What It's Like To Get Painted By Beyoncé's Fave Artist
Yesterday was one of those strange New York summer days: hot, sticky, smelly, and still somehow extremely beautiful. It was the perfect time for a mystical event: an art pop-up at Barclays Center, a collaboration between Milk and Laolu Senbanjo, the artist whose Yoruba-focused body painting was a centerpiece of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Laolu spent the day painting the public, creating beautiful designs on the faces and bodies of a steady stream of people outside the Brooklyn stadium. He and his human canvases were shielded from the hot sun with a hand-made structure covered in his own designs, called “the juju room.” It was all pretty magical.
The juju room, Laolu told us, was “pretty much an experience in itself.” The structure enabled him to quietly, intimately connect with his subjects. “What I do is put symbols on bodies and markers on bodies, which is called the Sacred Art of the Ori,” he said. “It’s also afromysterics, mystery of the African thought pattern.” As Laolu had explained to us before, the Sacred Art of the Ori comes from the Yoruba word for head, and essentially means that he paints the essences of his muses. “The secret of the ori, it’s very spiritual, it’s sacred,” he said. “It’s the most intimate I’ve ever been with my art with anybody. So, if I’m going to share a space with anybody, another human for like eight hours to do a full body, we’ve got to connect.”
Laolu painted at least fifty people (we can’t imagine the hand cramping). His regular muse, jeweler, artist and “full-time goddess” Reign Apiim, 27 (her name is an acronym for All Power Is In Me) was particularly striking. “I love that it’s sacred,” she said of Laolu’s work. “I love that everything is about the culture and the heritage of our ancestors and storytelling. It’s intricate and the lines are amazing.”
Visitors to the pop-up, included both longtime fans of Laolu, and recent, Beyoncé-related converts. New York Times social strategy editor Talya Minsberg, 27, came to see Laolu after following him online for ages. She loved the way Laolu painted her face. “I kind of wish Beyoncé’s concert was tomorrow night instead of Tuesday [so I can still wear it],” she said. “Like, can I sustain this face for that long? Probably not.” High schooler Veronica Miller, 16, was equally enthused. “I love the way [Laolu] is so personal,” she said. “He hugs you, he tries to understand you, and he incorporates who you are into his art. It’s wonderful.”
Laolu’s longtime manager, Kate Hallet, loves working with him. They initially met in a choir in Nigeria, where Hallet knew Laolu as a lawyer, his former career. Now, they travel the world for art, collaborating with everyone from Nike to, of course, Queen Bey. There’s nothing really boring, and there’s something new all the time,” she said. We guarantee that yesterday at Barclays, absolutely no one was bored.
All photos by Lumia Nocito
Stay tuned to Milk for more from Laolu.