This artist creates breathtakingly realistic sketches — and he's only 11 years old.

Meet the the 11-year-old Nigerian artist making jaws drop around the world.

In a makeshift art studio in an impoverished area of Lagos, Nigeria, Kareem Waris Olamilekan stands before an easel, sketching a face in charcoal. His eyes dart back and forth from a photograph to his canvas while his hands deftly recreate what he sees.

The finished product is stunning — a boy's face dripping with sweat, his eyes closed as he eats from a large spoon. It's Olamilekan's favorite drawing, which he calls "Daily Bread." He says it represents his family, who works hard before they put food in their mouths. "The sweat on it symbolizes hard work and struggling ... and the spoon symbolizes food."


It's one of many hyperrealistic drawings that have gained the young artist international attention.

To some, Olamilekan is the "Da Vinci of Nigeria."

Olamilekan began drawing at the age of 6 and works to perfect his skills at the Ayowole Academy of Arts in Lagos. The studio is modest — an open-air veranda that an artist converted into a space to teach drawing — but that doesn't seem to be hindering Olamilekan's progress.

Olamilekan says he gets artistic inspiration from his friends, family, and members of his community, drawing realistic portraits from real life models, photographs, and illustrations. He is already working as a professional artist.

His art teacher has called him "the Da Vinci of Nigeria," though Olamilekan says his artistic idols are Michelangelo and Nigerian artist Arinze Stanley, who draws incredibly hyperrealistic portraits.

@waspa_art Throwback on this one did you remember.....a student at the academy

A post shared by Ayowole arts (@ayowoleacademyofarts) on

He wowed French president Emmanuel Macron by drawing his portrait in two hours.

Macron visited Fela Kuti's New Africa Shrine, an open-air entertainment center in Lagos, in early July 2018. In the hours leading up to meeting him, Olamilekan sketched a portrait to give to the president. Watch him at work:

Macron was moved by the gift. He shared a short video of their meeting on Twitter, writing, "Very touched, congratulations to this young boy!"

Such rare young talent leads to questions: Are artists born or made? What defines a prodigy? Does it matter?

Visual art has a way of moving people as it captures elements of the human experience, and seeing someone so young be so adept prompts us to ponder the nature of art, talent, genius, and more. It's not hard to see why Olamilekan is gaining the world's attention — he and his work are awe-inspiring.

Am back on instagram. Pencil art #hyperrealism #waspa ...It's in me

A post shared by kareem waris (@waspa_art) on

He's worked hard to perfect his skills, but Olamilekan clearly has significant innate ability. We can ask why that is and what makes him different from others his age, but such questions never have straightforward answers.

Perhaps it's enough just to enjoy and appreciate his gifts, bask in the mystery and wonder of it all, and look forward to whatever comes next from this young talent.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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