Arts & entertainment - United Kingdom - Art - Black history
Tayo Fatunla: Lessons in Black History
Political cartoonists have long been able to hide the truth in plain sight with their comedic work, tempering bitter reality with their deceptively lighthearted humor. Celebrated comic artist Tayo Fatunla, a self-described “visual commentator,” ranks among the very best. Born in the UK, educated in Nigeria and the US, and currently living in Kent, England, Fatunla is perhaps most well-known for his illustrations for The Voice, Britain’s largest-circulation Black newspaper. His weekly Voice feature, Our Roots, profiled historical figures in the African diaspora ranging from Muhammadu Bello, Yaa Asantewa and Sade, to Barack Obama and Michael Jackson.

Political cartoonists have long been able to hide the truth in plain sight with their comedic work, tempering bitter reality with their deceptively lighthearted humor. Celebrated comic artist Tayo Fatunla, a self-described “visual commentator,” ranks among the very best. Born in the UK, educated in Nigeria and the US, and currently living in Kent, England, Fatunla is perhaps most well-known for his illustrations for The Voice, Britain’s largest-circulation Black newspaper. His weekly Voice feature, Our Roots, profiled historical figures in the African diaspora ranging from Muhammadu Bello, Yaa Asantewa and Sade, to Barack Obama and Michael Jackson.

Fatunla’s Black history sketchbook Our Roots: Famous People in Black History was published in 1993, but the artist’s accolades stretch way beyond that début effort. Aside from his editorial cartoon collection Tayo—Thro’ the Years (published in 2000), the artist’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including a permanent fixture in Florida’s International Museum of Cartoon Art. Throughout his literally illustrious career, Fatunla has been awarded the Crayon de Porcelaine, the Trophe d’Honneur and many other prestigious prizes.

Afrik-News.com corresponded with Tayo Fatunla for the following, illuminating interview.

How did you discover your love for cartoons?

My mum spoilt me with British comics, as she would bring home comics from work for us to read. My uncles also, anytime they travelled to the UK would buy us comics. Anytime I visited my uncle Augustus, he was always drawing little sketches for me. But then, I remember very well that I came across Thor, a Marvel Comics superhero, in school. It was my first time seeing a comic-book character that could fly, and I just felt the need to draw myself. And the rest, as they say, is history. One thing led to another.

What is the source of the energy expressed in your drawings?

I think the desire to visualise what my thoughts are down on paper, or the thoughts of others, moves me to draw. I also like being creative and original and making visual statements. I drew a cartoon recently of the silhouette of Jesus Christ on the cross, and in the background, killings and violence going on in Nigeria, in which the famous biblical words were uttered: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This referring to the killers killing Christians, and also the Nigerian leaders who have allowed the violence to escalate between Muslims and Christians. I love listening to the news a lot, and when news analysts are analysing issues verbally, I like analysing through cartoons with messages for all in them.

Your big break...?

My big break came when I was gainfully employed as a cartoonist on a full-time basis for The Punch, one of the top national newspapers in Nigeria. I drew editorial cartoons on a daily basis for a column called Page Three Cartoon. It didn’t take long before I was asked to take over drawing the back-page pocket cartoon character called Omoba, which means “prince.” This character was very poor but had a big heart, passing hard-hitting social and political comments. With this, my confidence in drawing cartoons grew. I went on to draw for many Nigerian publications. And then I did editorial cartoons for West Africa magazine, a London-based Pan-African weekly, for 13 years. I was drawing international news, including news from Africa, from an African perspective.

What is it like to be an internationally acclaimed cartoonist of African descent?

I just love drawing, and if people like what I do out of much respect, that’s an encouragement to draw more.

Your works have been displayed by some of the most prestigious media houses and museums.

Yes, and I also think that being featured at the Studio Museum in Harlem—one of the foremost American institutions for African contemporary art—was such a lovely, warm experience. I have never been to Harlem the many times I have been to New York, but with Our Roots exhibited there, I was able to experience the Harlem atmosphere, a major part of Black history itself.

You have organised workshops the world over, including some African countries. What are your impressions on your African participation?

These workshops are usually organised by others. They are educational, as you can use cartoons to educate about AIDS, poverty, hunger, vaccination and more. It’s always a honour to be invited. Africans love cartoon art, and with my experience—especially in Ethiopia and also in Algeria—it’s admirable the way Africans want to learn to draw and communicate through cartoons. In Ethiopia, I was astonished to see very good female Ethiopian cartoonists learning much more from me. I think that after having attended art school, this prompted me to want to pass on all I’ve learnt and much more by educating about drawing cartoons, and learning from others as well. Many aspiring cartoonists in Algeria love manga comics. I noticed during my visits.

Your recently exhibited works on Afrik.com feature a few sketches from your book on Black History, Our Roots. Tell us why you decided to do historical sketches.

Oh yes! I created the Black history comic strip Our Roots during a school project at the end of my last year at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey. As a Nigerian studying cartoon graphics in the US, I felt the need to educate about the neglected Black history, African history, through my drawings. I noticed how easy it is to lose one’s roots in the US, and I embarked on a feature which would educate the young, the old and the ignorant through the print medium. The Internet medium wasn’t quite there yet till later. It was nice to have received a letter from Nana Rawlings, the then First Lady of Ghana, while her husband was still in power. She was quite impressed with Our Roots, the book.

The sketches in your Our Roots collection span Black people the world over, including Tasmanian Aborigines. Have you ever been challenged over your definition of who a Black person really is?

Of course. People have asked, for example, “Why Mary Slessor, a Scottish missionary who stopped the killing of twins in Eastern Nigeria?” If twins went on to have been great people from Nigeria and around the world, then Mary has contributed to Black history by preventing them from being killed. You must love Black people to be in their midst. Many Black achievers have mixed heritage, white and black. Regardless of their heritage, they are still Black heroes. I have also been questioned for putting dictators in Our Roots. Hitler was a dictator of the worst kind, but he is still part of history. History cannot be wished away.

Without a doubt, you are also very much involved politically in what concerns the Afro world. Would you call yourself a political cartoon activist?

No, not an activist, but I see myself as a visual commentator, making commentaries through my cartoons. I’ve been criticised for my cartoons and people asking why, as an African, I satire African leaders. But then the only medium whereby you can speak volumes is through cartoons. People send me emails when a cartoon of mine has touched them, or sometimes blog them.

Apart from your historical sketches, you have also worked on some satirical cartoons. Tayo—Thro’ the Years, your compilation of editorial cartoons, is a mixture of several styles.

The styles help enhance the messages behind the cartoons. One reason I don’t make my cartoons too busy is for me to focus on the message and ensure that it is understood very well. It’s the different styles that make my cartoons refreshing and not boring. I also use computer software to enhance my drawings. You’ve got to move with the time or time will leave you behind.


United Kingdom

your opinion
your opinion

Be the first giving your opinion


 
see also



Arts & entertainment

search
 

newsletter