Emmanuel Unaji explores the socio-economic importance of art, culture and commerce.

May 12, 2021

“I believe artists and creatives will be instrumental to the development of not just commerce but the way in which we interact in society in general.”

Emmanuel,  thank you for taking the time to discuss your creative practice with us, as well as the importance of physical space in relation to your work.

You describe yourself as a multidisciplinary artist and have previously spoken about how your work explores art and commerciality. What exactly do you mean by this, and what drew you to combine these creative practices?

My practice explores the relationship between, artistic expression, advertising and commerciality, through fashion, fine art, advertising.

In the initial stages, my mother emphasised the importance of education. She encouraged us to explore both the artistic and business aspects of our practices, in order to utilise our resources efficiently.

This combined with my early career as a fashion model has informed an acute presentation of economically conscious creativity. Capital can be a taboo subject in the art world, for me, I appreciate the sacred process of making work but also understand the sport of the market place.

Could you please tell us about the importance of creative workspace to your practice?

Workspace is crucial to any artist, for my practice storage, production, and promotion means my work is spread across three types of space. Creative studios, retail concept space, & photography studios support different elements of my work. For example, the studio is the start of the creative process, focused on image production and relies on good light and wall space is most key. The long term goal is to combine these into one commercial studio.

Concept space allows us to explore and combine art and commerciality as the practice relies on concept spaces to enhance customer and audience experience, this is pivotal to distribution and revenue.

Having had workspaces in Soho, Camden and now Shoreditch – location and audiences are important to concept spaces. Ideal for generating key performance indicators for strategy development & determining the market value. Moreover, the space is important in creating an environment that immerses the audience so they can experience elements of our practice, activating all the senses.

Fashion modelling has given me an informed outlook on brand identity & campaigns that communicate with wider audiences.

Images by UNAJI&Co

You mentioned concept space makes up a lot of your practice, could you further explain this?

The nature of my work combined with the fact my studio is based in Kent has allowed me to further explore the importance of commercial space to my practice and making it accessible to a wider audience, I believe this has been pivotal to my career development.

Accessibility of space creates visibility, which is a crucial element of any creative practice. I believe cities and city spaces are central to creating opportunities & visibility for creative practitioners. Viewing work in new contexts elevates the conversations you can have around them. Concept spaces allow the audience to further understand your practice, demonstrating your market value, which attracts new opportunities.

I enjoy the process of making work in an enclosed environment and presenting it to the world. I look at art and creativity in two halves – creativity is a pure internal/ sacred process – and workspaces facilitate this – artists have a choice of how they want to see it perform and in what type of space.

Throughout your career, you have formed a number of commercial partnerships, how have these impacted your practice?

Partnerships are crucial, the exchange between artist & brands/institutions is powerful, the intersection involves innovative visual language, social discourse, access to resources & of course revenue. Despite being challenging at times, partnerships are one of my favourite parts of the sector!

I believe the discourse between brand and consumer is developing in that consumers are demanding more meaning behind the products & environments they shop.

When you think of art and its creation as a sacred process, you can see artist voices are unique in the sense they create through a pure unfiltered voice on issues important to them, often a reflection of issues in society or underrepresented communities.

Through partnerships with artists (creative practitioners) brands have the opportunity to communicate responses to social issues in a more authentic and personal way.

You’ve discussed the growing change in consumer values, what changes do you expect to see in the consumer/retail experience?

I believe artists and creatives will become more and more central to the evolving retail, experience & hospitality culture. Speaking from my own experience, art and creativity add an additional element to retail or hospitality, consumers are expecting more in relation to all their senses whilst shopping.

In addition to this, I believe consumers are demanding more interaction from brands and spaces, and even more so since the pandemic. People want to be a part of something, a community, a tribe, more so a conversation. Collaboration with artists can engage individuals, create progressive discourse, build on social issues and communicate brand values.

I believe artists and creatives will be instrumental to the development of not just commerce but the way in which we interact in society in general.

Is there anything you’d like to add before the interview comes to a close?

I’d like to commend the work of Creative Land Trust and other individuals and organisations working to build a more sustainable creative infrastructure, particularly in the current London economic climate. I believe the work to champion the impact of the arts and drive the conversation will socially and economically progress the sector over the coming decades for the better.

Upcoming coming works & exhibitions:

ArtUltra x The Hari Hotel, Belgravia – Artist Residency + Exhibition (6 month)

Box Park Shoreditch – Concept Store (Retail Experience)

Acid Gallery, France Exhibition

About the author

Emmanuel Unaji, Artist and CLT Trustee.

Dubbed by British GQ as the Nigerian Artist reinterpreting fashion illustration, Emmanuel Unaji is a multidisciplinary artist based in London & CEO of design company UNAJI&co. Combining painting, drawing and fashion design, Unaji’s art practice explores the relationship between artistic expression, advertising and commerciality.

With adept experience in High Fashion, modelling for Brands such as Gucci, British GQ, Adidas amongst others. Such adventures have afforded him the understanding of illustrious production. Unaji aesthetically decodes the luxury of visibility, examining media communication through branded campaigns.

The essence of Emmanuel’s art practice navigates the socioeconomic dichotomy of creativity and business, investigating the intersection of commerciality and autonomy. By subverting the ready-made principal of art, he re-contextualises the polarising nature of the subjectivity applied to protagonists within painting and photography.