How Jekein Lato-Unah is celebrating and empowering women with her art

Steph Kunkel
August 1, 2022
'A toast to myself', by Jekein Lato-Unah, represents a woman aware of her environment and its efforts to destabilise her.

Jekein Lato-Unah blends figurative modernism and traditional mixed media techniques to create captivating digital artwork, depicting women in their truest forms. By embracing her culture and utilising bright colours that embody the vitality that flourishes in her soul, Jekein’s artwork sends a message to embrace life and freedom, welcome self-care, and champion empowerment.

With a paintbrush as her weapon, Jekein is the epitome of a modern-day creative warrior. Her art captures black portraiture through oil paintings, and her purpose is to give voice to the voiceless. Strong-willed and passionate, the 25-year old radiates positive energy, which translates into her artwork, full of colourful and eye-catching images that ease the mind.

A former Programs Lead and paralegal at female-focused non-profits, Jekein is in her final year studying law at the University of Lagos, where her research in human rights, gender law, and family law, has exposed her to numerous heartbreaking experiences.

“You want to take more into your own hands and help others. When you know the perpetrators and the people who are hurting, you see these stories in real-time; you want to help.” Jekein would go home and pour out on canvas, using her oil paintings to release her anger. She would experiment and play with colours and backgrounds to capture these women and their stories.

Inspired by these stories and her own experiences, Jekein illustrates the fight for women’s equality through work that sheds light on real-life scenarios and captures what it is like to be marginalised, oppressed, and alienated. Specifically, she focuses on the objectification of women in Nigeria, where women typically do not seek help or report crimes against them for fear of being shamed and ostracised.

The Morning After, by Jekein Lato-Unah. Headlines from the JLU Artspaper: "The Lagos Art Girls are THRIVING!"; "NFTs are the new cool!"; and "VIRGIL ABLOH Gone too soon…".

Jekein will never stop addressing social issues, fighting for the rights of others, and telling their stories. However, her new artwork takes a new angle — women embracing healing and self-love. She says her recent works “portray the lives of happy, free, successful black women, as opposed to the broken, unhappy, caged women now seeking freedom who I have depicted in the past.”

Recently, Jekein has shifted her artistic focus to women in their moments of ecstasy — pure enjoyment, light, happiness, and freedom. “I do not want to always tell the same story,” she explains. “Every day I am growing and changing. I want to think about what is ahead and what is coming.” Jekein acknowledges that problems will always be present, but she is hopeful and optimistic about the future and what joy life will bring; her artwork reminds us to embrace happiness and live in the moment.

Jekein’s new work, featured on SuperRare, consists of 3 new pieces: ‘The Morning After’, ‘A Toast to Myself’, and ‘Bottomless Leisure’. The three self-portraits depict Jekein at different moments in time and signify periods in her life when she was grateful, celebrating her success, and taking time to relax. Begun in the middle of a locked-down 2020, Jekein uses these pieces as a reminder to make your own happiness, despite the circumstances.

Jekein’s artwork seems to have a way of eloquently capturing a precise moment in time. ‘The Morning After’ is no different. This piece shows Jekein on a day where all seems right in the world, capturing a raw moment of celebration, satisfaction, joy, and relaxation. This work is the epitome of “chop life” (to live life and enjoy yourself). She has even hidden some of her favourite things within the piece: her black mask, afro comb, and WHOT cards (which she always keeps in her purse).

This piece plays with time as Jekein sits, illustrated and brought to life in her own work at present, whilst reflecting on the past and how she got to this moment. We can see markers and remnants of the pandemic through the black mask and deduce the time based on the copy of the JLU Artspaper, a fictional magazine inspired by Jekein’s initials and a product of her ambition to one day own her own publication. A draft copy of this JLU edition captures Jekein’s colleagues and friends sharing their success in art and web3, as well as her own entrance into the space. Although this is a pandemic piece, the work signifies that amidst – and indeed despite – Covid, there is a need to find refuge and relaxation.

A Toast To Myself, by Jekein Lato-Unah and inspired by her muse TheAlmaChronical.

‘A Toast To Myself’ acts as the heart of this series, showing Jekein on a picnic alone, celebrating herself. Jekein reveals that this piece is particularly important to her in virtue of a terrible car accident that kept her wheelchair-bound for three months while working on it. Frustrated by her constraints, she kept making mistakes and errors, but would return to it every day. “I cannot explain it, but I needed to touch it every day.” The moment she could walk again, she said the piece was done and walked away from.

“It’s okay to take breaks, it’s okay to show yourself love, it’s okay to prioritise yourself.”

— Jekein Lato-Unah

‘Bottomless Leisure’ captures a woman in a robe with a mimosa — a wonderful start to a relaxing and enjoyable holiday. Jekein reveals, laughing, that “at the slightest inconvenience, I will check into a hotel.” This piece shows Jekein on a well-deserved break, as whenever she finishes a commission, she celebrates by treating herself to a spa day.

‘Bottomless Leisure’ brings the series full circle and to a close — showing Jekein in different stages of celebration, relaxation, and joy, reminding us to clink our glasses and toast our success. On her experience with web3 and the community of artists, Jekein admits that she has wondered why she achieved success in this field as opposed to others. “Is it luck? Is it me working so hard? Is it me speaking up and fighting for myself?”

Part of the Chop Life series, Bottomless Leisure captures a woman in a robe, with a glass of bottomless mimosa, a good start to a well-deserved holiday.

Jekein believes that it is essential for artists to take care of their emotional and mental well-being, especially in the crowded web3 space that taxes the soul. She believes that empathy should be a greater and clearer dimension of the web3 community, and has contributed herself to encouraging and collecting from female artists and other under-represented groups for whom she wants to broaden accessibility and opportunity.

Jekein wants to help nurture a web3 ecosystem that can distinguish discrimination and promote equality among all artists fairly, with equal access to art, education, and the community. As well as collecting, Jekein is on the frontier of building the web3 community through the mentorship program, For Creative Girls, where she mentors young, female artists in West Africa and the Americas.

As in her character and her work to promote justice in real life, Jekein’s art is vibrant and full of passion, harnessing inspiration around survival and freedom to encourage viewers to find and love themselves.

“Every day I am growing and changing. I want to think about what is ahead and what is coming.”

— Jekein Lato-Unah

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Written by
Steph Kunkel
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Steph Kunkel is a US-based writer, choreographer, and brand/marketing specialist. She is an art enthusiast with a passion for all things creative. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, drawing, and dancing.

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