Lulama Wolf: My earliest memory is of a painted ceramic plate I made in preschool. I gave it to my father, and he still uses it to this day.
G: Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as an artist?
LW: I grew into it, so there was a pivotal moment in every year, each transition. I found things I wanted to know about myself and where I come from, and art was my way of expressing that.
G: On the cover and in the cover story, you’re wearing the sustainable lemlem x H&M collection by Ethiopian model Liya Kebede. How important is conscious fashion to you? And what do you think is the role of retailers such as H&M in preserving the environment?
LW: In my opinion, consciousness is the direction the industry seems to be taking because it teaches accessibility through better consumer values. The bonus of being responsible in fashion would be to offer the same respect and consistency we do to clothes to artisans, allowing them ownership of their creative license and ideas. The lemlem x H&M collection is a collaboration moving in the right direction by highlighting those objectives. It allows African artisans to explore resorts from their perspective and further offer everyday consumers accessibility.
G: Do you have a favourite piece(s) in the collection?
LW: I love the linen shirt dress, the eight-pack of rings and the lacing detail on the maxi dress.
G: Some of your influences include African spirituality and the human condition or shapes. What other visual references do you draw upon in your work?
LW: My themes tackle introspective and geo-social issues that have to do with healing Africans and the rest that I’d love them to experience globally. Rest is a prominent theme in African spirituality and the human condition. The visual language I’d like to explore is seeing the expression fulfilled. It’s accepting and allowing ease and non-attachment of struggle and recurring political nuances in creativity, fashion and film.
G: Do you have a favourite photograph or painting? Any artists you admire?
LW: The late artist Malick Sidibé was a Malian photographer whose images, most of them black and white, captured lively portraits and scenes of celebration. His best-known works depict the burgeoning pop culture and nightlife of the Malian capital and young people and their dress in elegantly posed studio portraits with patterned backdrops that match or deliberately clash with the sitters’ outfits and poses.
G: Does the African art scene inspire or influence your art?
LW: It has many voices that haven’t been heard, and what inspires me about that is that there’s always someone with a different, relatable perspective.
G: When it comes to your work, is misinterpretation something you worry about?
LW: My work is open to interpretation.
G: Have you ever questioned your career entirely?
LW: No. I’ve questioned my intentions, not why I do what I do.
G: We’ve had a tough 18 months, mentally and physically, while living with an unpredictable pandemic. How have you been coping and adjusting to what’s been happening globally?
LW: I think everyone’s been affected by the pandemic in one way or another, whether physically, mentally or financially. The shift brought me closer to myself and the intentions I’ve set for my life. The pandemic, in hindsight, has highlighted what’s wrong with any system from top to bottom. The only thing that’ll matter going forward is how we restructure and grow from this experience.
G: Your style appears minimalist, feminine or tender and also has an element of simplicity. How would you describe it?
LW: It’s ever-evolving yet remains timeless. I love pieces with attention to detail, structure, uniqueness and a focus on my personality. Colour isn’t a problem; it just has to be contained in a way that doesn’t clash.
G: What’s your take on luxury fashion in Africa?
LW: The local consumer base for luxury goods or fashion consists of a small base of wealthy Africans and foreign visitors to the continent. Despite that, luxury brands on the continent are growing because of base values and considerations attached to them. I think luxury is created using different lifestyle perspectives and highlighting objects such as art and fashion that local brands have introduced before. Artisans take care of the entire process of their production chain, first to appeal to local people and then to a global audience.
G: You were one of the first creators to understand the role of social media in promoting your brand and work in Africa. Over the years, these platforms have morphed into a multifaceted beast that includes cancel culture and trolls. How do you use social media to your advantage, and what, if any, changes would you like to see on Instagram and Twitter?
LW: I’ve moved away from promoting my brand to share the expressions of my work and my processes. I still enjoy social media for connecting with people outside of my country who do similar work. I’d like to see more people own who they are without the pressures of what society may think and move away from using social media to validate their existence.
G: What advice would you offer younger artists beginning their art careers?
LW: Practice makes perfect.
G: Your favourite African destination to visit, and why?
LW: Lamu Island in Kenya, where the pace is slow and concise, it’s community driven and breathtakingly beautiful, its architecture and design exceptionally maintained. The artisans who work on the island are behind some of the most well-known luxury brands on the continent, so it’s a great place to find inspiration.
G: What excites you most about your future?
LW: The prospect of newness and change in the things I care about and enjoying it with the people with whom I’m closest. My work excites me because there are different levels I’d like to take it to.