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Painting Past the Flaws: The Story of Emmanuel Akintade

“I paint naked,” says Emmanuel Akintade nonchalantly. “Not, like, fully naked but I’d rather take off my shirt and just paint.” Akintade, or Emma to his friends, has one mission: to expose hidden or overlooked feminine beauty through his paintings.

 

As the tall, 21-year-old Nigerian artist saunters through his makeshift studio in his room, he gently caresses the current canvas on his wall. The image of a soon to be black woman—one he is all too familiar with—is roughly sketched and awaits patiently for the artist’s stroke.

 

“Mans don’t [paint] often,” Akintade begins. “I paint when I want to paint. I draw when I want to draw. It’s a mood. I just wake up and I feel like painting.”

 

 

This particular morning, Akintade was in the painting mood. However, somehow, he got distracted and ended up spending his morning playing on his Xbox. “I’m a lazy artist,” Akintade says. “Once I paint the face, I feel like it’s done, but then I have to paint the neck and the shoulders and I just leave it to the next day. I can work on a painting for like a week.”

 

However, on days when Akintade follows through with his desire to paint, he makes sure he is as free as possible. Along with his bare midriff, Akintade fills his studio with music—particularly African beats. Everyone has left the house and he is able to blast it as loud as he pleases. “I will paint for two minutes and dance for five minutes,” he says chuckling. “I’ll paint the eyes and then dance all the way until the video is done.”

 

Often gaining inspiration from the women that he passes on the street, Akintade feels as if his paintings help him glorify God through his art.

 

“There’s something about beauty that’s not just appearance. There’s a reason why God created [humanity] in His own image,” he says.

 

Akintade understands the burden he bears to create. “The conviction in me is what motivates me to continue,” he says. “Being able to make people know that the flaw you possess is there for a reason.”

 

 

His paintings reflect his beliefs. “I paint some of my women with flaws,” he begins. “A tiny neck, green eyes, various hair textures and colors, and protruding collarbones.”

 

Akintade wasn’t always painting women of the African diaspora. In fact, he wasn’t always painting, period. Every day, after nursery school back home in Nigeria, he would run over to the neighbor’s house and join him in a drawing session. The sessions ranged from drawing cartoon characters to manipulating magazine images. While still a youth, Akintade’s art was profound.

 

“I would take magazines and just manipulate the faces, not to make them look pretty [necessarily]. In Africa, there’s this idea about white people being gods and back then, when we were young, it was like their country was heaven and all [this] brainwashing shown in the movies; so, I would just manipulate them and put beards on the females; things you wouldn’t see on them that was put on us,” he says.

 

His after-school hobby quickly turned into his favorite past time during his classes, but it wasn’t until he arrived in Canada that the magnitude of his talent was revealed. “I didn’t realize it back then [in Nigeria], but now I do.”

 

What awakened the realization? Akintade’s art was helping him make friends…and get girls. “If I was interested in a girl, I would draw her and go on Facebook and tag her and get the ‘aww.’ It would work until they would see my face,” he says jokingly.

 

However, Akintade – who often throughout our conversation would refer to himself in the third person – believes that it wasn’t just his art that drew people but his character as well. “If I didn’t have the drawing skills, I still would have made the same number of friends that I have now, in some way because Emmanuel has this ‘draw people’s attention’ character,” he says.

 

Chelsy Monie, the creator of Ubuntu Talks, a multimedia platform that provides space for those of the African Diaspora to express themselves agrees with Akintade. “I know him personally,” she begins, “and I like him, possibly because I like his art and it really translates to how I see him as a person. From what I’ve seen, he’s a God-fearing person who is driven and ambitious in a positive way.”

 

Monie and Akintade met when Monie was an executive of the African Student Association of Concordia. Akintade reached out to her the night before one of the association’s biggest shows, expressing interest in exhibiting some of his work.

 

After doing some of her research, Monie was hooked. “I thought his work was so good that I convinced the entire team to have the exhibition before the show.”

 

Akintade is still so shocked and thankful that his art has been so well received. He believes he is just doing what he was taught from his youth. “I was raised in a family, in a background I would say, that believes more in sharing with others. If there’s something you can do to help, help others.”

 

As he shared his art, more opportunities to share would present themselves. Eventually, people were begging to be painted by Akintade. “One guy begged me, and I didn’t take him seriously. I would have done it for free, but people started paying me because they wanted to have it. Payments came in the form of McDonald’s or a drink from the convenient store,” he says.

 

However, Akintade’s method of payments started to evolve, much to the joy of his biggest fan. “My mom is a huge fan,” he begins. “She hates and loves them because now they’re just everywhere in the house and she’s just like ‘can you just sell these things and make money please?’”

 

Upon entering Akintade’s home, whether you look to the right or to the left, you can’t go two steps without coming face to face with an Akintade original. In the living room, on display, are some of his very first works. A painting of white Jesus with a bloody crown of thorns, a portrait of a kiss shared between his parents in their traditional Nigerian clothing, and the bare backs of two girls laying on their elbows looking into space. These portraits fill the room with their dazzling colors from ruby red, to royal blue, to dark brown.

 

Down the hall, the walls hold a couple of paintings. Before entering Akintade’s room – otherwise known as his makeshift studio – one must pass the washroom. Above the Jacuzzi bathtub rests a stunning portrait of a black man crying amongst a bright orange background. Why is he crying? Akintade is waiting for me to answer my own question. He prefers to hear what others see in his artwork rather than provide some hidden message. “Sometime, when I paint, I don’t really have the specific message,” he says. The message can come a long time after I have completed a piece.

 

Finally, the house tour leads to Akintade’s room. Each wall has at least one painting on it. One has a small canvas of a bald, black woman. Another has three big canvases, including one of Akintade’s new ones. A lighter-skinned black woman with short blond Afro-esque curls and piercing emerald eyes.

 

“I’m a lazy artist,” Akintade reiterates. “I don’t like blending, I just go with what I have, which is brown.” This recent portrait, however, shows Akintade’s desire to expand his palette. Nevertheless, for the meanwhile, he continues to stick to oil based painting, his material of choice because they allow him to revisit a piece even weeks after it was started.

 

The third wall has a large canvas of a skinny black woman curled into herself. “She represents how so many women shrink due to their insecurities,” he says.

Pieces such as these, are what Monie appreciates. “I feel represented,” she begins. “There’s so many different types of black women, it’s multifaceted – I see myself in that.”

 

The final wall contains his current sketched out piece along with a collection of his finest shoes. The rest of the paintings that don’t fit on the wall are stacked in bags and are resting upon the wall, behind the bed, or on top of his dresser. His art has permeated his entire life; however, he believes that, “God created us and we are able to create just the way he created. Our capacity to make something out of nothing comes from Him. [My art] is not something I developed, it’s a talent given to me.” With that talent, Akintade aims to continually expose feminine beauty, one stroke at a time.

 

Josie Fome is a graduate student in Journalism. She loves to read, write and enjoy the ocassional Netflix binge. She's quick to extend motivation and encouragement wherever needed. In her spare time, you can (try) to catch her sneaking onto rooftops for breathtaking skyline views.
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