Young African artists don’t easily get the opportunity to get their work exhibited on an international stage. Talented Nigerian artist Babajide Olatunji managed to achieve the seemingly impossible. At the age of 24 in 2014, TAFETA gallery exhibited Olatunji’s work, Tribal Mark Series I in London, and the artist hasn’t looked back since the breakthrough.

Three years down the line, Olatunji’s work has been exhibited in New York, Lagos and Dubai. This year, his work will be exhibited at the Cape Town Art Fair to be held from 17-19th February. The artist has extended the tribal mark series from I to IV.

Many art collectors have mistaken Olatunji’s remarkable work for that of a mid-career artist. The young artist got interested in drawing during his primary school days. He attended Obafemi Awolowo University, where he studied Botany but also focused on improving his artistry by watching videos on YouTube. A self-taught artist, Olatunji drew portraits of popular personalities such as Ramsey Noah and Asa, displaying them on campus to market himself.

The hyper-realist painter whose drawings have left many astounded has become a sensation with his tribal mark series. The tribal mark series, inspired by the scarification marks found among some tribes in Nigeria, especially among the Yorubas, has set the artists apart.

Tribal Marks series IV no. 10. Photo: Olatunji/Instagram
Tribal Marks series IV no. 10. Photo: Olatunji/Instagram

His art could easily be mistaken for pictures, considering how detailed the drawings are. Olatunji’s early works were in graphite on paper, and the the tribal mark series is coal on paper.

With his career just taking off and more projects lined up, the sky is certainly the limit for Olatunji.

Olatunji is also known as the dancing artist. The videos on Olatunji’s Instagram page show him sporting an afro and wearing shorts with paint brushes in his hands and classical music or jazz playing. In his latest video, the artist features drawing a portrait of Fela Kuti and dancing to the afrobeat sounds of the legend. Other videos show Olatunji listening to jazz, the intensity of the music turning him to a temporary orchestra conductor.

Music has always been a part of the artist’s work regime. It puts him in a creative and he draws for nine hours or more when he’s inspired. The dancing artist looks up to artists from the Rennaisance and Romantics period.

On their website, TAFETA gallery says of the artist:

For Olatunji “the rendering process starts with the creative imaginings of the subject, considering personality, character, skin-type and even factoring in medical history in some cases. It involves fashioning a story around them and then drawing desired morphological characteristics from an exhaustive study of faces – to produce unique portraits”.