Morenike “Renike” Olusanya spends much of her time with her iPad and stylus, drawing people and things she finds interesting.
The Nigerian-born visual artist especially loves to paint black women. “I’m in Nigeria, all I see are black women. I like to paint our culture, our fashion, our hairstyles,” she said.
Growing up in Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria, Olusanya has always been artistic. “Drawing was something that came naturally to me as a child,” she explained. “My dad was an artist for a little while, so I saw him paint. I saw my older brother paint too.”
Olsanya, 28, studied creative arts at the University of Lagos and worked as a graphic designer before eventually taking up visual arts as a full-time job during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
Nigerian artist Morenike “Renike” Olusanya. credit: Morenik Olusanya
Bestselling book covers
Ulsanya art exists in many forms, such as portraits, dance art, and book covers. Some are created on canvas, but she prefers to illustrate digitally.
Combining shapes, lines, and shadows on her iPad, she has designed book covers for notable women including Aminata Toure, Germany’s first black female minister, award-winning American author Coe Booth, and Jamaican-American author Nicola Yoon.
In 2020, she illustrated the cover of Yoon’s book Instructions to Dance, which features a sketch of a black man and woman dancing tango.
“The book is about a woman named Evie who dances. She meets a man with whom she connects through dance,” the artist explained, adding that the cover took two months to finish.
According to Olusanya, illustrating the cover was “a dream come true,” especially since it became a New York Times bestseller immediately upon its June 2021 release. “I can proudly say that I have created book covers for many bestsellers,” she added.
Olusanya’s cover of “Instructions to Dance” by bestselling author Nicola Yoon. credit: Morenik Olusanya
Many of Olusanya’s photos share a message about what it means to be a black woman in today’s world.
“If I see a phrase or a thing or a person that I feel tells a story and can be turned into a work of art or an image, I choose it,” she explained.
One of her pieces, “Aminata”, depicts a black woman with short pink hair wearing a white sleeveless dress that shows her back. “The hair color is inspired by my friend Chigozie,” Olusanya said. “At the time, I found myself insecure about all the fat on my back. So I sketched that out, as you’ll notice in the picture. It was my way of accepting myself. It was also a way of showing that it’s normal for black women like me to have body fat.” “.
Olusania ‘Aminta’. credit: Morenik Olusanya
Even her dancing photos are more personal. “It’s like a journal to me; I draw based on what I experience,” she explained.
For example, You Won’t Be Silent was created during the pandemic when there was a rise in cases of violence against women. “The art was inspired by the way women on social media have given their voices in support of other women who have experienced targeted harassment,” she explained.
“It was very heavy for me, but I wanted to make something powerful, something that shows that when a woman is treated unfairly, there will always be other women trying to help,” she said.
Ulusania “will not be silent.” credit: Morenik Olusanya
“People can relate to what I do.”
In 2021, Olusanya was included in Leading Ladies Africa’s list of the 100 most inspiring women in Nigeria, and in 2022, she won the Lord’s Achievers Special Recognition: A Woman Making an Impact Through Art.
“Winning the award was very encouraging to me. It reinforced that art is something I love, and people can relate to what I do,” she said.
While Olusanya is happy to be recognized for her work, she said the highlight of her career is being commissioned to create images for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Hulu, Dark & Lovely, Penguin Random House, and Scholastic.
For the next two years, you just want to keep creating and experimenting with art. “I would like to continue cooperating with the biggest brands, hosting exhibitions in Lagos and other countries,” she said.