Yisa Akinbolaji is a Winnipeg-based artist. He has developed a unique technique of painting, therefore his own visual language. This he achieved from using a special flexible gum he invented from his extensive experimentation with materials - some not conventionally used for art. Following the successful exhibition of his work in New York, Yisa was in 2011 featured on the cover of Art Business News, New York. Yisa’s work has also been published in Redemptive Art in Society, by American author and poet, Dr. Calvin Seerveld. On September 18, 2020, Yisa's work, Stolen Identities was displayed at the Senate of Canada Building in honor of Canada's Black Artists. On September 30, 2020, Honourable Senator Patricia Bovey presented an account of Yisa's work and his biography at the Senate Chamber.

Before immigrating to Canada in 1997, Yisa was recognized as a leading Nigerian artist with inclusion in "Nigerian Artists: A Who's Who and Bibliography" (1993), a publication of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington. D.C.. Yisa was featured on the cover of Art Business News, New York, in Nov. 2011 for his distinctive technique. Yisa is the Founder and Chair of the Creative Foundation and Founder of the Canadian Black Artists United.

Yisa was appointed to the board of the Manitoba Arts Council in 2010, serving for 9 years. Yisa's painting, "Wisdom Thread" is featured in the Government of Alberta department of Education’s Curriculum, since 2021. Yisa's artistic contributions have twice made it into the Canadian Parliament’s Chamber in Ottawa: one on February 27, 2019, and the second on September 30, 2020, presented by Senator Pat Bovey. Yisa is a recipient of the Manitoba 150 Award. In 2018, Yisa received the Manitoba Premier's Volunteer Service Award. Minister Rochelle Squires recognized Yisa at the Manitoba Legislative Assembly on April 12, 2018. Ondo State of Nigeria, honoured Yisa in 2021 as a Cultural Ambassador; he is the first Nigerian diaspora artist to be so honoured. Yisa received NPIM Community Leadership Award in 2021. Yisa was elected to the membership of Manitoba Society of Artists in 2000, becoming its President in 2001 at the 100th Anniversary and serving until 2003.

For almost four decades Yisa has actively engaged in extensive art practice, working in a variety of media: (oil, acrylic, printmaking, metal sculpture and installation) and exhibiting in solo and group art exhibitions internationally. Yisa has had over 50 art exhibitions, conducted more than 10 workshops and art talks since his first exhibition at the National Museum, Lagos in 1984. In his paintings, Akinbolaji explores and uncovers the possibilities of his creative expression, combining various art expertise and endeavours to express a full range of experiences in one piece. Akinbolaji’s Yoruba-African root experience and Western education dominate the eclecticism and diversity of his technique. "I love mystery more than magic because mystery does not have an answer. That is the reason I'm fascinated at the dexterity at which a tiny insect could weave complex silk. My passion for experimentation and knowledge of materials have resulted in my own unique base medium, known as Remoglue to the advantage of my current creations. Because my new process expresses my playfulness, it is not unusual for viewers to perceive abstraction within the reality that I present."

Yisa is a youth advocate who is active and celebrated in and beyond Winnipeg, Canada. He is the founder of the Creative Foundation, Winnipeg. The organization is established to enlist distinguished professionals to empower and motivate the youth of different cultural background and social groups for their academic success through mentoring programs in the arts, creative thinking, human rights, sciences and computer technology. Yisa believes that humanity's best future lies in the hands of today's children, hence they should be properly nurtured and encouraged to develop the spirit of service to humanity.  

Yisa’s work is in private and public collections around the world including the collection of the University of North Dakota, the province of Manitoba, Great-West Life, Cargill Limited, and the private collections of valued individuals.

It was in 1993 that Yisa began to experiment in a new technique of painting after many years of creating his work in the style of the impressionists. Yisa further developed his technique while obtaining M.F.A in visual arts from the University of North Dakota. There, he incorporated his unique technique into his monotype printmaking. His technique involves the use of resist and relief, a process that best expresses his creative spirit and fuses the elements of Western and African art education and traditions.

Yisa has been an advisory member of CBC ARTSPOTS, Winnipeg on January 24, 2007; a guest speaker at the Canadian Association of Planning Students Annual Conference at the University of Manitoba, February 8, 2007, On November 20, 2018, Yisa was recognized as the Chief Guest by the Conflict and Resilience Research Institute, Canada at the occasion of "Participatory Peace Painting Icebreaker." Yisa is a regular guest presenter at Heartland International English School and has facilitated empowering workshops at various high schools and youth summer camps in Winnipeg.

Yisa has received the following awards: the McElroy-Edwards, Jackie Scholarship, USA of $45,000 (2008); the Winnipeg Arts Council Traveling Grant (2003); the Valerie Fostey Memorial Award, Canada (1998); and the National Youth Service Chairman's Honour, Cross River State, Nigeria (1987).

The Creative Foundation Inc, which Yisa established has inspired some youth who have gone on to become educators, surgeons, artists, technologists who are now involved in charity works globally. For more information about the Creative Foundation visit: www.creativefoundation.org

CREDITS: Photography: Taylor Summach, Gordon Gilbey, Gloria Esquejo, Velma Rust

Videography: Keanan Byggdin>

Yisa Akinbolaji presenting his speech at the MCIE celebration at the Legislative Building, Winnipeg, 2012

Yisa Akinbolaji (Center) at the MCIE celebration at the Legislative Building, Winnipeg, 2012.


P A I N T I N G    -   P R I N T M A K I N G   -   I N S TA L L A T I O N S

My worldwide quest has taken me from Nigeria, my country of birth, where I was first immersed into very strict art rudiments and Yoruba-Africa tradition, to the University of North Dakota, where I earned my MFA, to my current home in Winnipeg, the treaty 1 traditional territory of Indigenous people of Canada, where I’m a full-time visual artist—I see art as one connected journey.

Influenced by my Yoruba oral tradition and experiential knowledge, the intervention of my current work embodies the complexities of culture, identity, violence, truth, and reconciliation.

Though colour may be involved in my work, there are certain components beyond paint. Familiar imagery is deployed as an alluring invitation for viewer’s broader engagement and exposition of dramatic impact. Being able to advance the hidden layers of any medium on canvas, initiate the hovering of concealed colours and facilitate the sharing of space with the topmost layer is where the fun of this process always begins for me. The outcome which conjures the interplay to occur between the foreground and background forms, thereby involving the audience in my upside-down thinking demonstrates the notion of mutuality.

As a child, I was first fascinated at the dexterity at which a tiny insect could weave complex silk. While I was seven years old, I was motivated to develop the ability to improvise by using my mother's traditional eyebrow pencils (Tìro) and charcoal from her firewood for drawings to express myself indoor. That was during the Biafran/Nigerian civil war, when playing outdoor in the evening was forbidden for children to prevent injury from bomb explosion. That desire to improvise  has endured to the benefit of my current creations as an artist.

Now, I do not just paint; I create using paint. My art technique emphasizes the character of my visual narratives, my journey, my experience and my imagination in a personal and unique way.  I hope I might consequently work to eliminate the emphasis of paint in my painting in the future.

Artist & the fun of his work:

The freedom I experience through my freehand form creation and colour mixture is where the fun begins. Once I start creating, one element of my composition leads to another. My ultimate goal has been to establish a method of creating my painting or printmaking in a unique way, thereby providing an identity of recognition for my style.


Artist Statement: