Emmanuel Ayo Akintade explores vulnerability and femininity through stunning portraiture
Emmanuel Ayo Akintade, with his tall frame and arresting style peppered with vibrant colours like canary yellow, seems imposing at first. Underneath, however, is a genuine, humble and talented artist who just wants his “paintings to do the talking” about a message he holds close to his heart—respect for women.
The recent studio arts graduate from Dawson College has kept busy this past summer. Akintade had his first solo exhibition at Studio 303, where he was grateful to have an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience.
“It was blessed,” Akintade said. “Students from Concordia and McGill invited me to an event promoting young entrepreneurs afterwards. It gave me more experience about what it is to be an artist and someone who creates art that involves an audience.”
Akintade’s oil paintings are unique in that almost all of them feature black women. When asked about his choice of subject, Akintade replied that he would like to paint women of all ethnicities. He said the message he wants to transmit with his paintings is not just in support of black women, but rather all women, young and old alike.
The reason he hasn’t painted a more ethnically-diverse set of women: laziness.
“I call myself the lazy artist because I don’t like blending paint and making colours. I found my technique and I continued using it,” he said.
His reason for using oil paint also relates to his dislike of the preparatory work that must be done before painting. Acrylic paint, for example, dries too quickly for Akintade’s liking and renders the process of preparing paint on a palette much more difficult than it is with oil paint.
Akintade’s inspiration for his paintings stems from the dichotomy between attitudes towards women in Nigeria—where he lived as a young boy—and the attitudes he has witnessed in Montreal as a teenager and young adult.
“Where I come from, ladies are respected,” the artist said. “Here, there’s so much disrespect of the female character. They tend to be judged by what they do. Back home, there was so much respect.”
Akintade, who has been painting for about three years, said he is surprised by how much his art has evolved, and by how much attention and appreciation his paintings receive. He began painting for fun at home and initially never intended for his paintings to be displayed. After his first exhibition this summer, Akintade said he is still quite shocked by how much of a positive response he got.
“The first time I got my art out, people got really involved with the message right away,” he said. “People started talking about [elements in my work] I wasn’t even planning to paint intentionally.”
Though the so-called “artist gene” does not run in his family, Akintade said his parents are very supportive of his work. His mother often helps him advertise his paintings and occasionally purchases some of his artwork.
Akintade is trilingual, speaking French, English and Yoruba, a dialect spoken in Nigeria. He doesn’t always find it easy to express the thought process behind his paintings, especially in English, which is not his mother tongue.
“As an artist, my goal is to let my paintings do all the talking,” he said.
Though he is not one for many words, Akintade did share a bit of the creative process behind his work. He said he noticed that women in Montreal tend not to talk about the hurtful and disrespectful things they experience on a daily basis. They tend to keep these experiences to themselves, he said.
“That’s why in my paintings they seem so quiet,” Akintade said. “They have their eyes closed. They’re not engaging with their surroundings. They’re just in themselves. The idea is that through their quietness, they are speaking.”
The blossoming artist has a new project in mind for the future. He wants to paint a series of male portraits. He said he feels men are often put into a box and are constantly labeled based on their appearance.
“The new project is about guys,” Akintade said. “I don’t like this idea of labelling guys [by the] way they dress. They should be free.”
Photo by Mackenzie Lad