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How Tiolu Yoloye Is Using Digital Art To Steer Social Change

Not all of us can change the world, it is wishful thinking at best to believe that and impracticable at worst. But for some people, they’ve made it their life’s mission to change the world, at least from their perspective. As a visual artist, digital illustrator, and empath, Tiolu Yoloye strikes boldly as one of these people. Determined to change the world’s view on social change through the lens of her art, Tiolu walks me through her life, dreams, and passion.

Can you share a bit about your journey so far?

My earliest memory of illustration spans back to nursery 3. I would take out my school notes and draw on their covers, that’s when I knew I could draw. In SSS2, I entered a competition to make a poster for awareness of Female Genital Mutilation. I ended up winning the competition and had my name splashed on billboards in Ibadan. I even won a cash prize of 200,000 naira. That was my first “Hmm, this is nice and I can make money from this” moment. 

However, I didn’t start officially until 2018, when I was making portraits for people using a traditional canvas. But in 2020, I made a switch to digital art. 

That’s quite impressive. You touched briefly on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and how it piqued your interest. Does your art center social change and why? 

I’m an empath. So, I love to mirror the experiences of others. The first time I heard about FGM, it seemed really “out of touch” for me, until I found out that there were people around me who were victims of this harmful practice. I found it quite intriguing, so I was very passionate about creating awareness on the subject. That sort of extends to the rest of the social-centric projects I have done. 

One of my favorite projects-Stereotypes, focuses on activism as well. What inspires you to create a story around each piece? 

I love that art is a universal language and anyone can look at a piece and understand it, at least in most cases. I see art as a medium to communicate my ideas, feelings, and mirror what society is going through. That particular project was inspired by personal experiences and the experiences of my friends and family. During the pandemic, people would offer me commissions and make comments like “I thought you were a man.”

So I asked my friends and a significant number of people had similar experiences, and that’s how that project came to life. 

Did you have to convince your parents and family to support you when you chose this career path? 

Funny how I didn’t really have to do a lot of convincing. Especially after that 200,000 prize lol. 

Lol, I feel you. How does your message “fit” into your creative process? Is it something you actively insert when you’re at the start of the project or is it pure happenstance? 

I love to create awareness, but at the same time; the situation has to be right. But it can be dicey when the topic is sensitive because I wouldn’t like to come across as an opportunist. So, I do it when it feels right. Yes, it’s something I actively insert into my work. 

How would you say the emergence of NFTs has impacted Digital Illustration and your work? 

A few years ago, I only knew a couple of digital illustrators in the country. Now, that number has probably tripled. A lot of people are getting into the industry because of NFTs and it’s inspiring a lot of creativity. There’s also the introduction of AI-generated art (just hoping they don’t run me out of business). 

I’m trying to upskill, learn and just apply myself to new things in general. 

You mentioned AI-generated art and them stealing your jobs. Are you worried about job security in this line of work? 

Hmm, to be honest, I think about it sometimes. However, I remind myself that robots aren’t built to be the best creatives. So, that’s my resolve. 

How do you handle copyright and protection of intellectual property, considering that your primary medium is digital art? 

I wouldn’t say I have done a great job because I haven’t spent money on getting legal help. A couple of times, I had people steal my work and crop out my name. The only way I handled that was to call them out on social media. To be fair, Intellectual Property laws aren’t the most effective and aren’t such a big deal in Nigeria right now. Plus, a lot of Nigerians still don’t understand the idea. 

Interesting. If you had one wish regarding your work, what would it be?

I want to see my work go live on one of those super huge billboards abroad. Lol. I also want to work with Vashti Harrison, she illustrated Lupita Nyong’o’s book Sulwe and I’m very inspired by her work. 

Soon, soon. I’m curious, what’s your least favorite thing about being a digital artist? 

It has to be capitalism. It’s so different and liberating when you’re creating for yourself, but when you’re working with a client, it can get hard. On some days, I just want to throw away my tablet. Also, when the client doesn’t like the outcome of the work, it can be a tad bit demoralizing. 

Do you have any new projects coming up? 

Yes, I have worked on a couple of book projects that are yet to be published, so fingers crossed. For personal projects, I have had to put a couple of them on hold because of capitalism. Hopefully, I drop something soon. 

Jacqueline Alabi
Jacqueline Alabi
Jacqueline Alabi is a Nigerian content writer and storyteller, passionate about amplifying stories about the African creative industry. Outside work, Jacqueline's favorite pastime is watching rom-coms and pretending to be the main character in them. A true Gen-Z babe, she believes that soft work will always be greater than hard work, so she balances both.