Bold, dynamic, vibrant, Dawn Okoro’s artwork explores themes of self-reflexivity and identity. Graduating from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 2009, it was not until 2016 that Okoro decided to pursue an artistic career full time. Since emerging on the art scene, Okoro’s work has captivated viewers internationally and in 2020, Okoro even captured the attention of multinational company, PepsiCo, launching a Black Art Rising series with their daughter company LIFEWTR. In the wake of her growing success, we examine the reasons fuelling Okoro’s popularity and discover why less than 10 years into her career she has already been featured in Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar, Architectural Digest and more.
Born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, Okoro grew up in a small town. Turning to magazines for exposure to the wider cultural world, Okoro became fascinated with the diversity and dynamism of fashion photography and illustration, and this continues to influence her work to this day. Rendering figures in negative space, Okoro’s work pays homage to fashion through the dynamic poses of her sitters and the compositions of her works. Okoro also cites a plethora of other sources for her inspiration, including design, punk music, fine art photography and textiles, making her work as diversely influenced as it is personal.
Okoro’s Nigerian-American heritage is central to her art. Throughout her life, Okoro notes that she has struggled with her identity and art has helped her explore and overcome this. Born in Texas to an American mother and Nigerian father, Okoro’s father moved back to Nigeria when she was a baby, meaning that she grew up exclusively immersed in American culture. Reconnecting with her father in 2014, Okoro began to embrace her Nigerian heritage and consequently, themes of identity became paramount to her practice. Depicting African-American figures, often in traditional clothing, Okoro uses her artwork as ‘a tangible way to express herself’ and her identity.
Okoro is known for her figurative paintings, often depicting African American female figures that are partially obscured with metallic leaf or vibrant paint. Using sacred colours like gold or purple to partly cover her sitters, Okoro liberates her figures from the male gaze, whilst championing their sanctity through her considered choice of colour palette. Her work celebrates both the beauty of the female form as well as the inner strength of women, and in an industry that is dominated by men, both Okoro’s canvases and her career is something to be celebrated.
In an interview with The Curator’s Salon, Okoro notes that at the beginning of her artistic career she would ‘take a white model from the magazine and paint her as a black woman’, stating that she ‘was painting what [she] wanted to see’. In many ways, Okoro’s artwork can be seen as a call for revolution, with the artist physically depicting the change she wants to see in the world. With the artist reportedly stating that she feels a strong responsibility to ‘impact her environment and spark change with what [she puts] out’, Okoro’s work is much more than just paint on canvas.