Abi Salami can’t remember life without art. As a child, she recalls being in love with crayons and markers. After receiving her first set of watercolors, she ventured into copying cartoons to express her creativity. By school age, she often found her passion while doodling notes, drawing in textbooks and occasionally getting in trouble with teachers in the classroom.
It’s simply as if “I came out of the womb with a paintbrush,” Salami says. Salami is Nigerian and hails from the Yoruba people of the southwestern region. She was 10 years old when her family moved to the United States, arriving in Atlanta, Georgia, and later Canada, before settling in Allen, Texas, in 2001.
Following in her father’s financial footsteps, she graduated from the University of Texas McCombs School of Business and later received a master’s degree in professional accounting. The oldest of three children with finance degrees, she is the only “creative” in the family. After a decade in accounting, she decided to pursue her passion and love of art, a journey she calls “inevitable.”
Self-taught, Salami describes her style of art as a combination of surrealism, self-awareness and womanism. In March 2019, she created “Very Stable Genius,” her first piece of substantial art. The painting depicts a woman standing inside a metal box trying to pick it up. She portrays the image as an impossible task to take on. It reminds her of the situation she was facing after leaving the financial industry without health insurance. Dealing with depression, anxiety and lack of medication, she was simply trying to lift herself up.
Today, the painting symbolizes gratitude and a huge win for Salami; she has conquered that “hole.” She hopes to never sell the piece. When asked why it’s currently on exhibition, Salami jokingly says, “I am an artist, not a collector of my own art.”
Salami was destined to create. During her days in finance, she made art on the side. She recalls waking up and doing art before going to work and sometimes calling in sick because the creative juices were in motion. “There were times I would paint feverishly in one day,” she says.
The artist describes her work as cheeky, feminine and smart. She believes her purpose is to share her story and connect with other people. Salami is proud of embracing a distinctive style and wants to be instantly recognizable, but never predictable.
This year, she has participated in four exhibitions, including a solo exhibition with the ArtCentre of Plano. Salami’s passion for Black art is steeped in the idea that Black history has been erased and suppressed. She hopes the works of art she and others create will be embraced a hundred years later, and children will see it as a norm versus a rarity.
“Little kids can see images of themselves. They will grow up thinking it has always been this way,” she says. “And they will grow up feeling that you are seen and not just watched.”
In just four years, Salami has reached an uncanny level of success. She attributes this to hard work and passion. “I am always pushing myself so far and always have to be ready,” she says. To make sure she doesn’t become comfortable or stagnate, Salami doesn’t use themes in her paintings. She instead chooses to be more deliberate. “I want people to feel shocked upon first glance. These are all of the things that are going on in my mind.”
Now, Salami feels she is just getting started and wakes up every day thinking about work. Her artistic mind is nonstop; often her pieces come to her as dreams through signaling or messaging from ancestral channeling. She doesn’t understand how it formulates; however, she is driven to create it.
Utilizing an iPad, Salami designs the image; afterward, using flat paint, she creates the painting on canvas with no more than three colors consisting of a base, highlight and shadow color. Using a minimalist approach inspired by artist Milka Favre, she feels like
she has found her method. Salami’s advice to those interested in her artwork for the first
time? If it’s “burning in your chest,” reach out to her. You don’t have to know what it’s about as long as you love it.
Salami believes that Collin County would benefit from an arts and design district. She envisions affordable studio space for artists similar to that in Deep Ellum: a location for creatives to converge and for people to encounter artists, diverse art and music.
In case you missed it, check out Local Profile's feature on collecting Black art.