“Everything is my canvas.” That’s Laolu Senbanjo’s motto. And the proof is everywhere, from his elaborate ethnic patterns on limited-edition Nike shoes to the stunning spectral body art he created for Beyoncé’s “Sorry” video. Not to mention all the clothing, musical instruments, buildings and other surfaces Laolu has adorned for collaborators like Alicia Keys, the Smithsonian Institution and Kenneth Cole.
Born in Ilorin, Nigeria, Laolu has been creating art and music for most of his life. But it wasn’t until he gave up his career as a human-rights lawyer in Nigeria that his artistic career really took off. Then it took him halfway around the world to his current home of Brooklyn, New York.
He calls his unique artistic style afromysterics, or the mystery of the African thought pattern. Inspired by his Yoruba heritage and its mythology, Laolu’s work integrates modern materials and ancient African themes in wildly intricate symbols and patterns. When the body is his canvas, Laolu calls his work The Sacred Art of the Ori, which honors the humanity and spirituality of each subject and taps into their Ori — meaning soul, essence or destiny in Yoruba culture.
His art tells stories. Raises questions. Starts conversations. Connects people with themselves and others through thought-provoking visuals. That's why we chose him for the final chapter in our Coffee Stories series, which highlights what customers around the world experience in our stores every day: connection. We aim for Starbucks to be a “third place” where people can come together and feel welcome outside of home and work.
Laolu visited a couple of our stores in New York to spend time with baristas who are passionate about both what they do and the communities they serve. Each day, these experts apply creativity, knowledge and artistry to every handcrafted beverage they make.
“As an artist, you can be given the tools to create great work, but if you don’t have the passion those tools are useless, and the same is true with coffee,” Laolu said, “It takes time and dedication to craft and perfect any art form. Just because you have an espresso machine it doesn’t make you a barista.”
Laolu watched Starbucks baristas in action as they created beverage after beverage using our signature Starbucks® Espresso Roast, which is dramatically different from the coffee he grew up with.
“My memories from childhood are of my father drinking instant coffee, which is really common in Nigeria,” he said. “It’s hard to find good espresso and milk in Nigeria so lattes were such a luxury, one that it took me moving to Brooklyn to be able to appreciate.”
It didn’t take Laolu long to make everything his canvas at Starbucks. He created stunning artwork on our barista aprons and brought a custom mural to life before our eyes. Then he created a rich visual narrative style for our Starbucks® Espresso Roast packaging, telling of the story of Starbucks as Orisun, a Yoruba word meaning “source.” His intent was to make people feel happy, joyful and connected — like family.
“At the heart of the piece is the large mug of life with the rays stemming from it being the emotions of sharing that cup with someone. The different rays are also the lines of communication that connect us all. The music notes symbolize the different tasting ‘notes,’ and the masks represent the different people and communities that touch each bag of coffee, as well as the diversity of the Starbucks customers who will eventually enjoy the beverage. Then there’s the sun, without which we wouldn’t be able to grow coffee or exist. Just like the sun, coffee is an infinite source of life and energy,” said Laolu.
Like Laolu's art, coffee connects people and places every day. And as we've explored in our four Coffee Stories, the journey from origin to roasting to blending to connecting is an inspiring one. In this series alone, coffee has taken us to Sumatra, Seattle and New York with some of the most remarkable visual storytellers out there.
Now bring home a piece of that story Laolu's limited-edition packaging for Starbucks® Espresso Roast, also available as a ceramic double-wall tumbler. And visit us at any Starbucks around the world, any day of the week. We look forward to connecting with you.