Why I’m committed to preserving Nigerian culture, storytelling through arts – Olubukola Bolarinde

Olubukola Bolarinde has indeed made a name for herself as a Nigerian artist setting the pace as she sets to unveil her entire repertoire, curated for over two years, at a private exhibition on Friday at Eko Atlantic Lagos.

The exhibition, tagged 106 art, follows the release of her 2018 critically acclaimed movie Onigiri, which will also hold in Venice, Italy, later in the year.

In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES in an event held on Victoria Island, the Lagos State-born filmmaker cum artist revealed the reasons behind her passion for preserving Nigerian culture and storytelling through arts.

“I am a storyteller, a creative. My artworks are stories. Every piece carries its unique message and tells you a different story, transporting you into a place, time, scene, experience, or emotion”, she said.

“Stories around me inspire my art. Stories I have experienced first-hand, stories I have been told. Art is a means of self-expression. Art is life. My art is a means through which I connect with its audience”.

Balarinde’s arts

Ms Balarinde, deeply rooted in the Yoruba culture, was born into a family with six children. Her father is from Okemesi-Ekiti in Ekiti State, while her mother was a native of Ibadan in Oyo state. However, she spent her formative years in northern Nigeria.

She sojourned through her formative years from Jos to Kaduna and then Zaria, a feat that enabled her to establish a few remarkable senses of identity and diversity in the Nigerian culture.

Her understanding of the aesthetic metropolis of the northern Nigerian culture is evident in paintings such as the Wusasa.

She said, “Zaria is predominately a Muslim city, and in those days when we were there, they told us never to walk into Zaria city without covering our hair. It is forbidden. You can’t walk in with trousers like a woman. We were always fascinated by that, and beyond the walls of Zaria city is the Emir’s Palace.”

Portrait by Olubukola Bolarinde
Portrait by Olubukola Bolarinde

“But outside of Zaria city, you have Christian communities, and there is a town called Wusasa, which is part of the places where I grew up. In the centre of Wusasa is this mud building that looks like an ancient castle, but it is a church called St. Bartholomew,” she said.

Further explaining how her life in the north influenced her art, she said, “You know Kaduna has a long history of religious crises resulting in killings and very gory situations, and there was one of such crises when all the churches were set ablaze, and St. Bartholomew was also set ablaze but the building never burnt down; it is still standing till today and it is at the central piece of my exhibition.

“So, I did a tribute to St. Bartholomew. I almost even moulded St. Bartholomew to show the rustic nature. I brought the roughness and texture that you can almost feel, touch, and you are there. It tells you that story and transports you to Wusasa.”

According to the celebrity painter, other paintings that evoke similar effects include images of Makoko at night, Eyo, Christ Church Cathedral and Durbar, among others.


Speaking about her commitments to preserving the Nigerian culture through her exhibition, the filmmaker said, “I‘m telling a story about our culture, people and land. When you look at my artwork, it is all an African story; there is a story in every single one. My background and influences fuse into my art and translate into my pieces.”

“My art transports you to places, times, people and cultures. You will see many African faces and people in African attires. For instance, you see a lady in Jalabia, all wrapped up. Immediately, it is distinct in the North. You see a man from the Durbar on a horse and transport you there. You see the Eyo with the kings, and you know you are in the south,” she said.

Ms Bolarinde, who started painting in 2020 during the pandemic, said that she had always had an innate passion for the arts.

106 art exhibition

Billed to be the first of its kind in this part of the world, Ms Bolarinde will unveil the art exhibition at her debut solo exhibition.

The exhibition titled ‘106 Expressions’, curated by Nike Davies-Okundaye, is a first-of-its-kind featuring 85 artworks and two fashion designers who will showcase ten fabrics each on the runway and a construction site.

According to her, she is breaking the conventional norms to give people a unique experience.

She said, “106 Expressions is a collection of artworks celebrating our African heritage, people, and culture. I have drawn inspiration from my experiences as an African child.”

“The works transport you to a place and a time, perceived through an African child’s mind. A different time from the times we now live in. Many children have not and will never have these experiences as our world evolves.”

Speaking about the venue, Ms Bolarinde said that she would draw from her natural habitat as an architect, which is the construction site.

“For the first time, I am staging an exhibition in such a venue and building it from scratch. It is the first of its kind in Nigeria to host such a show on a construction site; in an uncompleted building, I am bringing people and immersing them into an experience that elsewhere did not exist.”

So, that immersive experience, walking from start to finish at Eko Atlantic City, is the 106th exhibit.”

However, the exhibition’s title goes beyond the number of works on display. It is a play on her birthdate, June 10; hence the event is also scheduled to hold her birthday.

Multifaceted artist

Ms Bolarinde, an architecture graduate and urban and regional planning graduate from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, wears many hats in the creative industry that describe her as a unique storyteller of her time.

As a writer, her descriptive prowess as a storyteller are translated through her art.

Although her tertiary education started in Zaria, Ms Bolarinde has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Design and Engineering from Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL).

However, she started her career in architecture where she worked with James Cubitt Architects for four years before she made her way into the banking industry, where she worked with the Standard Charted Bank as a project manager, setting up branches from start to finish and designing for the bank in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja.

She delved into the oil and gas sector as she worked with Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited. She was elevated to managing director of the subsidiary company FO Properties Limited.

She is currently the Head of Real Estate and Facilities Management (REFM) Nigeria and Regional Head of REFM Performance for Ericsson Limited in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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