lots of cocoa butter around..
TAP; How about Komi’s love life? A special someone?
KOMI; There was, but long distance was a major road block.
TAP; What music do you currently have on your Ipod?
KOMI; Everything, but mostly Kendrick lamar, J Cole. Sometimes blues , Jazz, Nina Simone and even rock music at times.
TAP; Looking back 10- 15 years, is there anything you'd have done different? Would you have chosen the same path?
KOMI; Absolutely. No regrets at all. I feel everything works out the way it’s supposed to work out. There are mistakes that I’ve made in the past, that I regret, but once you know better, you do better. (Oprah )
Interview by Winnie Mills, Senior Lifestyle editor, Tap Magazine
Video by Don Hatali, Hatali images