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.

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
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