Heshimu Akin-Yemi painting the bump of Kelly-Ann Holder. (Picture by Shaka Mayers.)
THE ADAGE GOES, “behind every successful man is a great woman” and this is the case of Heshimu Akin-Yemi, a thriving artist who has the support of a strong, virtuous woman.
You see, his girlfriend Nikele Davis is an alpha. She has the qualities of a strong leader and although the free-spirited artist is the complete opposite, his ability to be unconstrained by conventions and her business drive make them a good match.
The dynamic pair have found a unique formula to act as a single entity even when they don’t see eye to eye, and this strategy has always helped them to grow Heshimu’s art business. Recently, EASY magazine met the couple and they discussed how the blossoming of their relationship developed art by Akin-Yemi.
For the past three years Heshimu was the essence of Mother Nature on the bellies of soon-to-be mothers. His bump art and moulds are in demand by women before they give birth. The man of many talents also sculpts, does illustrations, beaded jewellery, graphic design, street art, home décor and is a needleworker and signer. All this despite no formal training except a few vocational programmes.
“Art was always an obsession of mine,” said Heshimu. “My father [Akyem-I Ramsay] was a well rounded artist, I am convinced creating art was his super power and I grew up watching him.
“But in my time I don’t think some teachers used to push art enough.”
As a true artist Heshimu was a rebel during secondary school.
“I would draw up the desks, chalkboard and do graffiti on the wall. . .
“[The teachers] didn’t understand the energy of an artist and thought academia better than creativity.”
Heshimu dropped out of school at 15 years old and his parents were upset but he did a few odd jobs before he settled down and committed to his obsession.
“I was young and wild and living the street life but art was always a part of me.
“I drew inspiration from my street life and it was an important element in my life and along the way I concentrated on it more than art as a business.
“Although I would come home and practise my skills, my street life occupied most of my time until my future wife and manager helped me progress.”
Girlfriend Nikele interjected. “Let me cut this one,” she exclaimed in laughter, “I realised he had potential but I didn’t want no man with just potential and no ambition.
“When I realised his potential and interest in me I told him to come and see me and walk with a book.
“He told me he could do many types of art and he needed help being focused. I knew art polymaths have issues concentrating because today they may feel like sculpting and tomorrow they may feel like painting; so I told him to come to me to see how serious he was about his work. I wasn’t interested in anybody wasting my time.”
Heshimu made sure he visited Nikele and he showed her how determined he was to develop his talent into a business. In no time the two started working together and soon Nikele couldn’t help but to fall for the unconventional artist.
“I didn’t help him to be in a relationship but I wanted him to grow. He is very laid-back and he is tired during the day, which is why the studio opens at 7 p .m. until the following morning.
“That is why he had to drop out of school because he was up all night drawing with a small lamp and a pencil and when he was told he would mash up his eyes and back he kept on drawing.
“But that is how he is even to this day. If left in the hands of anyone else he would be misunderstood because he does not function like the average person.
“He may not be acceptable in a school or work setting because of his unorthodox ways when everyone wants to limit you to ‘normal’ behaviour.”
However, Heshimu said Nikele fell for his linguistic skills whether she admits it or not. He told EASY that he carefully used his writing method to win her heart.
“I am a poet, you see, and I used my techniques.”
Nevertheless, Nikele is impressed with how dedicated her partner is. “Some people may see this as something new but he was doing this for years. He lives and breathes art.
“His first introduction to art was a day when his father left a piece of canvas at home. When he came back he was surprised to see Hesh painting; that is why the logo of Art by Akin-Yemi is a picture of a little boy painting. From that day his father gave him his own paints and brush and he was only three years old.”
Just like Heshimu, Nikele spent some of her time on the streets. She credited her street life with bringing out the boss in her.
“I developed my drive from being on the sidewalk,” she said.
“And that is what I admired about her,” said Heshimu interrupting. “She has her own hair business named Mocha Hair Designs and she has years experience of managing and keeping her salon up to standard.
“I just think black people have so much potential and I always try my best to help my brothers and sisters,” stated Nikele.
“Most of our problems start with us because we always look outside for assistance. Hesh and I have everything we need and we are only one couple. Imagine, if other couples thought like us that would help us as a people move forward.”
Nikele continued to speak about how the dynamics of relationships hamper black people from progression.
“Women always want to segregate themselves and men always feel like they are extra special; they are not coming together to create magic.
“Everybody independent instead of interdependent and if we didn’t learn to be this way he would not have been able to reach this level.”
Heshimu said it is difficult to reach this point with one’s partner and that is why growing as individuals, friends and lovers is vital.
“We have a lot of bacchanal at times; it is just that she is good at business and I at art.
“At first I felt as though she was trying to control me and my thing but now I try to be more mature and listen to her point of view to understand the sense she is making,” said Heshimu.
“But I was seeing it as ‘My gosh, it is time this thing evolve’,” said Nikele.
“I told him if he waited around he would lose it and we had a lot of clashing. Even to name his business was an issue at first. When he was doing his art on a smaller scale he used to go by the name Illz Inc.”
“I used to airbrush T-shirts and that was the name of that gear,” said Heshimu. “I was a wildling and I wasn’t studying none of those girly things and plus I thought my name sounded nerdy.
“To me I was a street nerd and knowing about the ghetto life I didn’t want to be embarrassed by nothing so.”
However, Nikele taught Heshimu the importance of imagery and branding and told him his name was unique and special. Heshimu is an African name meaning Warrior, while Akin-Yemi means fear none but the Almighty.