Art is a form of expression for many people and for this talented Eastern Michigan University student, it is his biggest passion.
21-year-old Samson Shofoluwe is pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Arts at EMU and has goals to create meaningful work with impact. Shofoluwe was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, moving to the UK at 11 years old where he lived until the end of 2019.
As an artist, Shofoluwe goes by the name ShoNobi, which intermingles his passion for anime using Naruto’s 'Shinobi’s,’ with his most-common nickname “Sho.”
During his last year in London, Shofoluwe spent his time building connections, holding two exhibitions, as well as appearing in a BBC mini-series centered around the realities of how art can save the youth from street violence.
After moving to the United States, Shofoluwe basically had to start over again. Nevertheless, he has already made strides in the right direction; participating in Art Prize, a global art competition held in Grand Rapids, as well as curating a gallery in the student center at EMU.
“While I knew I wasn’t going to get much from [the gallery], it was a nice experience to be a curator and be able to set everything up myself, so I could make it how I wanted,” Shofoluwe states.
Most of his finished pieces are oil on cardboard. However, Shofoluwe boasts a high level of competency in both traditional and digital art. The medium matters very little, as he simply enjoys being able to bring life to a blank surface whilst endeavoring to push the limits of what he can create. He finds inspiration in everything, from anime culture to contemporary artists like Arinze, Kehinde Wiley, and Nelson Makamo.
The creator has gained attention on the popular social media platforms Twitter and TikTok too.
“I think my art went viral like three times, which was lit, but Twitter has no consistency, so one day something that is bad may get 1000 retweets, and you could post something completely different and amazing and get no attention,” Shofoluwe states.
While no one wants social media hits to be their main goal, Shofoluwe discusses the annoyance of always hoping for success when posting on social media nonetheless, especially after working so hard at something for so long.
“I never stopped, anytime I was bored it was the thing I could do, but I took it more seriously after school because then I was doing it for myself,” Shofoluwe says. “I’d say when I was 18 was when I began taking art seriously as a personal journey.”
With just a quick look at any of his work, you will most likely be able to recognize its beauty and his immense talent. However, Shofoluwe has goals to create pieces that are not just visually pleasing, but meaningful as well.
“I’m also seeing parallels between trying to be a visual artist and trying to be a musical artist. It’s like essentially what I see people doing would be like doing covers, and they may be singing greatly, but the song itself isn’t meaningful. So I’m trying to make meaningful songs,” Shofoluwe explains. “I’m starting to write my own music.”
The artist compares art to music and feels that establishing your own narrative and meaning in your work is what makes pieces your own and demonstrates true skill.
“I want to start constructing my own stories. So far, there hasn’t been too much clear narration, but I have been trying to put a lot more thought into the meaning hidden in details, rather than just having a cool picture you can look at. I wanna actually have things that tell a story, like something deeper.”
Shofoluwe’s favorite pieces he has created are titled “Hair Day,” “High and Mighty” and “Your Pledge, Our Choice.” Each of these pieces possess a meaning that is deeper than what initially meets the eye.
Your Pledge, Our Choice
“The meaning of the piece is a callback to myself and most African kids that are in the diaspora. The title is ‘your pledge, our choice’ and on their faces there are words written on them like tribal marks.”
In Nigeria, where Shofoluwe is originally from, you may receive tribal marks if you are born into a tribe that is very distinct. The painting uses this imagery as a way to symbolize the fact that parents often push their kids to be lawyers and doctors, without much leeway for choice.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to do art, and art doesn’t really bother anyone so I just kept doing art and the fact that I was good at it convinced my mom to want me to keep doing it, but for a lot of people it’s not the same. Also, we do this thing in school and pledge to Nigeria every morning and it’s like ‘this is your pledge but do we get a choice?’.”
High and Mighty
This next piece offers viewers even more room for interpretation, meant to be both humorous and slightly serious.
“I’m trying to joke a bit, but at the same time trying to make you think about a few things. ‘High and Mighty’ itself as a title is a phrase that’s used to describe someone who is acting more than they think they are, then in the picture she’s smoking a blunt, so she’s getting high, so I’m kind of playing with words there.”
Shofoluwe speaks about how many people are judgemental when it comes to smokers, sometimes even using religious views as a reasoning. In connection, he uses religious imagery to tie into the visual’s image.
“I put the Bible motif there in the clouds and she’s got this angelic feeling, and she’s got wings on her back, so it’s like you're in Heaven. And it’s like now that you’re judging us, making yourself seem high and mighty, I’m really high, so who’s really high and mighty?”
While Shofoluwe himself really thought of this piece’s meaning in a joking manner, he wants people who see it to be able to form their own narrative.
Being the earliest of the three, this painting was meant to be part of a series that did not end up coming to fruition, at least not yet. The series was supposed to be Shofoluwe seeing how far he could push the definition of what counts as intimacy.
“The whole idea is there’s a girl doing her friends' hair, and there’s a third figure passing the blunt,” Shofoluwe says. “This is an intimate moment even if there’s not close touching, and it may not present the first idea that comes to your mind when you think of intimacy.”
Apart from his current goal of creating meaning within his pieces, Shofoluwe also has dreams to make a name for himself, allowing him to have multiple shows over the year without worrying about money.
“The goal is to have multiple streams of income as an artist and be able to give back and put on shows for people for free,” Shofoluwe states. “I want to start a foundation where I’ve got a studio where I can have other artists.”
With a large mission to help other artists in the process, Shofoluwe has the following words of advice for any aspiring creator.
“You should create frequently, stay consistent, and put your work out there, no matter how bad you think it is,” Sholofouwe states. “Undervaluing ourselves is our biggest downfall.”
Moving forward, Shofoluwe hopes to become well-known in the art scene before pursuing his Master’s degree in New York. His dream is to have his work recognizable in every corner of the world.
To find ShoNobi’s working portfolio, contact him for commissions, purchase merchandise and more, visit his website at www.shonobiart.com.
Check out ShoNobi Art’s social media on Instagram @shonobi_art and Twitter @sho_nobi.