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Yusuff Aina and fashion house Tokyo James for Milan Fashion Week

Over the weekend, Africa took over Milan Fashion week with the collaboration of emerging Nigerian artist Yusuff Aina (b. 1997) and Nigerian-British fashion designer Tokyo James' bespoke runway design and art installation for Tokyo James’ Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection. The artistic partnership between an African artist and designer, curated by Dolly Kola-Balogun (Founder Retro Africa), was a must-see for attendees during Milan Fashion Week.

Tokyo James and Yusuff Aina's artistic collaboration blossomed from mutual admiration, rooted in shared experiences. In this endeavour, James delves into the constraints and stereotypes faced by African artists, prompting viewers to broaden their understanding of designers and creatives from the continent, and challenging any preconceived notions.

a large-scale site-specific installation titled Domain Expansion
a large-scale site-specific installation titled Domain Expansion

For his inaugural project with a fashion house, Yusuff Aina unveiled a large-scale site-specific installation titled Domain Expansion, curated by Dolly Kola-Balogun, Founder of Retro Africa. Drawing inspiration from the theme of ‘expansion’ present throughout the latest Tokyo James collection, the work reflects the evolving phases of life, capabilities, and states of mind. Centred in the middle of the runway, Domain Expansion’s focal point, is a life-size sculptural figure from Aina’s ‘Eniyan’ series. ‘Eniyan’ is a recurring fictional character symbolising the oneness of humanity and embodying the mantra of resilience. Made of fiberglass, standing at over 6ft tall and rendered in white and gold, ‘Eniyan’ is captured at a pivotal moment moving from the familiar to the unknown represented by the characters perceived journey through a surrounding doorway structure made of wood and standing on a bed of granite stones.

(From left to right) Yvonne Orji, Tokyo James & Yusuff Aina | Courtesy of Retro Africa
(From left to right) Yvonne Orji, Tokyo James & Yusuff Aina | Courtesy of Retro Africa

Reflecting on the project, Aina commented: "Domain Expansion" is more than a physical movement; it's a mental, social, and spiritual journey. It challenges us to evolve beyond our known spaces, our ingrained ways of life, and our constrained beliefs. It is a concept Tokyo James and I resonate with, it was what brought about the start of our collaboration last year, with the intent to get viewers to contemplate their states of mind, whether they are bound by societal norms, political ideologies, or racial divisions.”

"Africa has always been an integral part of the global conversation, contributing immensely to the world's cultural and artistic landscape but never getting it’s praise," says Iniye James, the visionary behind Tokyo James. "This collection speaks of our heritage, a showcase of techniques, and a reminder that African designers and artistry are not confined to predetermined expectations."

Retro Africa Founder, Dolly Kola-Balogun, stated: “Through this artistic expression, Yusuff Aina and Tokyo James’ aim is to convey a message of strength, balance, and oneness. It's a call to align with ourselves and with nature, to find equilibrium in a world that often feels imbalanced. This is the essence of "Domain Expansion" – a testament to our collective ability to grow, adapt, and transform, transcending from a state of strife to a state of harmony and understanding.”


About Yusuff Àina

Yusuff Aina (b. 1997 in Nigeria) is a multidisciplinary artist who primarily works with acrylic and installation. From a young age, he has nurtured a passion for art and embraced creativity as an anchor point for navigating life. Aina's artistic practice delves into psychosocial realities, exploring themes such as alienation, trust, belonging, and their impact on the environment and the mind. Through his work, the artist constructs alternative spaces and identities, expanding the boundaries of a constantly evolving visual language.

Aina employs cartoon-like figures, motifs, and landscapes infused with fantastical elements as vehicles for storytelling. These patterns are known as 'ainasm,' ethereal cords that meander around 'eniyan,' a recurring fictional character symbolising the oneness of humanity and embodying the mantra of resilience. The term 'ainasm' derives from the artist's last name, Àina, which refers to a child born with the umbilical cord wrapped around their neck in Yorùbá tradition. 'Ènìyàn' translates to 'human being.'

For Aina, embracing the mythical and speculative realms represents a poetic quest to express personal and shared experiences while reexamining perspectives on desire, hope, and imagination. Within these alternate worlds born from his inquiry, there exists a profound sense of limitlessness and depth that Ènìyàn truly inhabits, facing myriad dilemmas that parallel those defining our present reality. Aina studied Fine Arts Education at the Federal College of Education, Akoka, graduating in 2018. In 2019, he participated in a group exhibition at the Nigerian Presidential Villa which was organised by Bayo Omoboriowo and curated by Retro Africa. In 2021, he was commissioned by Access Bank to create an interactive Ènìyàn booth at West Africa’s premier art fair ART X Lagos. He has also showcased his works at his solo exhibition in Lagos at Art Twenty One presented by Retro Africa and group exhibitions at the African Artists’ Foundation, Lagos; Vins Gallery, Taipei; Eligere Gallery, Seoul; Dida Gallery, Abidjan; Unit Gallery, London; Thinkspace Project, Los Angeles; Retro Africa, Abuja

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Yusuff Aina and fashion house Tokyo James for Milan Fashion Week

February 27, 2024

Art Report Africa

3 min read

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