BY AMARACHI NWOSU
Ibra Ake is a Nigerian-American visual artist, creative director and writer based in Los Angeles, California. Living in cities around the world from Lagos to New York has played a major role in his unique approach to visual art.
From shooting covers of magazines to being the creative director for artist’s like Childish Gambino as well as writing on the hit show Atlanta, Ake is no stranger to expressing himself through different mediums.
Having been introduced to art through animation and drawing, he later picked up photography through a class in art school before he decided to leave, and go into creating full time.
While Ibra has spent most of his life in America, he credits his Nigerian upbringing for allowing him to understand the value of documentation and storytelling.
“Every time I’m looking for a picture of Nigeria in the 70s, I’m never like, ‘let me check National Geographic.’ I’m always like, ‘What pictures did my parents take?’ It’s always true to their eye and what is important to them, which is definitely a different value, but I think there’s something very authentic about that,” he says. Although growing up in a Nigerian household can breed pressure for many artists, Ibra saw opportunity beyond traditional spaces and knew creating was something he wanted to invest in from an early age.
“I went to school originally for animation, flat dropped out, but I used to watch a lot of cartoons as inspiration. And my pops—probably more than my mom—encouraged me to draw,” Ake says. “I think even a lot of Disney movies were super influential on me. I was consuming images pretty intensely at an early age and that’s how it began. My dad was a big movie buff and had good taste, which influenced my taste in film. I was watching Casablanca, Marx Brothers movies, and Paul Newman movies, and I had a lot of weird mixture of references from him, so I just remember watching stuff that was way before my time.”
After leaving school and working a full time office job, Ibra was a freelance photographer and landed a gig to shoot Childish Gambino while he was still a rising artist. Although Gambino was expecting the photographer to look like most he had encountered, Ibra was a pleasant surprise to him. “I took his picture and he was like, ‘Shit, I thought you were going to be a white guy,’ which was funny to me,” Ake says. “After the shoot we became friends and we just bounced ideas creatively back and forth. I would do photography and design stuff, and we just kept in touch and that led to going on tour and working. Then as he got bigger, stuff just got a lot crazier.”
Since meeting, the two have collaborated countless times from album covers, music videos, creative direction, production and screenwriting. This exposed him to the power of teamwork, persistence and believing in the people around you. “We’ve had good teachers and we’ve also just believed in each other. I’ve always thought Donald was the funniest person,” he says. “We’re super critical, but not just critical for [being] critical—we’re super analytical in everything and I think we’re pretty funny people. I think it was just about putting the steps into place and letting the universe present that for us. We’ve made jokes and things, but at the core of it, I think we’re just writing what we observe with good taste and good restraint.”