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yinka ilori
Photograph: Adam Fussell

Yinka Ilori: ‘If we take away the independent brands and shops, then what is London about?’

The artist and designer who‘s brightening up our city on why the capital’s local places are so important

Chiara Wilkinson
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Chiara Wilkinson
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‘London has a willingness to be open to people, and to learn from differences,’ says artist Yinka Ilori, who was born and lives in the capital. ‘Every place in London has its own pocket of culture. You can go to Brick Lane and get your curry, or go to south [London] and get your jollof rice. These places are the fabric of communities. If we take away the independent brands and shops, then what is London about?’

For Ilori, a British-Nigerian artist known for splashing pops of colour across the grey metropolis, community is all about openness, collaboration and unity – an ethos that is very much reflected in his work.

Last year, Ilori won the accolade of ‘Social Saviour’ in Time Out’s Best of the City Awards for his work that literally brightens up our environment. Who better, then, to introduce the winners of our Love Local Awards, which are all about championing the city’s most loved independent businesses, and are voted for by Londoners? These are the kinds of places helping local communities thrive.

Community is at the heart of everything Ilori does. ‘The biggest thing for me is seeing kids and families play in those places [where my work is] and creating memories,’ he says. ‘I always felt empowered as a kid, so the work I try to do now is about empowerment, love, community and togetherness.’

His art isn’t hidden in galleries, it’s part of the city. ‘[Art and] design should be for everyone,’ Ilori says. ‘People who can’t access galleries should be able to experience an installation or mural in a public space that might make them feel a certain way.’

Ilori’s public artworks – from a pastel-hued basketball court in Canary Wharf to a rainbow tunnel in Wandsworth – will make you stop and smile. You’ll want to take a picture, tell a friend, or just pause and think. They revisualise the city in slathers of paint and remind you what’s so special about a particular local area in the first place.

Growing up on an estate in Islington, Ilori spent a lot of time going to Chapel Market and Dalston’s Ridley Road to buy fruit and veg with his parents. ‘Markets were always where I felt most comfortable,’ he says. ‘They were such inclusive spaces. I think that’s the beauty of growing up in a multicultural environment. You can’t buy that experience.’

See more of Yinka Ilori’s work at shop.yinkailori.com

Find out the winners of Time Out London’s 2021 Love Local Awards.

Discover which London street changed Yinka Ilori’s life.

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