art creatives interview

Olubunmi Atere: Ceramic Artist Crafting Narratives with Clay and Culture

For Nigerian Ceramicist Olubunmi Atere, art finds its essence in clay and anything that is malleable. Drawing inspiration from nature, music, and her lived experiences, Olubunmi carves her perception of the world into her ceramics. But Olubunmi has not always been an artist, or has she? Though she comes from an artistically inclined background, with a particularly skilled father, Olubunmi’s path to the arts wasn’t straightforward. While she always sensed a pull toward creativity, it took years of studying Adult Education in university and a career as a Communications Professional before she fully embraced art in 2021.

Her debut artwork, ‘Rhythm of Life,’ mirrors her personal transition to artistry, reflecting on the emotions she grappled with along the way. This piece portrays the idea that the world shapes events, people, and experiences beyond our control or knowledge.

In her works, the artist explores different themes like community, femininity, movement, and kinship. Each piece tells a unique story, questioning aspects of society and human experiences. From the concept of integration in ‘Pillar’ to the cycle of evolution in ‘Fecundity,’ the artworks delve into deep emotions and universal connections. The artist’s style combines elements of geometry and traditional structure, creating visually appealing pieces with powerful messages. At the heart of her artistry is an emphasis on relationships, growth, and the invaluable knowledge passed from one generation to another.

This conversation was conducted by Ifunanya Okolie in August 2023. Olubunmi granted Creatives Around Us permission to feature her photos.

Olubunmi, it is a pleasure to have you here. First off, congratulations on your upcoming exhibit at the Chale Wote art festival in Ghana. Can you share a brief introduction about yourself and a bit about this dream opportunity you are currently working on?

Olubunmi: Thank you for having me, Nanya. The feeling is mutual. Also, thank you for your kind words, I’m stoked to be a part of the Chale Wote Art festival 2023. 

I am Olubunmi Atere, a contemporary Ceramic Artist and communications consultant based in Lagos, Nigeria.  I started out my career as a communications professional before taking on art, fully, in 2021. I was craving more so I went for more and it brought me here.

A little birdie whispered you are creating a body of work for a dream opportunity. Can you give us a sneak peek into what this entails and what inspired it?

Olubunmi: Haha, okay. I really can’t say much about this project at this time, so I need to keep it low. It’s a project that will reflect on, document and promote our culture. I have been excited about this one, because it’s art beyond the usual, it goes into history and cultural representation, which I appreciate, especially as an African.

This project is taking me through new and needed experiences, connections, explorations… Like, I’m stretching and I’m here for it. 

 In time, you guys will find out.

The Chale Wote art festival is a significant event. How do you feel about showcasing your work there, and what can attendees expect from your exhibit?

Olubunmi: I am truly grateful for such a platform that fosters cultural and creative values not just in Ghana but promoting the same value across Africa. I’m truly honored to be able to share my voice, experience, and art in such a remarkable initiative. 

Avenues like this help to bring about the collective awareness, representation and growth that we need and I’m glad to participate. Expect to experience the use of information for practice unfurl resilience and resistance through my contemporary ceramic piece. I went home for that one, using the symbolic communication system of the Yorubas ( Àrokò) to pass my message of awareness and leveraging our history and realities to our own advantage.

Let’s explore your journey with ceramics. What drew you to this art form, and how did you get started?

Olubunmi: I have always loved art. I grew up with a dad that’s very handy and would share his creativity with his family. My short introduction in art class, working with clay in high school stands out vividly and memorably in all of my experiences and further solidify my interest in Art as I grew up. Sadly, I missed out on studying art in the university so I studied Adult Education and got to start out as a communications professional before I gave in to my love for art in March 2021. I have not looked back since.

Rhythm of Life (2021) Glazed and Polished, Clay, H 15′ x W 12′
Your work, such as ‘Rhythm of Life,’ beautifully captures life experiences. Can you share more about the inspiration behind this piece?

Olubunmi: Rhythm of Life was created during moments of transformation. It was my first go at unleashing myself through art. I poured in my experiences, imaginations, chaos, and harmony. A process that helped me to navigate the feelings tethered to those thoughts and that state of mind, in order to find my center in these shared experiences to and forge ahead.

Wave (2022) Glazed, Clay, H 16′ x W 10′
In ‘Wave,’ you touch on nostalgia and memories. Can you share a personal memory or experience that influenced this piece?

Olubunmi: Ah, this piece definitely reminds me of dancing to tribal sounds with my cousins, learning local games with aunts and uncles and having a swell time listening and singing along to grandma’s folk tales growing up. 

