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“Am I a threat?” A New York-based Nigerian artist protests Donald Trump’s travel ban with art

Courtesy/Laolu Senbanjo
By Yomi Kazeem
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States of America has drawn criticism from many quarters. In addition to global leaders, Hollywood stalwarts and CEOs of blue chip companies, Laolu Senbanjo, a New York-based Nigerian artist and 2016 Quartz Africa Innovators honoree is lending his voice to the protest through his art.

Laolu Senbanjo
Laolu Senbanjo’s new piece.

Senbanjo, who is best known for his work with singer Beyonce and sports brand Nike, depicts the Statue of Liberty clothed in African robes. Lady Liberty is holding a calabash synonymous with African cultures rather than a torch. Inscribed above the image of the Statue of Liberty are the words “Am I a threat to your liberty?” The art, Senbanjo says, is in response to Trump’s “callous” executive order which has now been suspended by a US court.

“The inspiration behind it is how immigrants are being treated in the United States by the Trump administration,” Senbanjo tells Quartz. “The US has always been welcoming people from parts of the world that are war-torn. But this administration is shutting the door on a lot of people who need help and who have sacrificed their lives and burned bridges trying to help American governments.” His latest piece, Senbanjo says, asks two questions: “Is my culture a threat to your liberty? Is who I am a threat to you?”

By pushing a single-story narrative of immigrants being wholesomely dangerous to America, Senbanjo says Trump is guilty of rash generalization. An immigrant himself, Senbanjo moved to America in 2013 and says that while the country was welcoming, like many others, he worked hard for his success.

“I’ve been blessed to make something out of myself here but it’s a result of working hard. Nothing was handed to me,” he tells Quartz. “I see myself and other immigrants work hard so it’s ridiculous for an administration to make such generalizations about immigrants being lazy criminals. It’s absurd.”

Laolu Senbanjo

Since moving to America, Senbanjo has emerged as one of the most distinct African artists. Through Afromysterics, art which he describes as based on “the mystery of the African thought pattern,” Senbanjo has racked up an impressive portfolio, working with Nike to create Yoruba-art inspired sneakers as one of the ‘Masters of Air’ at Nike’s Air Max Con last March. More notably, Senbanjo has also collaborated with American pop star Beyonce on her successful Lemonade album.

In collaboration with Mari Marek, a South-Sudanese refugee turned supermodel, Senbanjo’s protest art have been printed on t-shirts, called “Libertees”, for sale at $30 with proceeds planned to be donated to refugee-focused charity organizations.

Senbanjo says continued advocacy over the next four years will be necessary to deal with the Trump presidency. “Consistency is key,” he tells Quartz. “People just need to keep talking, organizing and protesting.” And for fellow creatives across board, Senbanjo has a simple message: “Whatever pain you’re feeling, as artists, we can turn our broken hearts into art.”

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