Emmanuel Unaji is an Artist, Designer, Co-founder of fashion brand Unaji and Art Director of Studio 32 OKE. With his art he seeks to break the boundaries between fine art, fashion design and music. He explores human expression, authentic identity and branding, with a particular focus on the power and propaganda of high fashion branding and how this unconsciously influences our perceptions of luxury, beauty, identity and self-image.
The vision is simple: capitalise self-initiative to foster collaboration and community.
You certainly have a lot going on! But first let’s start with art. Your art seeks to break the boundaries between fine art and fashion design, could you share more about this and what your motivations are with your work?
Thank you, the premise of my work is to create freely whilst existing within a traditional market structure and contemporary ecosystem. The movement from each discipline or box simply encourages a resourceful mentality that can innovate artistically and adapt commercially.
Adidas Superstars Exhibition 2020
What draws you to capture brands and the celebrity culture? What role do high-fashion brands have in the art world?
The surface of this question always makes me smile/ laugh. I’m drawn specifically to the context in which brands and celebrity culture operate. Media theorist Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model evidences the communication of particular ideals – I guess I’m intrigued by the mechanics of propaganda. High Fashion branding unconsciously informs our perceptions of luxury and self image.
That level of power is fascinating.
Find your tribe and be inspired by rejection; step out of your comfort zone.
In most of your art pieces, you have portrayed the faces of figures as half illustration, half photo – what does this contrast represent for you?
It signifies the polarising dichotomy of human expression within a post colonial context. Societal branded image vs concealed metaphysical state.
Your work also challenges the concept: what we need vs what we want; looking at what defines us as people. Please can you expand on this concept?
Weighing up our principals, one could argue that we are mentally enslaved to the iconography attached to non essential material goods. The irony being essential items which serve the same purpose are often overlooked. The concept isn’t to discredit luxury branding, it is to encourage the consumer to understand the ‘why’ within the process of purchasing a product.
Alton High Fashion
How do you think Social Media has influenced how we perceive ourselves and each other?
It’s altered our mind clock, especially towards natural growth. I’ve gradually learnt that this isn’t necessarily a negative, however social media is a tool just like any other that you can use to create, communicate or destroy yourself.
Be honest with its function. Don’t take the algorithms personally.
High Fashion branding unconsciously informs our perceptions of luxury and self -image
Moving onto fashion, you are the co-founder of Unaji. What led you to co-create this brand? What visions and aims do you have for Unaji?
Fashion for Unaji is a socio-political performance piece, with the world being the stage. My business partner, Lemuel Unaji and I co-created a brand in order to facilitate and communicate our ideas professionally. The vision is simple: capitalise self-initiative to foster collaboration and community. The aims include educating a community of like minded people for progression.
Tate Britain x Unaji 2019
What does fashion mean for you?
My generic answer is Fashion is about style, expressing one’s personality blah blah. However on closer inspection, Fashion is influence – it is power. The socioeconomic dynamic of fashion and tribal style fascinates me.
Poppy Ajudha wearing 1of1 Unaji Jacket shot by Lennon Gregory
You are also Art Director of Studio 32 OKE – Who are Studio 32 OKE? And what does it mean to combine music with art and fashion?
It means everything, music flows beyond art and fashion’s physical limitations. The connection between my practice and Studio 32 OKE is unique, they are a psychedelic Rap Rock band, their style is Avant Garde – it pushes boundaries. To understand why the collaboration is special, relax and listen, it’s real spiritual.
Studio 32 OKE Band
For emerging artists out there, how would you recommend they promote themselves? What has worked for you?
Traditionally, educate yourself and research beyond the internet (social media). Foster a style that best articulates your inner voice and record it! Find your tribe and be inspired by rejection; step out of your comfort zone.
Social media is a tool just like any other that you can use to create, communicate or destroy yourself
What are your hopes and dreams as an artist?
Hmm learning to walk before I fly and essentially having the basics patterned. My goals are to have global exhibitions, lifetime clients and for my work to be in major collections worldwide. Buy a warehouse studio space and maintain a sustainable practice. Smash auction records for living artists.
To continue to create art from an honest place and expand the entrepreneurial side of our company.
The rest truly follows.
What can we look out for?
There’s a lot to look forward to aha! Currently preparing for an exhibition with Acid Gallery in Lille, France, and Studio 32 OKE debut Album. We’ve got some momentous projects and collaborations in the works which we’ll be announcing accordingly.
At Unaji we’ve essentially been operating in obscurity whilst educating ourselves, bettering our craft and handling business. The people can look forward to all elements of our brand being accessible. Our house is almost ready for visitors to build an efficient connection to the movement.
To view more of Eman Unaji’s work: