5 november 2018


Inspired by her Nigerian heritage and the sounds of highlife music from West Africa, the painting of Hackney-based artist, Labet, echoes the pulsing rhythms and chromaticism through vivid colours and brushstrokes. She talks with WE THE OUTLIERS about her sources of inspiration and her intentions.

How did you get into art?

I’ve always been creatively inclined I guess. From since I can remember, I used to enjoy coming up with little craft projects like making cards and hand-made gifts. But in particular as a child, it was the illustrations in story books that drew my attention to the impact of art, which prompted me to start doing little sketches of family members. Through study and many discoveries, I have found myself continuously intrigued with all areas of art and in awe of how it can be used to communicate all manners of dialogue and reveal unspoken emotion. However, it was my time spent away for a few months in Nigeria that saw my true passion for art surge, and it really shaped my own development as an artist. This will always jump out to me as a key point for my growth as I had never been there for that length of time as an adult. Being alone at times, I really got to know myself and feed off my new environment. In all the characters I came across, there was so much genuine appreciation for life and culture to take in that it was impossible not to express it back out. I painted a lot there because the endless ‘colourful chaos’, as I called it, had me buzzing from frustration to fascination. At the time there was an element of being scared and out of my comfort zone; I was somewhat a foreigner at home. But the learning and unlearning of what it meant to be strong triggered me to really use and build on what was naturally in me to make the most out of that experience. I exhibited for the first time with works I started in Nigeria.

How would you describe the content of your work?

I would say my art is figurative and somewhat abstract. I like to work on visual ideas of ethnic pride, exploring the opulence of black identity with an emblematic focus on vibrant colour, pattern, and texture. Music plays a major role in my process, and I feel my paintings can reflect that in the rhythm of my paint strokes and the movements in the blue backgrounds that frequently feature in my work. A lot of my subjects embody the black feminine perspective as I’ve gone through stages of just painting women, but this is again where my self-exploration takes place. I experiment with observations of representation and elements of fiction with the use of parts of personal journals to navigate my way to a complete composition.

Where does your creative inspiration come from?

Life. Everyday we’re all experiencing and processing different information and constantly managing emotions; so, my reaction is just to paint it all out. My cultural background motivates a lot of what I do. My subject matters continue to evolve and sometimes play through as mini narratives of my own journey and self-exploration. I live in London in which I’m grateful for the diverse and multicultural environment that brings waves of content to think about each day. I consider the busy cosmopolitan personalities of the urban cityscapes employing their own composition to paint. But it’s more so a dialogue built through relationships with my immediate family and friends that provide a lot of the foundation to what I represent in my art and where I aim to be. Even with my main interest being in the African/black identity, I try not to set myself boundaries on what it is I’m doing, but at the same time I also feel grounded to develop a range of content that reads clear and celebrates beyond mainstream appeal.

What do you listen to in order to fuel your  creativity?

Music has become a big part of my development as an artist. The series of work I’m picking up from now was influenced by West African highlife music. This series started from me being at this great live music set with an incredible introduction to the Ghanaian brass band sounds from E. T. Mensah. This really just spurred on my renewed appreciation for that energy. I have just recently discovered the sounds of jazz musicians Alfa Mist and Yussef Dayes who have been on constant repeat. I like instrumentals in the background when I’m laying out the foundations of a work and looking at colours, but by the time I get into the full swing of a piece I tend to bang out a bit of everything, to be honest. I go from African highlife, afrobeats to hip-hop and then always end up in 90s R&B somewhere.

How do you create your paintings? What medium and techniques do you use?

My main medium is acrylic paint. I believe my style constantly evolves with my mood at the time of creating. You might see this through the movements in my brush strokes. I like to create areas of relief and texture in most of my pieces, so I try to be free in my technique.

What about your use of colour?

I like bold statement colours that are symbolic in their meaning. I use a lot of regal tones to express the strength and elevation that I feel reflects parts of the African identity. The blue backgrounds in my most recent works are indulgent in reference to the mystic and royalty of our power. I use gold to call out the opulent nature in each piece. The turquoise colours, which come through as a uniform worn by many of my characters from the ‘HiGHLiFE SOLDiERS’ series, are a reference to the traditional uniform of Aso ebi: the popular Nigerian custom of wearing the same material or fabrics in solidarity during a social occasion.

How are your inspirations and West African heritage represented through your paintings?

I use patterns and colour to communicate the themes and atmosphere I want to create, much of which is inspired from European fabric and textiles adopted by the West African culture. You will see a lot of my work represents black women adorned with the traditional Nigerian head wraps called gele in Yoruba. This is something I have grown accustomed to showing as a salute to the vogue-style fashion led by confidence of character


‘HiGHLiFE SOLDiERS’ was part of my first solo exhibition and features my own personal exploration into West Africa’s golden era of music from the 60s and 70s. It is a retrospective view of the emotions and atmosphere created from the captivating sounds and rich narratives of highlife music. This collection of paintings gradually came together as a celebration of my experience within my own Nigerian societal scene and the personalities that follow on here in London. I’m really just looking at life and the energy that comes from the music that brings us together. Tracing back the roots of the music, my aim was to display an appreciation of this element of culture at its source and also honuor Nigerian musical legends such as Victor Olay and Fela Kuti.

What projects have you got coming up?

I am continuously working on collections I aim to show late next year.

Thank you, Labet.

You can see more of Labet’s work on instagram and on her website

The original interview was conducted in English and has been edited for brevity and clarity