‘I lose myself in the haze of it all’ 

Tutu Warisi (or simply Tutu), an artist of her own kind, sat with Nouveaux to talk all things art and culture.

In her own world. Photograph: Timmy Odejimi
In her own world. Photo: Timmy Odejimi

On a gusty spring afternoon in East London, Tutu arrives punctually at our meeting place, a Brazilian beach bar and occasional Afrobeat lounge, hidden in the narrow alleyways of the capital’s vibrant hub. 

Nonchalance with a hint of activism is the instant ambiance we’re welcomed with as we enter. Tutu, 23, (half Nigerian – half Ethiopian) automatically finds herself at home with the neo-beat crowd; frequent occupants of Floripa.

Floripa, Shoreditch. Courtesy: foodism.co.uk
Floripa, Shoreditch. Courtesy: foodism.co.uk

As Fela Kuti’s iconic track, “Water No Get Enemy” coolly beams through the speakers, Tutu appears to be lost in trance as her drink – a Chapman cocktail – arrives, while, all around her, a group of listeners loll around a spoken word poet performing on stage.

They say art is only what you make of it. This seems undeniably true when one considers the relationship an artist has with his/her work. The process – or perhaps journey – towards the final piece, is always accompanied with either a comical anecdote or a distressing one.

Tutu, who was born in Lagos, the commercial heart and most populous city in Nigeria, describes her artiste journey as one with “bumpy roads and potholes.” When asked about the background behind her latest piece, she dismisses the question, flowing side to side hypnotically, with what appears to be a ‘tribal dance’ from her native country, as her favourite Kuti song looms in the background.

A few minutes later and finally we’re on the subject of her work…then her gaze drifts towards the lounge entrance. Tutu springs out of her chair to embrace a (stunned) companion. Then she spies me waiting and quickly says goodbye to her friend…and we begin.

Charcoal and oil pastel artwork by Tutu Wabeni
Charcoal and oil pastel artwork by Tutu Warisi

Growing up in a home dominated by art, music, and literature, it is clear what this Afro-centric ‘visualist’ (as she likes to call herself) is inspired by. Talking about her childhood and upbringing, she breaks into an innocent smile, almost childlike, filled with nostalgia and pleasant memories.

Raised in Cape Town, but educated in Brussels, (Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles), her passage into the ARTS appears to have been written in the stars more than she would like to think.

‘As a child I had always been surrounded (and perhaps even bombarded) by everything to do with art and creativity and culture…I guess I was just destined to be an artist’, she says, waving to the bar for a successive drink – it appears she’s a loved guest.

Temporarily living in Addis Ababa, she speaks of her current experience and time in the Ethiopian capital as “enriching and filled with abundant joy.”

But her face lights up when asked what she likes about London, animatedly she responds saying, ‘the culture man – it’s just so vibrant and rich…that’s something I find inspiring and motivating.’ When she’s not moving from airport-to-airport, her day-to-day routine consists of meditation, literature and a particular sensual activity, which she coyly whispers into my ear.

Travelling continent-to-continent is something Tutu classes as her forte. Only in London for a few more hours, it seems the jetsetter is soon to embark on a new journey, artistically and leisurely. Talking about her future plans with an energetic tone hinged with a bit of fright. ‘I’ve got some new ideas, visions, curiosities which now require me to relocate to Cuba (Havana mainly) for a small period of time.’ She feels that there’s still so much she has…wants to do rather, but time is not on her side – though she’s still relatively young.

The colourful streets of Havana. Courtesy: havanatourcompany.com
The colourful streets of Havana. Courtesy: havanatourcompany.com

Still, she appears to be somewhat reluctant and slightly timid towards talking about or showing her work. With the hope of her mentioning something, anything, about her latest piece and future ideas, I take the opportunity to reinstate the initial question which she dancingly dismissed. However, she smirks and pulls out a small portfolio from her antique briefcase to answer the no longer avoided question and show me what she has been hiding. 

Having lived in various countries comes with its perks and it happens to be something Tutu uses to her advantage, especially when it comes to creating a series of artwork. As for her next move, following Havana, she says it will deviate from anything to do with drawing and painting.

As we round up, I cheekily ask her what this next move is, but through the heavy shout of her name (from someone in the background who happens to be the spoken word poet), my question is lost in a sea of chatter and as I bid Tutu farewell and bon voyage she appears to have blended into with the Afrobeat crowd.



Timmy Odejimi
Posted by:Timmy Odejimi