Owo Anietie is a leading African Afrofuturist artist, redefining storytelling through NFTs and prolific 3D art creation.
Although he began as a traditional artist, Owo has successfully transitioned to motion design, animation, digital illustration, and NFTs with a focus on the desired future. He uses his artworks to mirror nature, and depict African stories and his origin.
MP: Can you tell me about the AfroDroids project?
OW: We are a story-led web3 company focused on creative storytelling, mostly for film, comics, the metaverse, and also DeFi. We’re moving towards our second year.
We initially dropped a collection of 12,000 AfroDroids back on September 1st, which is based on these characters living in the year 3045. Humanity is gone, humanity is extinct, and before they went extinct, a professor was brilliant enough to build machines to which human consciousness could be transferred called the AfroDroid. He happens to be an African scientist.
It’s a global project, but it’s told through the African lens in terms of my experience personally as a creator.
At the initial drop, we donated 25% of the proceeds to a charity in Nigeria called Dream Catchers Academy for Girls. It was written into the smart contract, so it was such a beautiful way to do charity. So everything was written as a smart contract, and after the project sold out, we just triggered a release clause, and money went directly to them without any third-party middleman and also without us needing to be there physically.
So the money went into building the school, which is now up and running in Nigeria, and it has the capacity to take a lot of girls off the streets, and it’s such a beautiful initiative.
So at AfroDroids, we’re doing a lot of things. Our main focus was film. We initially started because we believe the story is a story about humanity, and the objective was to show humanity that if we don’t take care of the planet, the inevitable is going to happen — our species might not survive it this time around.
We’re working on a lot of things. We have a comic book out. We are currently in the pre-production aspects of the movie side of things, and it’s quite interesting.
If you want to learn more about it, you can definitely check out the project on afrodroids.io. You can see some of the things we have out, our roadmap, and all the new things we are bringing on board.
MP: You describe yourself as an Afrofuturist. What does Afrofuturism mean to you?
OW: There are so many meanings. There’s no one meaning. To a lot of people, it means a lot of things. But hidden through all of those meanings is that Afrofuturism is just a way for black people, African people, colored people to imagine a bright future where there is no discrimination, there is no inequality.
Imagine that future where everybody is equal. We are free to be whoever we want to be. We are free to do whatever we want to do, and we try to portray that through our works.
You know, there are a lot of people — when they hear about Afrofuturism — they think about futuristic tech, cyborgs, cyberpunks, and all of those things. It’s not just about that. I consider myself an Afrofuturist because my work is rooted in the past, which informs the future, and it’s also rooted in the present, which also informs the future.
So my work has a wide range. Sometimes I focus on the past, sometimes I focus on the present, highlighting issues and problems that we face on a day-to-day basis, be it in Nigeria or in Africa or in the world. My piece Stolen is about the mask of the past that was stolen. Proof of Life is a satire of politics in Nigeria currently. And AfroDroids is about the future. So my work has a wide range. That’s why I consider myself an Afrofuturist.
I would love to talk about my piece The First Afrofuturist, which is a concept of the first Afrofuturist being the priest who could predict the future back in the days of post-colonial Africa. You know, now their significance is not really there, but back then, they played a very important role because they were the ones who could tell you, Oh now you can go to war. They were the ones that could tell you, Oh now you can do this, now you could, you know, go plant — the next planting season is going to look this way, or this is going to happen, or warn the king about this, and which I’m still going to mention later in this interview, which, you know, stems across all of this. So that is why I consider myself an Afrofuturist.
MP: What is your greatest strength as an artist?
OW: I think my greatest strength as an artist is I’m a storyteller. I love telling stories. I can tell a story out of anything: a pencil, sand, whatever. I just look at things, and I see stories. I close my eyes, I see stories. And this is a result of my upbringing because as a kid it was almost uncanny for you to grow up where I grew up without being a storyteller because we had limited resources.
We didn’t really have TV. Some of your friends would have to rely on knowing about a movie from you, so if you watch the movie, when you go to school, during the break period, you have to spend the break period telling your friends, or even in class, telling them about a movie, and they could watch the movie through you.
So it was always really crazy because you almost have to kind of be their eyes and ears, and you have to make all the sound effects and whatnot.
So throughout those formative years, I learned how to be a storyteller. It just comes to me naturally because of all the years of my upbringing, being a storyteller without all these resources.
My first comic book that I ever read was borrowed from my friend, and it was owned by his dad. He lent it to me for like two, three days, and it was quite funny because I had to go through the comic book really fast. I was like, No, there’s no way I’m gonna go through these X-Men comics without returning to my friends, and I’ll forget it. I have to go tell my friends about this.
So what I did was I redrew the X-Men comics. I didn’t know it was illegal back then, but I redrew the entire comic book and went out there and showed my friends. Some of them had to even photocopy it and take it home. That’s how good it was, at least back then, but yeah, that’s why I think storytelling is my strong suit.
