Words : Ayooluwa Uthman
In this episode of our installment RADR Plus, Ayooluwa Uthman speaks to multi disciplinary artist Ayanfe on how she lives and aligns with art & life
“If you have the passion, you will do everything in your power to find a way to do what you really want.”
Our chat is nearing its end. It’s been a long day. The rain had soaked me down to my boxer shorts, and also delayed Ayanfe’s arrival. So here we are, midway through the interview and it’s 7:30PM rather than the scheduled 12PM. So much for planning.
I laugh as she talks about an art piece titled ‘Fuck you Sanjay’ from her upcoming series. It’s a tribute of some sort to a lecturer she disliked when she was in UNILAG. The inspiration for this piece, in her words, is “Sanjay (his nickname) needs to know he’s a fucking beast.”
As the conversation continues, I feel my mind working to merge Ayanfe’s story with the theme that inspired this interview: Alignment.
“This is the goal of your soul. This is its purpose—to fully realize itself while in the body; to become the embodiment of all that it really is.” – Neale Donald Walsch.
Life, in all its diversity, can only be lived from two perspectives: that of the mind, or that of the soul.
Yes, these terms are quite vague, but for this article, we’ll treat the mind as the part of us that is attached to the world and its trips, and the soul as the part that knows there’s something more to life than the material.
The mind is loud, it’s in your face 24-7 and its needs are endless. It gets easily distracted, is heavily conditioned, and is never at peace. It has no self-assurance – it always comparing itself to others, and always follows a crowd. The mind is the part of us that will not risk brokeness, loneliness or any form of discomfort for a higher purpose. It is the part of us that is addicted to comfort and gives away our individuality to external authority.
The soul on the other hand, never shouts. It is the deepest and truest part of you, and its only requirement is to experience what it knows: that life is more than chasing pleasure, seeking approval, working meaningless jobs, and having empty relationships or fake friendships. The soul inspires the urge within you to create (not necessarily art), to make meaning out of life’s inherent meaninglessness, and the desire to know all that that you’re capable of being and doing. It communicates through the things that bring you joy, inspiration and a sense of purpose.
The soul is the part of you that radiates your uniqueness. It is self-assured, has no attachments, and is thus, free to explore life’s heights and depths. States like being broke, lonely, uncomfortable or isolated are not enough to dissuade it from its only goal: creative expression.
When you live from the soul’s perspective, life becomes a creative project; a work in progress, rather than a mission to acquire. Inspiration, drive and passion become the order of the day, irrespective of circumstance, as your soul’s goal – self-actualization – takes eminence. Your mind goes from pulling you on a leash to becoming your ally, and works endlessly to help you achieve whatever is necessary for full expression. You stop trying to escape your life, and instead become one with it.
I call this state of being, alignment: a state where your mind, body are led by your soul; the part of you that’s closest to divinity.
She might not agree or understand, but Ayanfe strikes me as aligned; at least to a much higher degree than many of the people I’ve met. I say this because the first time I met her, I couldn’t help but feel like she was made to be an artist. Thus I decided that she made a good template to use as an expression of the lessons I’ve learnt about the soul’s whispers. May they help you align with yours.
Here we go:
“Man is lazy and undisciplined for the things that do not move him. He is motivated and voracious for the things that inspire him.” – Kapil Gupta
The soul’s path is effortless. Activities driven by the soul are self-propagating and thus require little discipline, only a surrender to the process. It is to be noted that though effortlessness and ease overlap, they aren’t the same. An obvious illustration of this difference is a baby learning to walk. Babies learn to walk effortlessly, they don’t read books, or watch videos on how to walk. They just do the necessary which includes, falling over many times, having to grab on to things for support, looking like drunkards, and so on. None of this is easy, even though the activity is inborn. But because there’s no resistance or lingering doubt, just a pure surrender to the process, learning to walk becomes an effortless task, despite the stress involved. And as we all know, every baby, excepting cases of physical disability, becomes a child that can run and jump.
It’s the same way with your soul; it’s a seed in you that germinates and grows when you engage in certain activities. These activities happen to overlap with your talents, curiosities and fascinations, and as we see with Ayanfe, making art is one of hers:
“I think it was around when I was 7 I discovered that I enjoyed recreating the images from my textbooks, like them Alli and Simbi and so on. It made me feel like a creator; a mini god of some sort.” She says, recalling her first foray into visual art. And like every venture of the soul, it grew with no resistance, “I’d put carbon paper under the textbook and trace the image, then I’d try to do it myself after, and I saw that I started to get better when drawing without carbon paper.”
It eventually culminated into what she considers her first serious work of art in J.S.S.3. “I was in visual art class, and we were given an assignment to draw a realistic tree. I topped the class, because there was a lot of detail and shade in my drawing. We weren’t taught the techniques used to represent shading and improve detail, so I didn’t know much about either, I just tried to replicate what I saw in front of me; the light and the dark and everything.”
Life takes the path of least resistance, so should you. Things like discipline, focus, drive, practice aren’t just ingredients for success, they are also the side effects of doing things that resonate with aspects of your soul. These soul triggering activities exist in some form in your environment, what you need to do, is pay attention and be open to trying new things. Discovering them won’t be straightforward, but you’ll know when you stumble on one. Which brings us to the next lesson.
“Rather than finding the thing that you can imagine yourself becoming, find the thing you simply cannot imagine yourself Not Becoming.” – Kapil Gupta
The mind backs its choices with hope, belief, and rationalization. The soul on the other hand, knows. This knowledge is a certainty, not in an outcome per se, but that regret will haunt you if you do not heed the direction you’re being urged to follow. Yet many people go on to ignore this voice, and for good reason too; Life can be very scary.
