Artist, entrepreneur and art director – Emmanuel Unaji is on our list of new talent to watch. We are obsessed with his mixed-media pieces, taking inspiration from popular culture and combining painting, drawing and collage to create unique pieces that we want all over our walls (and clothing).
We spent a few minutes with him to discuss family, creative inspiration and to find out how he’s built up his brand to be so successful.
Firstly, please can you tell us briefly about yourself and what you do?
I’m Emmanuel Unaji, a British born Nigerian multi-disciplinary artist and entrepreneur based in London. I’m also a Co-founder of art & design company Unaji&co which I direct alongside my business partner and brother Lemuel Unaji.
How did you get in to art and start your brand?
A family visit to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in 2005 really cemented a natural interest in visual art. Then 10 years later seeing Virgil Abloh’s juxtaposition of European art history & contemporary culture was pure inspiration. So, I set sail to study formally and learn the rules to then construct my own creative code & design language.
How important is social media to your work?
Social media is a unique tool; like any other it can help or hinder. As I’ve matured as an artist, I’ve learnt to be very specific about my use of it. It’s a great way to display aspects of one’s portfolio, but in addition I believe an informative website is always paramount.
We’ve noticed you wear a lot of clothing that you’ve customised with your work. Do you design pieces specifically to wear? And does your personal style influence your work or vice versa?
Yes, all the time, at Unaji we have an upcycling made-to-order range that turns fits into timeless archive art pieces, which exists alongside our essentials range. I would say personal style definitely influences our design process; art is our lifestyle & we want our customers to experience that.
Who/what inspires you to create?
My family, we’re close knit. Conceptual art is the basis for my work. The socio-political dynamic of industry, the concept of beauty. Human expression in relation to popular culture.
You’ve shown your work at a few exhibitions with big brands like Adidas, LFW and ASOS. Do you have one that you’re most proud of and why?
That’s a great question haha hmm… Probably between Tate Britain & LFW because they were great opportunities to showcase multi-faceted elements of the Unaji brand.
When the pandemic passes, we’ll be looking to partner & expand on the Unaji Immersive Art Experience with more brands. In all honesty though, all the events have been unique in their own way as it’s brought vital experience to our business.
If you were told that you could only create one more piece of work, what would it be?
Another tough question, you’re on a roll aha! I would create something like the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. In my style, but a Renaissance ceiling painting of contemporary culture that would combine all of my styles. Would be a cool way to keep working on one piece for a lifetime haha.
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Any dream artists or brands you would like to collaborate with?
Virgil Abloh. Jeff Koons. Yinka Shonibare. Unaji is open to working with brands that align with our core values & design language. Luxury is a concept we constantly dissect.
Ok now it’s time for some quick fire questions! Early bird or night owl?
Song you can’t stop listening to at the moment?
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M&S Cookies, had to cut down though haha
What was the last thing you Googled?
Describe yourself in 3 words
Determined. Smooth. Lion.
And finally, what can we expect to see from you next?
We have a show running until October at Acid Gallery in Lille, France – “Fashion Illustration” which is showcasing a range of international artists. I’ve also Art Directed psychedelic Rap-Rock band Studio32OKE’s debut album and an art/music collaboration could be in the works. There are a few more momentous projects in the works but they will be announced accordingly!