Heart of the Arts: Mixed-Media Sculptor Masud Olufani Draws Inspiration from West African Roots
Artist’s work tackles nuanced social and racial issues and invite viewers to draw their own conclusions.
BY ELLIE HENSLEY
Masud Olufani is truly a multidisciplinary artist. When you step into his studio in north Midtown, you’ll find pieces made from mediums constructed out of everything from wood and steel to paint, glowing lights, audio, video and more.
Thematically, Olufani’s work addresses issues such as social marginalization, racial injustice and spirituality.
Olufani is one of seven artists in Midtown Alliance’s 2023-24 Heart of the Arts Residency program, which brings together emerging local talent and physical studio space provided by property partners. Through their participation in the program, selected artists will engage directly with Midtown Alliance staff and partners in the district in the service of a core organizational mission to build vibrant public life.
Learn what inspires Olufani and how you can get a peek inside his studio below.
You Can’t Cage His Strut
In 2020, Olufani took a DNA test and discovered that his mother’s side of the family is descended from Sierra Leone. Soon after, he took a trip with AfricanAncestry.com, an organization that has helped more than a million people reconnect with their African roots down to specific countries and tribes.
He visited Sierra Leone for two and a half weeks, and then went alone to Ghana for five days.
“It was amazing; there was so much I learned about the sense of community,” he said. “I ate some amazing Jollof rice. The history of going back to the bush and meeting with people who have lived in these villages for thousands of years, or their ancestors did.”
Olufani found a sort of ancestral familiarity in the day-to-day lives of the people he interacted with.
“It’s something I don’t personally know in terms of having used them, but there’s some kind of echo going on inside me in relation to these iconic forms, these devices and mechanisms and apparatus that they use to allow their lives to go forward.”
Watch this video to learn more about Olufani's work:
Olufani’s roots have inspired an upcoming one-man exhibition, “You Can’t Cage My Strut” - details to come soon. His work often layers multiple complicated, nuanced subjects over one another, and he’s careful to avoid “trite summations” and leave his pieces open for interpretation.
“It’s really easy to hit someone over the head with something or to make it so obvious that it doesn’t allow for a participatory process, which to me is at the heart of really good art thinking,” he said. “I’m always interested in just hinting at things, gesturing toward things.”
A Concentration of Community
Los Angeles-born Olufani graduated from Morehouse College in the mid-1990s, and earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2013. He was the 2021-2022 inaugural Visual Arts Fellow at Emory University, and previously completed residencies at The Vermont Studio Center, Hambidge Center for Arts and Sciences and Creative Currents in Portobello, Panama.
Olufani said he applied for Midtown Alliance’s Heart of the Arts Studio Residency to have a new space to work at the heart of the Atlanta arts community. His studio at Peachtree Pointe, provided by property owner the Dewberry Foundation, is near arts and cultural institutions such as the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre, Museum of Design Atlanta and his alma mater SCAD.
“There is a concentration of creativity here,” he said. “That generates its own kind of energy. And if you’re a creative - a cultural worker, as I call myself - it’s just nice to be close to that nexus of these creative energies.”
This month, Masud will bless his new space with a drum circle ceremony that includes libations and prayers to honor his ancestors. Stay tuned for details on the ceremony.