I totally love stories and music, and as Africans, we wear and exude our art which has stirred an appreciation within me from childhood. I swirl in those stories, the rhythm, the affinity, the lessons and emotions every time I see and think about this piece. It also brings to mind my time playing Tetris and Snake game with siblings and friends.

Your pieces like ‘Fecundity’ and ‘Of Angels and Birth’ centre around themes of birth and feminine power. How do these resonate with you, especially in the context of your upcoming exhibit and new body of work?

Olubunmi: First of all, we can’t deny that feminine power is where growth is at. I believe that energy activates at every point of care, nurture and multiplication. I believe channeling such energy is therefore central to enabling development and seeing through that perspective can create a sensibility to where growth can be or is at.

For my new body of work, I’m working on a piece with a theme I initially believe is far apart from birth but now that you’re asking, it does capture a process of becoming. Ah, I’m even more excited. You need to wait awhile for the rest of it but one hint is viewers also get to be artists themselves.

How do you approach the creation of a new piece, especially when preparing for significant events like the Chale Wote art festival?

Olubunmi: I constantly research and I have a direction for my art. I endeavour to develop that in advance to ensure my alignment with a potential pending or upcoming project. I constantly explore before creating begins, it gives wings to my ideas. Often the theme of an art project are also guidelines.

How have your personal background and experiences influenced your art, especially the pieces you’re showcasing in Ghana?

Olubunmi: I grew up in a family where everyone is hands on, especially my dad, whom I watch sketching or doing typography. And as a true educationist he doesn’t hold back on teaching. Art has been at the core of my interests and has featured in all my engagements even before I was an artist; I’m grateful for these full circle moments where I can build in my purpose.

Beyond the festival and your dream opportunity, what’s next for you? Are there any other projects or collaborations on the horizon?

Olubunmi: Yes, yes. I’m preparing for some shows and yes definitely working on collaborations with some of our beloveds here in Nigeria and across Africa.

I also give back to the community through my participation in art projects for less privileged and disabled kids as well as my participation in development of grassroot football.

What challenges have you faced in your artistic journey, especially when preparing for significant events and opportunities?

Olubunmi: One of the recurring challenges I face is the limited availability of tools. I often find myself delving deep into research to find alternatives. I’m honestly just making do with what’s at hand. 

I craft my pieces entirely by hand. The only ‘tools’ I use when building  are the stool the piece is on and a cardboard at the base. Sometimes, I need specific tools but they’re not readily available. Accessing them means you’ll have to import and the current dollar rate is not smiling. This means importing them becomes a challenge. Even the materials I can find locally often require extensive preparation from its rawest form to get them to the state I need. I’ve had to get creative, repurposing items or even crafting tools, like making a rib tool from kegs. As I progress in my journey, I’m continuously working towards equipping myself with the right tools and materials. It’s a balance I’m striving to achieve.

Olubunmi, it’s been enlightening chatting with you. Before we wrap up, where can our readers find more of your work and follow your journey, especially updates on your exhibit and new projects?

Olubunmi: Thank you Nanya! I’m quite active on Instagram under the handle @oluoninsta. I frequently update my story with the latest happenings. So, if you follow me there, you’ll catch my updates. You can also find me on Facebook and LinkedIn by searching for ‘Olubunmi Atere’. You can also Google my name, to find even more information about my work and my journey. Thank you so much for this chat; it’s been an absolute pleasure connecting with you. Cheers!

Let’s delve deeper into some of Olubunmi’s standout pieces and understand the inspiration and stories behind them

Rhythm of Life (2021) Glazed and Polished, Clay, H 15' x W 12'
Rhythm of Life (2021) Glazed and Polished, Clay, H 15′ x W 12′

‘Rhythm of Life is a confluence of life experiences and the versatility of clay. Life in its differences, similarities and imbalance creates a rhythm that we all experience and can relate with. Clay in its malleability and versatility creates a simulation that captures life processes. The inscriptions on the evocative form are borne out of imaginations, yearns and the flow building of clay affords the human mind. The evocative form conveys the world and how it births happenings, people and experiences without the knowledge or control of the beings in it. Life has a rhythm and we all dance to it.’

