Mikael Owunna makes a statement with traditional African prints, tattoos | Pittsburgh City Paper

Mikael Owunna makes statement with traditional African prints, tattoos

click to enlarge Mikael Owunna makes statement with traditional African prints, tattoos
CP Photo: Tereneh Idia
Mikael Owunna

Name: Mikael Owunna
Pronouns: he/him
Title(s): Director at Mikael Owunna Studios
Websites: mikaelowunnastore.com and instagram.com/mikaelowunna


How would you define your style?
I would define my style as contemporary/traditional African. I mix traditional African prints with contemporary Western cuts and tailoring, which reflect my own heritage as a Nigerian-American. I adorn myself with energetic amulets and tattoos that invoke African spiritual traditions and deities.

Who are your style inspirations?
My style inspirations are a bit eclectic, but I would say that Ikiré Jones, who worked on the Black Panther film, was one of my first inspirations, who I saw blending Western contemporary cuts with traditional African stylings. Today, I would say even more that I find inspiration and resonance with the style of artist Bisa Butler and her husband Johnny Butler. I also love the style of artist Lina Iris Viktor, who blends African-inspired prints with haute couture.

Do you have a favorite designer?
My favorite designer today is D’iyanu. I adore their seamless blend of contemporary cuts with African traditional prints, and the company was founded by a Nigerian-American woman, Addie Elabor. Their work is fantastic.

Although very different from what I typically wear, in terms of haute couture, I am consistently mind-blown by Iris Van Herpen, whose work is both ethereal and cosmic. 

You travel a lot for your art. Do you dress differently based on location?
I would say that my dress is pretty consistent; however, for exhibition openings, I have tended of late to wear custom-tailored suits. I then mix in a pop of the African traditional through my adornment, pocket squares, and the occasional bow tie rendered in African textiles.

I love what you’re wearing. One thing I noticed was how much the color changed from indoor to outdoor light. Tell me about your outfit.
This outfit is a custom piece that was designed for me in Nigeria. I love the color and particularly the short sleeves, which allow me to more prominently display my tattoos. The color also does change based on the lighting, with the deep navy blues popping into relief in brighter settings.

Do you have any gifts from someone that you wear often or every day?
Although I am not wearing it today, for formal occasions, I love to wear a watch that my dad gave to me.

Do you have a gift to yourself that you wear often?
Yes, I love buying myself crystal bracelets, rings, and necklaces as gifts to myself based on the energetic alignment of the sidereal lunar cycle. You can see me wearing these today.

click to enlarge Mikael Owunna makes statement with traditional African prints, tattoos
CP Photo: Tereneh Idia
Mikael Owunna

I love the serpent necklace. Tell me all about that!
Thank you! This necklace is a recent gift to myself. I have been spending time recently researching and learning about the Egyptian serpent deity, Uatchet. This piece was inspired by that figure.

You have busy summer lined up. What are you looking forward to getting into?
I have a number of shows up now and upcoming this month that I’m really excited about. Last Saturday, I sponsored a Juneteenth Black art celebration in Pittsburgh outside of PNC Park, with the Redd Studio, 1Hood Media, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The event was an incredible showcase that included free food, DJs, live music, and the work of 24 Black artists in the city. This month, I also have my work on view in London, Budapest, Rotterdam (upcoming at Het Nieuwe Institute), New York City (upcoming at NFT NYC), and at the Chautauqua Institution, all of which I’m really excited about!

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