Ignoring all the fear that common sense pumps into you in favor of a ‘knowing’ is not wise. That said if it indeed your soul calling, there will be hints; moments that confirm this conviction. They will come in different manners, either in conversation with a friend, while reading a book, from a line in a movie and so on. That said, not all of them will be as obvious as Ayanfe’s was:
“When I was in SS1, I was supposed to participate in a competition for my school. I was chosen to represent the school because there weren’t that many art students in my set, and I came first in visual art overall. That was a really confirming moment for me, it gave my passion for the craft a major boost, and I just knew from then on, that art was what I wanted to do.”
At this point in our conversation, I ask her if she had moments of doubt about the path she’s choosing to walk on, her response is:
“I’ve never had any other option, I’ve never thought of doing anything except art, so it just gatts work for me, and I know that whenever I work hard, things just work for my good. I won’t deny that I have negative thoughts at times, and wonder “what if this shit isn’t for me? What if microbiology, my course of study, is the way?” Then I just tell myself, if God says microbiology is the way, I’ll find a way to beg Him to make art my way because I’m not doing any other thing. I’ll feel empty, I dunno if you get?
Yes, I want money, but money makes up a small part of life, not the whole hundred percent.”
Joy is rare, and Ayanfe treasures it over money, still that doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand the importance of money, as the next point shows.
“Our brain is the fantastic result of millions of years of evolution. It’s extremely good at executing on its priorities. If we fail at something, chances are that it wasn’t a priority or considered as worth the costs.” – Luca Dellana
The reason most people give for not living true to their soul’s call is “it won’t pay the bills,” and most times they’re right. Nonetheless, history is chock-full of people who have created lives designed to allow them do the things that inspire them the most. Maleek Berry refused to get a proper job and worked at a GAP store so he could make beats and pay bills, Taraji P. Henson was a secretary by day and waitress by night. Ayanfe, worked three jobs:
“I worked with Uber, Red Bull, and so many other brands. I was working as an ambassador, or a PR official, or doing marketing. Then I used social media to push myself, so I made sales at some point, but it was slow. Most of the money I got was used to buy materials”
Alignment is always a choice, and for many of us, the struggle to embody who we really are is never worth it; because the soul’s path will lead through dark, lonely and uncertain paths. Still, for those willing to undertake the journey, Ayanfe has this to say:
“Find a side job that doesn’t cause you to fully deviate from the craft. I believe that if you have the passion, you will do everything in your power to find the means to do what you really want to. I’m not saying you should turn desperate and do ridiculous things for money, but if you can get a side job, and invest the little money you get into your art.”
Yes, she’s speaking about art, but the overall message is clear: find a way to fund your passion. Success isn’t a guarantee, but as we’ve seen and the next lesson shows, the reward of the soul lies in the journeying itself.
“Talent is not the limit to your value, it is its horizon. Venture in its [your talent’s] direction, and it enlarges.” – Luca Dellana
All this talk about finding activities that come effortlessly to you and funding your passion might give the impression that your soul is defined by an activity, or role, or doing. That is far from the case. Your soul doesn’t have a static identity, its means and medium of expression evolves as your life’s circumstances change. Alignment and Self-actualization will always be the goal, but the path will cut across many fields. That said, there will always be a connecting theme, a set of parallels in all the various activities, roles and identities your soul will adopt as it creates itself. Ayanfe’s venture into photography is a good example of this multifacetedness:
“I started photography because someone was owing me money and the person paid me back with a camera. I didn’t know what to do with it, and was wondering whether to sell it. Then I gradually started tinkering with it, pressing stuff and all, and realized, o, “this is the button for this and this.” Eventually I sold the camera and bought another one. It was a year after. I bought it off a friend, and gradually I saw that when I wasn’t drawing, I was taking pictures, and my style of pictures goes with my ideas for scribble art, so everything just clicked. It seemed like a second option, something to do for leisure, when I feel like taking a break or have a block in visual art, I just switch to photography.”
As always it takes curiosity, openness, and ultimately, surrendering to the process, to create the magnificent edifice whose blueprints lie in your soul. However, all this is easier said, doing is where the problem lies; surrendering, like baths must be done daily, and to do it successfully one requires….
A lot has been said about the virtue of patience; I doubt anything added here will be of value. Nonetheless, it can be said that the reason patience can be such a struggle at times, is a lack of understanding, and thus a lack of alignment. How then do you get the patience you need on your journey to alignment if patience can only come from alignment? That’s the thing with this journey, the path is spiral like. You go in circles sort of, but each time you revisit your starting point, you meet it with new eyes, with a deeper level of understanding. This process goes on and on, until you get as close to perfection as the unique combination of talent, opportunity and circumstances will allow.
And it is on this note, that we close our conversation:
“So, if you’ve been asked to summarize everything you’ve learnt on your journey so far in one sentence, what would you say?”
“Patience, that’s like the most important thing I’ve learnt. Patience in the sense of not rushing growth. You can’t rush art, and you won’t win immediately. It takes luck, blessing and of course time, but you will get there.”
Now it’s just casual gist, Ayanfe’s talking about her upcoming series titled ‘Dem bobo’ inspired by Femi Kuti’s song of the same name, and once again, she mentions that she’ll like Sanjay to know he’s a beast. “Find a way to put this in the article o” she stresses, “I’ll see what I can do,” I reply.
This article is 2 years late. I initially proposed to write this in 2017; the year I first met Ayanfe. Being struck by jealousy and admiration at the same time, I knew she’d be my subject after Kola Williams. But unfortunately, life happened.
Paradoxically however, life happened again, and here I am, typing these words on my laptop, while waiting on Yusuf for the photos. I guess this is my own personal example of my soul whispering, confirming to me that despite the detours, I never left the path I set out on two years ago: to meet the creatives I admire and tell the stories they inspire in me. Peace.
Photos : YusufShotMe