By April Sullivan
Kemi is a Nigerian-American artist living in Austin, Texas. She was raised in Houston, Texas and moved to Austin eleven years ago for physical therapy and to gain independence after a car accident in 2006, which left her with a spinal cord injury.
I first met Kemi through her entry of art into one of our exhibitions. It was actually the first painting she did after her injury and it is called “Lost Signals.” This haunting piece shows a gray figure emerging from a gray background. In place of a head, there is an old-style television set with colored bars on the screen. The television looks down at its white hand. Kemi created this piece as a representation of the moment she received her injury – that initial onset of her disability – as a way to visually show the brain being disconnected from the body. She likes to use imagery that is relatable to everyone to express her views.
Another series she did early on included realistic paintings of “wheelchair pin-up girls” as she calls them. The one pictured here is cleverly titled “Roll Model” and features a blonde-haired white woman in a dress with a tight bodice, her skirt hiked up to reveal the tops of her stockings. She sits in a wheelchair with an American flag on the back. A portion of sales of the prints of this work go to benefit the Ms. Wheelchair America Foundation. Kemi was named Ms. Wheelchair Texas in 2010. The Ms. Wheelchair program empowers women of achievement through leadership, advocacy, and education.
Kemi’s current work is focused on her Nigerian heritage; exploring that culture and expressing it in contemporary art. Her piece “Creation 3” features a black figure with gears in her throat with a blue, black, and purple star-filled galaxy behind her bald head, forming her hair. The galaxy drips, dropping a small planet into the woman’s hand.
Kemi was a pre-med student at Texas’ Baylor University before her accident. She took on art as a minor as a stress reliever. She focused on charcoal and sculpture, avoiding painting, thinking it would be too difficult. After her accident, she returned to Baylor and studied painting with Karl Umlauf, son of Charles Umlauf. Professor Umlauf believed in Kemi and gave her the encouragement, time, and space to help her figure out how to paint with the abilities she had.
Kemi is now a fully-licensed therapist. She focuses her counseling practice on helping those with stress, anxiety, and childhood trauma. Her artwork is currently on view at the Georgetown Library in their Georgetown Cultural Citizen Memorial Association Black History Month Art Exhibit. It can also be seen in the Art Spark Texas community exhibit space at the Austin Lighthouse for the Blind.
Kemi joined us on our Community Conversation series to talk about her Art. View Kemi’s Community Conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isLOLRP0f8E