Gbenga Komolafe's artistry spans graphic design, photography and videography, textiles and sound. He's a student at USC studying Business and Design who grew up in nine different countries and has a considered yet carefree attitude that is, at least in part, because of it.
We've been wanting to collaborate on something with Gbenga for a while now and this month the stars aligned. To help launch our new Trash Collection Fall colors, he concepted and created a video, shot on Super 8, and film photo series to reflect a day in the life of queer LA youth, featuring his friends Tee, Coyote, Jester, Jasmine, Santiago and Haley.
We spoke to Gbenga about his experience shooting the campaign, nostalgia for an imagined future and what that means to BIPOC, and more.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Growing, loud, and optimistic.
How would you define your aesthetic?
What’s something that you like to do for you?
I’ve picked up biking over quarantine, it makes me feel like a kid again.
You were raised in nine different counties. Can you talk about what that international experience was like during your formative years?
In all honesty, those years already feel like a different life but I can’t deny that those years were incredibly influential and formative for me. As most kids would, I hated it at the time but it’s made me who I am today: culturally aware, open-minded, and adaptable.
What type of work do you create and what kind of mediums do you like to use?
I work in a range of mediums, from textiles, video, photo and sound, but regardless of the medium, my work always ties back to my personal feelings and struggles at the time.
Who or what inspired your artistry in its earliest days and how have you developed your personal visual style?
I’d say I’m still in my early days of my artistry so I’ll say right now Sister Corita Kent, Sterling Ruby, David Hammons, and Juergen Teller. Developing my personal style has really been more of a philosophical and psychological journey of constantly asking myself 'Who am I? What do I like to see? What do I have to say?' I probably won’t ever have those answers, but that’s the beauty of the process, isn't it?
Did you come from a creative household?
My parents weren’t artists but the household was definitely creative. For as long as I can remember, my brothers and I were always learning an instrument. Music was playing every moment in the house and that was really my introduction into “art” and expression. My dad especially really inspired my drawing style. I’ve been so privileged to have both my parents have been pretty supportive of me exploring and experimenting with all the different creative passions I’ve picked up and dropped over the years.
Can you tell me about the inspiration behind your recent video for EVERYBODY.WORLD?
The idea for the video came about as I was trying to unpack this tumultuous year we’ve all been through. The pandemic and resulting lockdown really messed with my sense of self and community. I was living alone all through the first half of the year so I really had to dig in and find comfort in spending more time alone. I don’t mind being alone, I usually enjoy it, but being forced to find joy and motivation through months of real isolation was hard. But we made it through!
The video was actually inspired by a poem I wrote about five vignettes of simple daily tasks that really brought me joy and peace this year. Sweaty bike rides, beautiful parks, and long walks were the only things keeping me sane this year.
What was your particular goal, and what was your experience?
The goal was and is always to make you feel something. Whether through the pictures or the video, I wanted the viewer to feel a sense of nostalgia and optimism concurrently. Personally, a big goal was to recontextualize the memories of solitude and isolation of earlier this year into a more positive light. I’ve grown so much as an individual this year, as I’m sure many people have, so it was really important for me to try and depict the joy, peace, and growth that came out of such a tough and stressful period in everyone’s lives.
Your friends Tee, Coyote, Jester, Jasmine, Santiago and Haley reflect a day in the life of LA queer youth. Can you tell us more about them and what drew you to them?
Each of them are so beautiful, talented and unique in their own way. I really love shooting my friends because you can see how much fun we’re having in the final product, it just flows.
You shot the video on Super 8 but it'll live online. What do you enjoy about going from analog to digital?
The process itself is pretty tedious, long waits, destroyed footage and expensive reshoots are almost inevitable when shooting film, but the final result is undeniably worth it. A lot of my work revolves around the idea of 'nostalgia for an imagined future.' Nostalgia is a strong emotion, we tend to see the past with rose-colored glasses. Queer BIPOC folks are rarely afforded this privilege (the past is often far worse than the present), we’re forced to live in this imagined post-racial, post-gender future: we have to be optimistic. The dust, the scratches, the color texture of Super 8, frame an imagined queer past in which to find nostalgia—a powerful emotion that can motivate us to forge the future we want to live. But also, it's so damn beautiful, who doesn’t want to shoot on Super 8.
Tell me about the music you and your friend Eli created to soundtrack the video.
Eli’s one of the most talented musicians I know and he’s got some amazing stuff coming out soon. He needs all the credit on this one, I basically gave him a couple sounds and references, said 'I want it to feel nostalgic' and he delivered what seemed like the exact track I had in my head. In my opinion, the video would be nothing without that track.
How do you define success as a creative person?
How well do I make you feel what I want you to feel? Everything else is secondary but if my work sparks emotions in you and you find meaning in it, then I’ve done my job.
Lastly, what’s next on the horizon for Gbenga?
Just more creating. I’ve been quilting all year so I’ve got a solid collection that’ll hopefully turn into a gallery show once this pandemic is all over. Other than that, I have so many more photo and video projects I’m excited to start on in the new year, I hope I get to continue to create with the people I love.