Laolu shoot to fame when he worked with pop artiste Beyoncé on the Lemonade album
Nigerian-born body artist Laolu Senbanjo stood silently, head slightly bent to one side. Clothing and arms speckled with white paint, he studied his muse a few feet away. With a scratch of his chin and a nod, Mr. Senbanjo glided in his socks toward the actress Danielle Brooks. His ever-present white marker in hand, a combination of body paint and other materials, he resumed adorning her face with continuous patterned lines.
“A lot of my work is heavily influenced by the culture of my Yoruba heritage,” said Mr. Senbanjo, a Nigerian-born visual artist and musician, in a recent interview at his Brooklyn studio. “I like to see the world in that lens.” His most recognized work, a form of body painting that he calls “the sacred art of the Ori,” draws on those cultural influences and was made famous through its appearance in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” visual album.
An important aspect of Yoruba culture, Ori means “head” or “essence,” and Mr. Senbanjo’s artistic depictions of it have elevated him from Instagram celebrity to appearances at New York art institutions like the Brooklyn Museum and to music festivals like Afropunk.
“If you tap into your Ori you can move mountains,” Mr. Senbanjo said.
Drawing from personality traits of deities in Yoruba culture with words as well as patterns, Mr. Senbanjo says he conveys various attributes of the gods onto his subjects’ bodies, based on conversations before painting them. The process requires an average of six to eight hours to complete. For Ms. Brooks, he created a small crown on her forehead in a nod to royalty, and the idea of beauty and knowing one’s worth. Mr. Senbanjo said the triangles he paints on himself are symbolic of a religious trinity: father, son and Holy Ghost, and the idea of stability.