Lola Ogbara: The Body’s Positivism
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Lola Ogbara is an interdisciplinary artist, sculptor, and arts administrator. Now residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Ogbara currently works as an artist and Registrar for Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design. In 2013, she received a B.A. in Arts Entertainment & Media Management with a concentration in Visual Arts management from Columbia College Chicago and has had her work covered in publications and platforms such as Huffington Post, Billboard, and Netflix. A few weeks back, we found time to chat with the artist about her craft, Chicago’s art scene, and the process behind the book cover and design of Kwabena Foli’s learning rhythm.
Flowered Concrete: Hey Lola, a pleasure to finally chat with you as our last scheduled phone call was a failure. (Laughs) How are you doing today?
Lola Ogbara: I’m pretty good. Enjoying the weather. Gonna go out and hit some art exhibitions a little later.
Flowered Concrete: Sounds great! Okay, let's dive right into it. When I look at your work, I see a lot of confidence. I see self-certainty. Could you possibly elaborate upon the direction in which you guide your art as well as who your demographic is?
Lola Ogbara: So a lot of my work deals with a lot of Body Positivism. I was a part of a notion or stereotype that women of color who didn’t meet these outrageous beauty standards were never seen as being beautiful or sexy or a loving human being. This is in a lot of peoples heads. I didn’t like the stereotypes and didn’t like that they were seen as unhealthy. I wanted to change that. It started with a drawing and then it became a series. It became my body positivism series today. I really just wanted to give women an understanding that you are beautiful if you are a woman of color and this is your body type and that is your body type and you are beautiful and capable of being loved.
Flowered Concrete: You’re obviously a multidisciplinary artist at this stage of the game but how has your attributes as an artist developed over time? Was there a true starting point with any of the disciplines you currently practice?
Lola Ogbara: I always felt true to drawing and illustration. That was my first medium and probably the one I’ll do every day probably until the day I die. But it started off with drawing pictures and I used to write stories with them as a kid. In high school I took art classes and it just kept developing over time. As you get older and you experience new things you experience that there is more than drawing out there. There’s also photography, there’s clay, there’s paper art, collage you know? I was fascinated with all the options and it all made me want to explore more.
Flowered Concrete: How much does your art work usually go far? Are there an array of prices depending on what platform you offer them?
Lola Ogbara: I try to have a wide range of art available for everyone. Right now it can go as far five dollars for a sticker of a drawing to recently two thousand dollars for a thirty-eight by forty-two inch painting that I’ve done so it does range. I try to throw in sales every once in a while for any prints that I may have in my studio and things of that nature but I try to meet every price point.
Flowered Concrete: Did reading play a big role in your life growing up both as an individual and as an artist? Were there any art magazines in addition to art pieces you saw that influenced your come up as an artist?
Lola Ogbara: The reading options I’ve had growing up and as a kid has always been magazines. Ebony magazine, hair magazines, or any magazine with black women in it and all over it. It literally developed into more subjects, books and things of that nature but that was the starting point for me and with the magazine being the starting place that’s what I use in most of my collage work; magazines that have black women in them so a lot of time I’m using black women's bodies and faces as they usually cut from magazines I used to read as a kid.
Flowered Concrete: I noticed that you recently did illustration for Zena White’s book Collective Voices of the Tight Lipped. What was that experience like and was that the first time you designed a book cover?
Lola Ogbara: It was most definitely the first time I’ve designed a book cover. I didn’t know that was actually for me until someone asked if I could do it and I said “Why not?” There was a piece on my Instagram that she had seen and taken a liking to and she wanted it tweaked and wanted a black woman instead of the other women that were in the illustration so I tweaked it to her desire and she loved it and that’s what started my book cover designing.
Flowered Concrete: How did your collaboration with Kwabena Foli come about for Learning Rhythm? Were you guys already connected prior being that you both come from Chicago?
Lola Ogbara: We weren’t actually. I was more connected to his partner LaKeisha. She knows me from school and I know her from Columbia College and I guess she told him that I was doing connection work and I’d be a good source to check out for the book cover and I’m glad she did because it brought out a good collaboration out of it. So it went from there, and when we met, he told me what he was looking for--well not exactly--he told me about his book and then he gave me some writing samples and then I interpreted his book and his writing samples the way I wanted to. I gave him two different options and he chose the more illustrative route which I’m glad he did because he loves and I love it too and it’s one of my best commissioned works that I’ve done so far.
Flowered Concrete: Before I forget, I just wanted to congratulate you on being asked to create an event poster for promo in the Netflix original series “EASY”. Through that experience how is it different creating art pieces for exhibits in comparison to a client such as Netflix? Is your art compromised in any type of way when creating a visual for a show that may already have ideas in place for you to work with?
Lola Ogbara: So the thing about that is that was my first big company commission and I’ve learned a lot through the experience. Some good, some positive, and some negative. It was particularly something that they were needing for the show and they just wanted my particular style on it. So I was happy to do that and it came out good. Everyone liked it, I was paid generously for it and I look forward to working with bigger companies and I do know now that I would do a few things differently.