MP: Your 3D landscapes are stunning. Are these intended to populate with characters (like the AfroDroids?) or are they standalone pieces? Or both?
OW: I’ve always been into landscapes, even my traditional work, because originally I’m a painter, so I painted on canvas back in the day — oil and canvas, gouache, watercolor, acrylics, and the rest, and I’ve always been fascinated by spaces because the possibilities are endless. Spaces affect how people think and behave. Put someone in a serene space, they have peace of mind. Put them in a chaotic space, it changes their mood.
So I’ve always been a fan of spaces, and [most of] my spaces are meant to be populated by characters, of course, though some of them are not. Because nature was here before us — [the landscapes] are here, they’re nurturing us, and some of them are just meant to be there without us interfering in terms of all the constructions and whatever. Most of them are social statement pieces in terms of nature was here before us, and we should take care of it; we shouldn’t go destroy it, the same way the government says, Oh, this is a natural reserve, nobody should go in there. So most of them are meant to be by themselves, standalone by themselves.
Some of them are meant to be populated by characters, like the AfroDroids. I have a signature character, these iridescent characters that are naked because I love presenting people without clothing because that’s how we came into the world, and more often than not, that’s all we have left when we’re leaving. So I love presenting people nude, and most of those characters populate those spaces, they bring life to it. So some are meant to be populated, some are not meant to be populated.
MP: Can you tell me about the piece “Object of Ridicule”?
OW: In post-colonial Nigeria, especially where I’m from — the southern part of Nigeria — there was a movement called the Ekpe movement, who were responsible for kind of protecting society back then. They were the secret society responsible for everything in terms of — you know, they had members in high places, they had members in politics, in the judiciary; in all spheres of life, they had members at the head of almost everything.
They were the ones who were responsible for making sure there was law and order, like a kind of government back then. They were a very powerful society — they still are, but they don’t hold as much weight as they did back then because of Christianity and other popular religions.
“Objects of Ridicule” is a reference to the Ekpe society — you see the way the characters dressed in raffia; these were the masquerades that were held; this is the symbol of the Ekpe society.
Seeing the raffia now, this object that used to be a very, very powerful object, people don’t really look at them the same. If they (Ekpe) hit the streets, people don’t really regard them because things have changed, which in a way is also good — it has its advantages and disadvantages. In a way, seeing something that used to be so powerful now has no significance, it’s like an object of ridicule. People make fun of it, Oh, look at this person still hanging on to the old days.
I think culture is very important. Tradition is very important. Though it might not hold the same effect as before, it needs to be respected. But people frown upon it. Oh, it should be abolished, blah, blah, blah.
Be it good or bad, it’s still part of our origin story. It being an object of ridicule is the essence of the whole piece — this powerful figure who became an object of ridicule. Who would have thought?
MP: What’s the story behind “Ooni and the Army of Maidens”?
OW: “Ooni and the Army of Maidens” is a present-day artwork, a social piece about what’s going on in present-day Nigeria
So the Ooni is the ruler of the Yoruba land. He is the, is the supreme leader, his royal highness, and recently he’s been taking wives — maidens, the Oni is marrying maiden, right,
I might be wrong, but as of right now, he has taken his sixth wife, and in a space of a month, I think he took two wives. There’s been a lot of conversation on Twitter, Why is the Oni taking so many wives? What’s going on? You know, in terms of why are these women marrying him? Why do these women want to be a second wife, or a fourth wife, or a fifth wife to a man of such prestige?
Recently there was an article in the Guardian newspaper in Nigeria detailing why he is doing that: he got a directive from the Ifá priestess.
Remember what I said earlier in this interview about the role of the African priest, or the priestess, in terms of predicting the future? So Ooni got a directive from the Ifá priestess that he is supposed to marry a certain number of wives, to prevent a bad omen of some sort — that’s allegedly the reason.
And it got me thinking: it’s like he’s marrying an army to overcome this particular problem that he’s facing, so that presented an opportunity like Ooni and all of the wives, so the Ooni and the Army of Maidens. And you can see the sculpture of the Ife head adorned with flowers to show that with this army of maidens, he is going to be fruitful, it’s going to blossom. All the problems that are supposed to come — because he’s taking all his wives — he’s going to take it away, which is a directive of the great priestess Ifá.
That’s the whole gist of that particular artwork. Some of my works are quite rooted in the present while taking lessons from the past.
MP: Looking through your incredible backlog of work, the thing that stands out is a pretty restless approach to color palettes. Can you tell me about your approach to color?
OW: I think my approach to colors is different from other artists. I start with darkness and walk my way through to light, which is kind of crazy when you think about it. If we’re being very practical, I don’t think color exists in the world; it’s just the way we see the world.
Some people only see black and white. Dogs don’t perceive colors. I don’t think color exists. I think the world is black and white, and we humans perceive color because of light. So the way I approach art is that way: start with darkness, build in the forms, introduce the light, then try to cast the shadows and whatnot.
