Interview with Kemi Onabulé

April 2020

It is certain that, as recommended, Lewisham Arthouse members have been keeping their distance from their studios, but that doesn’t mean they don’t keep in touch and try to reach out to fellow artists, particularly to those who are recent new comers, such as Kemi Onabulé, who we had the pleasure of getting to know better through an interview we’re now delighted to share with you. Needless to say we’re eager to see Kemi again in the Arthouse and we’re excited to make her feel as welcomed as possible. Please join us on this tour through her experience in LAH so far and her work in her own words.

1. Hello Kemi, welcome! How long have you had a studio at The Arthouse?

Pre-Corvid-19 I had just started a new sublet at Lewisham Arthouse in February of 2020. I was so far enjoying my time at the studio spaces.

2. We’re glad to know that, what is it that you like about them?

They offer the right balance between privacy and community. Giving me the chance already to meet some great people. I am someone who has for much of my professional life shared studios and moved spaces a lot so I have had to get used to new places quickly. LAH has definitely been the most welcoming. I find the building itself quite inspiring with its moulded ceilings and grand staircase, there is something encouraging about stepping into the space. I am amongst fellow artists who are all dedicating themselves with a steady energy to their chosen subject. I really love this.

3. We couldn’t agree more and look forward to working by your side. Could you tell us a little bit about what you do?

I am a painter, printmaker and musician, I work fluidly going from each medium during the course of a day. My work mainly focuses on the close connection human beings have to the natural world, exploring ways in which we have distanced ourselves from it. The figures in my paintings and prints are in many ways an ancient version of a human being. They are stripped of all signs of culture or civilisation and often stand naked in the landscape. For me this is something akin to the religious in its importance to being a fully rounded person. The further away from nature we become the less human we are.

4. We’re sure your different practices can bring so much to the studios, where there are other painters, printmakers and even a music studio. Would you be able to tell us about any specific project that you’re particularly proud of or has been really important to you, perhaps even triggering a change in the way you work?

It is hard to pick out a single work as I feel like all my art is a development onto the next project. Saying this there is a series of prints that I completed in 2017 that have given rise to a whole new language within my work. The series was called ‘Before Midnight’ – all 10 or so prints and drawings were an exploration of the relationship between the female sexuality and the natural world. The fact that it is such a mercurial and beautiful thing. I feel like women still see themselves through so much abrahamic guilt when it comes to their bodies and wanted to shed that through the work.

5. It seems that you have a special relationship with nature and the female body. What else interests you? What influences you?

So many things have influenced me! Films, Books, Movies, documentaries, my love of gardens and nature in general as well as my own cultural histories have made a huge impact on my work. My family come from Nigeria, Greece and England and I have always used elemnets of the art and culture within the work subconsciously I think. The Literature and essays of Arundhati Roy made a huge impact on me as a teenager. Her book ‘God of Small Things’ is such an intoxicating tangle of sex, family, cultural ideas of sin all mixed in with vivid descriptions of subtropical Kerala. Something has always fascinated me when it comes to human beings’ relationship to their environment and in turn with one another.

6. The way we connect to each other is certainly going through a new scrutiny during these current times. Are you working on anything particular at the moment? Is there a theme you are currently addressing?

I think now is a really interesting time to be making artwork. In a way we have all been forced in to a kind of artist residency on our own homes. Oddly given the free time at first I found it hard to focus on making work in the first few weeks of self isolation. In the last week however I have seized the opportunity to make more works on paper. The drawings all relate to my feeling of discomfort to do with what might happen in the coming years. The paintings I am making are looking to find a road map through these trying times by engaging with the possibility of reverting back to a more basic way of life. The themes I have been exploring for the past years seem oddly pertinent at this time.

7. Exactly, we were just thinking of that! We’re almost at the end of our interview now, and would like to ask you if you have a mentor or a piece of advice which has influenced your practice?

I am lucky to have parents who are both artists and musicians and I have learnt so much from them just by watching their example. I would say they have taught me to be resourceful and to work hard despite what may come. There are always opportunities no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in if we use our natural talents and initiative. I think this is a way of living we may all be forced to live by in the coming years.

8. Thank you for generously sharing your thoughts with us, Kemi. Lastly, we’d love to keep in touch while we maintain our safe physical distance. Where can we find your work online?

You can find my work online at and on my instagram @kemionabuleart