AD Raphael is an artist of many disciplines. Wielding power within his fine strokes, the Nigerian-British artist is a storyteller with acrylic and ink. Light bounces off his subjects in his bold black and white pieces. Using deep lines and careful use of light and shadow, AD paints with respect and admiration. His bold, eloquent portraits of powerful Black icons are a powerful celebration of legacy, identity and heritage.
Over the years he has honed his craft, completing a Fine Art degree at Leeds Arts University before embarking on a masters at Goldsmiths. It was during this time in education where AD “developed as not just an artist but as a person”.
Using Leeds as a playground for creativity and collaboration, AD met the important people who provided him with comfort and constant creative inspiration. Sophia Kaikitis (@skaiksart) was studying Fine Art while Zhama Jumbo (@wisdomfortheworld, @ju.mbo_) was learning Animation, and the three of them developed a strong bond rooted in mutual respect for one another’s work. Sophia is a multidisciplinary artist that mainly creates work based on identity and the treatment of women in Turkish culture, while Zhama explores character design and portraiture through motion-mage alongside running a fashion line. “Not only are they extremely talented creatives, but they are also just pure-hearted people,” AD smiles with a glint in his eye. “They’re the positive energies you need around you when you’re almost 200 miles away from home. I have worked and collaborated with both of them countless times; every time we link up it is amazing.”
photos: Leah Anais
The biggest inspiration in AD’s life however is his mum, who he credits with all his success: “She would tell my siblings and I that whatever path we choose to take, we have to make sure to give it our all,” reflects AD. “She told us to never compromise our beliefs or morals, and if we do this, success is sure to follow.” Living by this mantra, AD has embarked on a promising creative career, refusing to pigeonhole himself within one set discipline. While his early work proves his promising
ability with acrylic paint, he has since explored exhibition curation, fashion lines and tonal portraits.
“I believe I have a responsibility to tell the stories of all those who came before me,”
Taking many forms, his practice is one that is conceptually driven, addressing mainly the Black cultural experience and diasporic identity. Within his exhibition work, AD has used everything from typography, screen printing and poetry to even curating documents to tell Black narratives within white Eurocentric spaces. In a collaboration between himself and multidisciplinary artist Femi Dawkins, AD curated a slideshow of 60 passport photos from his Nigerian-British peers. The installation was to celebrate 60 years of Nigerian Independence and featured alongside spoken word performances and powerful Union Jacks spraypainted in black.
AD considers art as a “universal language” and uses his practice to “comment on larger social problems”. His ability as an artist motivates him to shed light on the immigrant struggle, institutional racism and ideas around postcolonialism. “I believe I have a responsibility to tell the stories of all those who came before me,” AD remarks with humble determination. “I feel like it is what I was placed on Earth to do.”
His ability to tell stories and honour Black history has since translated into a fashion line. This started in the Summer of 2020, when AD collaborated with Nice People Magazine on a t-shirt to raise funds for Black Lives Matter Leeds. At the centre of the illustrated artwork is the Black power fist, a global symbol of fighting suppression. Around this are celebrations of Black culture and history, including the Black Panther, protest signs, afros and a peace dove.
“I think fashion is very powerful: everyone wears clothes, it is a social norm, and we have the privilege to make a statement with them. As soon as you put on a garment, you are now endorsing that brand and whatever it says. You have to be careful about the message you are putting out to the world.”
AD is currently exhibiting a range of his works at the Watford Museum. With Watford being the city he grew up in, this first solo exhibition (entitled: OTA IBA YOMI) is a homecoming for AD. The exhibition is a spotlight on AD as a local artist and is on until the 31st March.