Flowered Concrete: What does your family think about what you do? Do they think art is a field that they expected for you to excel in and take seriously growing up?
Lola Ogbara: They always knew me as drawing and doing some kind of art or creative thing. I don’t think they realized that it would become that much of a passion for me and a career choice for me as well. I don’t think they realized that until I went to an art school because no one thought I was gonna do too much with this art business degree. But I’m seeming to prove them wrong every day. But they support me and they’re pretty proud of what I’m doing so far.
Flowered Concrete: Were there any mentors or artists growing up that paved the way for you in Chicago? Anyone you admired or was hands on in the development of your craft?
Lola Ogbara: I didn’t have too much mentors growing up. I didn’t realize I needed one or try to seek one out at a young age. It wasn’t until I got into college that I thought that I may need one or realized that I had started admiring other people and their work. You know, there wasn’t a lot of access to different art or social media platforms but I do understand the importance of mentorship now and I do have a few artists that I look up to and people I do seek information and advice from time to time.
Flowered Concrete: Any artists right now on the come up in between Missouri or Chicago that currently look up to you for inspiration that you’re possibly mentoring?
Lola Ogbara: I’m pretty sure I’m inspiring a few people here. It seems to be a really younger crowd. The college kids or the high school kids, because my illustration is very colorful and whenever I do a local show it seems to be a lot of college kids buying up the prints. They come out and by the time I’m there and I’m selling they’ve already realized who I am and they’ve seen my work somewhere so it feels good to have people notice what you’re doing and support that way and tell you and let you know that you inspire them and that they love your work so I do know locally I’m doing a little damage but I’m not sure about the broader range. I don’t know if I’m there quite yet.
Flowered Concrete: In this sociopolitical climate of Trump and his fascist and sexist nature, what do you feel is your role through your art? Is activism and art bridged at all?
Lola Ogbara: Yeah, I think activism plays a bigger and deeper role in art. And I feel what is art without activism you know? It’s a means to create change around social issues. So a lot of my work naturally is speaking up against some type of resistance. Whether it’s affecting my womanhood or being black or being black and woman, whatever I feel connected to. If it’s affecting it then I have something to say about it, at least visually. But yes, I feel that there is a place for activism within my art, most definitely.
Flowered Concrete: In your interview with Girls Club Zine you said something to me that really struck me. You said, “Art is meant to comfort the disrupted and disrupt the comfortable.” I thought that was fascinating. Can you unpack what you meant by that?
Lola Ogbara: Yeah, there’s a need to make people feel comfortable. Especially among black women, we’re seen as that source of comfortability. We’re here to listen to peoples problems, give advice, to solve and to nurture. But that’s not the case for me. That is nice, but on the other hand that is not who I want to be in my art. I want to do the opposite. I want to make people uncomfortable. I want to have the uncomfortable conversation. I want people to realize that we are not going to silence this issue and it’s going to come out whether you like it or not. That’s what my Body Positivism project does on a different level. I aim to discomfort in my work.
Flowered Concrete: What do you want people to ultimately pull away from your work?
Lola Ogbara: A lot of my work has a lot to do with body and how it's seen by others in the public. I guess I’d like for people to take away a sense of realization. For those who may not have known about my work or the subject of my work. I guess I want them to take away the fact that there are other bodies than their own. I want them to take away a sense of confidence in my work the same way I see myself.
Flowered Concrete: For those who are interested, where can they find you and your work online?
Lola Ogbara: I have a website lolaogbara.com They can also find me on Instagram. I have two Instagrams one is personal and the other one where I post my work is an art business profile (laughs)
Flowered Concrete: What would you say to the young kids out there that want to do the work you’re currently doing? How should they go about doing it?
Lola Ogbara: I think first and foremost you have to have the passion and the drive. Because if no one is looking now that doesn’t mean that they won’t be looking in the future. You always want to put out your best work. Another thing I would say is to keep yourself surrounded by people who love you and give you support. Your ideas are important, your beliefs are important. So keep that in mind and you should be good.
Flowered Concrete: Lola, thank you for spending time with us today.
Lola Ogbara: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for wanting to talk with me.
“As a multidisciplinary artist, I pride myself on bringing focus to the delicacy of the human form. I choose to explore sexuality, specifically in the bodies of people of color. In particular, the versatility of femininity within Black femme existence has streamlined my interest. Throughout my sculpture, paintings and illustrations, I gravitate towards a more literal and abstract representation of the female aesthetic. Using sculpture as a material, it brings about a fragility that is needed in this work. I celebrate vulnerability sometimes using my own body as a source of material and am most interested in social standards, body stereotypes, social observance, and activism as it pertains to the body.”
Twitter & Instagram: @leauxism
Kevin Anglade is the founder and publisher of Flowered Concrete. Founded in 2012, he plans to bridge the gap between the African-American communities throughout the nation with hopes of reinvigorating a passion for literature.