Tayo Fatunla: An Artist’s Commitment to Documenting Black History

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It’s been three decades since the legendary cartoonist, Tayo Fatunla had used the art form to raise black consciousness that resonates in newspapers, magazines, museums, album covers, books and more across the globe. Yinka Olatunbosun trails how the cartoonist’s journey started

Fatunla’s talent was home grown, like fresh vegetables blossoming with good nurturing. The British-born Nigerian artist was educated in Nigeria. At 17, his first cartoon appeared in a Children’s magazine Apollo. Bouyed by this, he had his works featured in leading newspapers such as PUNCH, CONCORD, GUARDIAN, THE DAILY TIMES and THISDAY. At PUNCH, he was the second Omooba Column Cartoonist. However, THISDAY added colour to his life by having his cartoons published in colour print.

He began to add African perspective to his art in the late 80s about the time that he became a resident cartoonist for West Africa magazine, a London-based weekly magazine. Meanwhile, his

Stint at the prestigious Kubert Art School in New Jersey, US proved to be a career shaping experience as he began to create more black themed pieces. His Black History cartoon feature in OUR ROOTS, for educational purpose.

“I’m using my cartoons to educate, inform, entertain and I grew up drawing cartoons in Nigeria. My parents would encourage me with comic books and I felt the need to draw. That was how I was able to develop myself. I drew editorial and educational cartoons,’’ he revealed in a video session on YouTube.

His exposure to American life showed him the disconnect that exists between the knowledge and perception of African history. Thus, Fatunla became even more determined to fill that void.

“When I schooled in America, I found that many African-Americans didn’t know much about African history other than the history of African-Americans in America. I don’t like violent comics. So, when I was growing up, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted the world to know that you can actually do cartoons without violence in them because we don’t want to encourage that. But I can do positive cartoons as well and talk about social issues, negative issues in the world. My mentor is Jerry Robinson, the creator of The Joker. He was able to get my drawing syndicated in America. So he got me around America, getting my work published there. My work is taking me all around the world,’’ he said.

Fatunla believes strongly that the origin of storytelling is from Africa and that the continent has a lot of stories to tell.

“Right now, you need to move to digital media in other for your work to be seen across the world,’’ he added.

Having worked for several UK-based publications including Guardian UK, he became a rising phenomenon in comic. To be sure, he illustrated the award-winning digital comic Hooked, for the BBC World Service and illustrated African Kingdoms for The British Museum. His image of Fela Kuti was used as a backdrop in the Burna Boy’s YouTube video Afrobeat music hit, “Ye”.

His published books include OUR ROOTS, Black History Sketchbook, and Gospel Humour. He has held exhibitions and cartoon workshop sessions in Nigeria, the U.K., Cameroon, Finland, Israel, South Korea, France, Ethiopia, the U.S., Egypt, Algeria, Belgium, Italy, and Ireland. For his contributions to press cartoons internationally, Fatunla was presented with the Crayon De Porcelaine Award at the Salon International Dessin de Presse et d’ humour, in Saint-Just-le-Martel, France.

In 2018, Fatunla received the ECBACC Pioneer Lifetime Achievement (PLA) Award in Philadelphia, for his contribution to black history through OUR ROOTS, spanning three decades. He was also honoured at home as the recipient of the Baptist Academy, Lagos, Old students’ association award (BAOSA) for professional excellence.

He has held OUR ROOTS exhibitions at prestigious venues including the Studio Harlem Museum, New York and lectures in universities in the US, France, and the UK. His cartoons have been published in various international publications including books and on web sites including the New York Amsterdam News, the New York Times, the Sacramento Observer, and the Washington Post. He currently draws for the US based web site, Politicalcartoons.com. Last October, he did a four-page illustrated history of Nigeria for THE NATION newspaper and NEW AFRICAN magazine, charting the history of Nigeria since independence.