Tinuke Illustration

3 March 2019

Tinuke Illustration

Through a body of colourful artwork, Tinuke Illustration disrupts the limiting narratives surrounding women of colour and demonstrates the power of
self-representation.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Bradford, West Yorkshire, to two Nigerian Parents who had moved to England in the late ‘80s with my three siblings. My parents own and run a charity that supports survivors of domestic abuse as well as aiding the local community. So, I grew up in an environment in which I was overtly aware of the injustice and suffering women go through. That has without doubt informed my art.

How did you get into art?

Art has been a constant in my life since I can remember. Some of my earliest memories from school are of art class. Art has always been my ‘thing’. It was something that I learnt that I was good at early and actively pursued. I was constantly drawing; I had multiple sketchbooks; I did paintings and collages. I’ve just always loved creating – making something from nothing.

How would you describe the subject matter of your art?

My art is an optimistic response to the world. It’s a reflection of my experiences and interests. I create the world I want to see, and I celebrate diversity. I enjoy drawing women of colour through my own lens as it’s important for us to tell our own stories. I want to disrupt the narrative surrounding black women and women of colour that I saw in the media growing up. I am a feminist, and I grew up surrounded by strong black women. I like to mirror that in my illustrations.

Where does your creative inspiration come from?

I’m Nigerian, Yoruba to be exact, and a lot of my inspiration comes from my rich heritage; the patterns, colours, stories are an endless pool of inspiration to draw from. I’m also a millennial; so, pop culture, music, fashion and trends also serve as inspiration. I enjoy reading and watching a lot of TV. The storytelling that appeals to me the most is common in genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and the supernatural. Unfortunately, those stories often don’t have multidimensional or diverse representations of people of colour. However, new genres like Afrofuturism disrupt that narrative and show that we do exist in that world, and I’m here for it.

What themes recur in your work?

Diversity and representation are very important themes in my work. Most of my life I’ve found myself in spaces in which I am the diversity. I think being constantly reminded of your ‘otherness’ creates a tension and a need to assimilate and actively try to fit in. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for growth and building a strong sense of self. However, I learnt to embrace my heritage and culture fully, and I love learning more about it and other cultures. Difference is beautiful, and diversity makes the world more colourful and interesting.

How do you explore diasporic identity in your work?

I remember when I first heard the term ‘diaspora’. I immediately felt a sense of belonging; I could identify myself with that group. As I’m first generation, I grew up in a Nigerian household, but in West Yorkshire, which has its own strong identity. The two cultures do not necessarily integrate. I found it a struggle to balance those different sides of my identity. Through my art, I found a way to embrace and share my rich heritage in my colour choices, storytelling, use of pattern, and subject matter.

How does your personal history influence your art?

I used to draw a lot of white women when I was younger. I suppose that’s because it’s what I was surrounded by, and it was the accepted image of beauty I was being exposed to. I started to connect more with my work once I began to draw my own truth. Now I create work my younger self would have loved to see and should have been exposed to because it’s hard growing up as a minority in those spaces and trying to navigate your identity. This is especially tumultuous as a Black African woman. Now it’s my heritage – the experience of being a Black African women in England – that informs my work the most.

Can you talk me through the creative process?

The creative process differs depending on the context of the work. Sometimes I get an idea I need to get down on paper, so I sketch it out then put it on Illustrator to finesse the lines. I then add colour on Photoshop to bring it to life. Other times the process is more structured and thought out. I have a concept or story I want to tell, so I’ll do more planning, considering composition, and sketching out different ideas before taking it digital. Digital art is still a relatively new thing for me – I only really started working in this style last year. Before that, I’d been more traditional, and acrylic had always been my go-to medium. I’m enjoying the ease and freedom digital art allows.

Grl GNG

This piece was created in conjunction with a blog post I wrote on Female Empowerment. It’s about women championing each other and supporting one another to face the adversity the world throws at us as a united front. It’s about not letting ourselves see each other as individuals fighting for that one spot to be filled by a women of colour at the table full of white counterparts, but creating spaces for ourselves where there is room for us all to succeed. In the background I use the black power fist. To me, it’s a symbol of non-conformity, of fighting by any means necessary, and of demanding change by proactively calling out injustice. ‘Grl Gng’ speaks to how women of colour are stronger together and to how our voice is louder as a cohesive unit.

The Scientist

This piece is indicative of my inner nerd and my love of sci-fi and fantasy. Fictional space lacks melanin, so this is my response to that and the wave of Afrofuturism. I love seeing black women represented in a way that disrupts the norm and challenges the status quo. People of colour belong in space, so why not illustrate that? This is one of the characters I created as part of a self-initiated project I had in mind. I’m creating a melanated race of aliens. This character is The Scientist. She’s a curious, intelligent, innovative Black women and part of the royal guard. The people will take inspiration from different African cultures and Afrofuturism.

What new projects are you working on or have you got coming up?

I have a few projects in the pipeline. I’m working on a short graphic novel commission for the pilot of an animation. I’m enjoying the challenge as it’s something new, and I love a collaborative project. I also recently met with some creative women of colour and we started a collective called Riot Soup. We are having our first group exhibition March 8th–10th, and hopefully we’ll have some exciting things in store. It’s important to me for women to support and uplift one another especially in the arts, which can be singular focused.

Thank you, Tinuke.

You can see more of Tinuke Illustration’s work on her website, Instagram, and ETSY store


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