Colors can be really interesting in terms of how they interact with different materials, and I choose to work with iridescent materials a lot because it’s like this incredible spectrum. One material can hold a vast spectrum of colors when you introduce light to it, and iridescent material reacts to light differently in terms of how we perceive the world.
My approach to color is to try to play with materials and experiment.
It’s very experimental, and some of the colors are the colors I see in my dreams. Sometimes, I dream and see weird colors all around, and I try to replicate them through my artwork.
I keep introducing different colors into my art because I don’t want it to be monotonous. I make a new piece every day. I do have a style, but I also try to make sure I give my viewers something to look forward to and not be too predictable in terms of how I introduce colors.
When you’ve created over 600 artworks in the space of one and a half years, you tend to stumble into rabbit holes that you might not normally stumble upon. I think that’s one of the explanations, and, you know, I just love exploring colors and telling stories with colors and light.
MP: My favorite piece of yours might be “Balogun Market by Night.” What was your starting point for this piece?
OW: Balogun Market is kind of like a futuristic take — maybe not so futuristic take — but a futuristic take on the popular markets in Lagos called Balogun Market,
I remember the feeling I had when I went to the market for the first time, when I moved to Lagos back in 2018, and it was such a busy market — you know, there’s no space, and cars still want to drive within those spaces; there’s no space, but motorcycles are driving by. You have to hold onto your bag to make sure you don’t get your bag stolen from you or something. It was just quite an intense place to be.
It’s really an intense market, and I wanted to depict what it looks like at night. How I started with that piece is, I started with laying the buildings first because the most important integral part of Balogun Market is the buildings. They’re, they’re quite fascinating. It’s not the most exciting architecture, but it’s fascinating in its own way, like how multifaceted it is — seeing people repurpose spaces that were not meant for that particular purpose.
So I started laying out the groundwork for the buildings. I worked with Kit Bash. I think it’s the Future Slums kit that I got from Kit Bash — they make beautiful kits, so shoutout to Kit Bash. I selected a couple of buildings that suited the vibe and mood I was going for.
Then I went on to layering the umbrellas in the middle and some of the stalls. In Nigeria, there are people who don’t have stalls to sell at, so people rent empty spaces, and just use umbrellas to shield themselves from the rain and the sun. They put up their umbrellas and just start trading.
Then I went on to perfect the lighting for the mood I was going for. I used a lot of smaller lights to show the night effect, then I had a very big light in the foreground to bring out the silhouette of the buildings, kind of introduced some fog in there. That was “Balogun Market by Night.” I’m glad you like it.
MP: In your more surreal landscapes, you use African beads as features, as if they were as natural as mountains or trees. What’s the significance of the beads for you?
OW: So I’ve never said this out there — I think I may have tweeted about it — but the Bead Collection pieces are installations. They’re not meant to be viewed on the screen. It’s actually an installation I prepared\, anticipating an opportunity to speak it into existence.
Beads are such a fascinating piece of work. It is one of the most common denominators in terms of culture. You go to Asia, you see people use a lot of beads. You go to North America, you see people use beads a lot as well.You go to South America, you go to Africa — there are so many beads, right? So the beads are always fascinating in terms of how it’s just a small piece that brings out beauty when used correctly,
I wanted to kind of use beads in the most unusual way. It’s always shown as a small object, but what if it was a huge object? How does the ant see the bead? That’s kind of how it is. These are meant to be like three-story high installations in parks or popular places like stadiums. It’s meant to be a physical installation.
I still have the schematics. I’m yet to share it, but it’s part of a presentation I’ve put together. All the pieces I created were meant to be a physical installation. People can go see this wall I called Oververse for a peek into what happens in my head.
MP: What advice on creativity or art-making would you give your 20-year-old self?
OW: I would definitely take this more seriously, as a job, not as a hobby. I took it as a profession since 2019, but I mean taking it as a job in terms of this has the potential to do a lot of things for you, right? Put you in places you never imagined you were going to be.
It just goes to show that whatever profession you choose, as long as you put your mind and soul to it, you can make something good out of it. Growing up in southern Nigeria, there were not a lot of role models in terms of, Look up to this person, he’s making a living being an artist. There were a lot of struggling artists, which is true for most parts of the world — most people don’t really see art as a profession.
I think I would tell myself, try to have fun with it but take it seriously and put your mind to it. Try to believe in your story early on. I was trying to be who I wasn’t in terms of my storytelling, then I discovered I should be comfortable with my own story. People want to hear about it.
I think we are all walking story boxes. We just need to be tuned in the right way, then we can say all the stories. And I believe in my story. I would say to my young self, Believe in your story, as stupid as most of them might sound. I think people are interested in it; they want to know more about you. Art is self-expression. Everyone else is taken, so be yourself.