Fecundity (2021) Glazed and Polished, Clay, H 17' x W 12'
Fecundity (2021) Glazed and Polished, Clay, H 17′ x W 12′

‘Fecundity explores the ambiguity in potentiality and actualisation through the cycle of evolution, from its start point and the chain effect of that process. The choice form is figuratively and literally synonymous with birth, fertility, connection. A proof as well as a draft of what is and is to come; like faith in what is (un)seen. An exploration as a gentle nudge towards the acceptance of ever-present ambiguity in our lives, a hopeful lure out of analysis paralysis and an awareness for a conscious open-minded nature. I find the Yoruba proverb – Ọ̀nà kan ò w’ọjà (The market access isn’t limited to a single route) a call to the symbolism of the nature of ambiguity which does not offer itself up for clear, rather it encourages us to allow for the mystery that is Life to touch us and open us. Fecundity is an imagery of continuity and the ripple effect of our choices, being and actions. “Certainty begets stagnation, but ambiguity pulls us deeper into life. Unchallenged conviction begets rigidity, which begets regression; but ambiguity opens us to discovery, complexity, and therefore growth. The health of our culture, and the magnitude of our personal journeys, require that we learn to tolerate ambiguity, in service to a larger life.” – James Hollis’

Wave (2022) Glazed, Clay, H 16' x W 10'
Wave (2022) Glazed, Clay, H 16′ x W 10′

Tapping into the epiphany of nostalgia and memories of times past, upbringing, tunes, games, dance and moments that allow feelings to bubble to the surface of one’s mind, including the history of what makes our current reality. A feeling, tethering different individuals of same or separate backgrounds to memories, experiences and realities of themselves in their own way; the same wave, the surge of feelings every time a moment is recalled or re-lived. From research, nostalgia is thought to play an important role in psychological resilience from the involvement of memory and reward systems in such experiences. Some empirical studies also indicated nostalgia as approach-oriented such that it strengthens motivation and promotes the pursuit of one’s important goals. The patterns carved on this piece draws from gaming patterns, brain waves, dance and flow of water to relive the history of Africans, the resilience of Nigerians, and memories from upbringing; drawing motivation to bring thoughts/dreams to reality employing clay as a witness. Collages of thoughts, moments and every other thing that fits into a memory’.

Of angels and birth (2022) Glazed, Clay, H 12' x W 10'
Of angels and birth (2022) Glazed, Clay, H 12′ x W 10′

‘Exploring the greatness, royalty, leadership and history nestled in the strength of a woman. This piece carries the stamps of inspiration, encapsulating evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life and the environment. A confluence of feminine power and the strength of an African woman, Each symbol speaks to the feminine power and courage, tempered with humility and leadership. An intersection of the depiction of a mother tough love especially as an African, and the artist’s journey like that of everyone and a phoenix rising from the rubble every time.’

Pillar (2022) Glazed, Clay, H 19' x W 9'
Pillar (2022) Glazed, Clay, H 19′ x W 9′

This piece explores the nestling of support between individuals, communities, society and how we form an integral or upstanding member/part of it. We are bound by an intimate and harmonious bond to our society and the conflicts between us are apparent and momentary. In a well-ordered society, there would be lasting harmony between these two. Each one serves as a pillar to the other; the individual lives and acts within society but society is nothing, in spite of the combination of individuals for cooperative effort. Pillars when kept in balance with each other ensures sustainability and the survivability of our society in general. We are biologically and psychologically equipped to live in groups, in society.  An essential condition for human life to arise and to continue. The relationship between individual and society involves the question of values, ultimately one of the profound problems of social philosophy. How strong is our spirit of service and duty to the society and how much does the society worry about our spirit of tolerance, broadmindedness and security as individuals? One extremely strong pillar will not hold a building, but three mildly strong pillars will.

Elements that depict human experiences in relation to each other by habitation, movement, expression and communication are incised on a collision of geometry and traditional structure. The entire structure is emblazoned by abstract inscriptions, myriad evocative languages, as a unifying force in humanity’s vertical aspirations.

Exploring the essence of succession and ancestry, this piece depicts the embodiment of an offspring in line with its bloodline. Be it in breeding the mindset of an offspring to foster them, or getting involved in an actual breeding action or the identification of an offspring. The mother and child piece buttresses the ties of succession, the duty it demands and similarity birthed from the connection. Each being carries the essence of their breeder and the potentiality of breeding.

Sprout (2021) Glazed, Clay, 30cm x 16cm x 17cm
Sprout (2021) Glazed, Clay, 30cm x 16cm x 17cm

Drawing from the process of propagation to depict life experiences, this piece acknowledges the results and growth as a result of actions stemming from association, nurturing, and togetherness. The Yorùbá’s commonly say Ilé lati ń k’ẹ̀ṣọ́ r’òde – Charity begins at home. This piece connects the scope of the idea of propagation as a medium of knowledge transfer be it in cultivating a plant or an animal or spreading an idea, it yields (new) sprouts.