Text by Oluchukwu Nwabuikwu
We all know the working man. We’ve all been him. We all, are him.
9-5, but it’s actually 6-9, because you have to wake up and leave early because of traffic, and then that same traffic makes sure you get home late. The Hustle. The Grind. The Promise. The promise of wealth and riches and stability if you put in the work, and strive, and strive.
Just one more shift, one more document, one more email, one more job. One becomes two, then three, then four. The grind grinds you out till your enthusiasm is nothing but sweat and frustration and a drinking problem – your hopes drowning in the liquid of choice.
They say the working man likes to party, but they don’t talk about how each dance move is an attempt to recapture the joy capitalism has taken from him. Every single shot of tequila is a grasp at hope.
The strain of capitalism is now the problem of the youth as they slip into full adulthood.
These thoughts and many more permeate Layeni Kamal’s mind on his new
project titled “Office Man”, a visual satire about a young man going through an
existential crisis as a result of his subjugation to capitalism, consumerism and societal
The collection was inspired by his personal experience as well as that of his friends.
Observing their lives, he began to notice the different ways in which work culture,
especially in Nigeria, starts to eat away from the quality of life and pushes you to vice:
“Like, just to be able to keep up with a 9-5 people really just do different things that are
harmful to them in the long run. At the same time, you can’t really escape it cause in
the world we live in today you just have to go along with capitalism. It’s really a big mind fuck. That’s kinda where the whole idea started from.”
As humans, we are all very different, and this manifests in various ways, including our
response to work and work culture. It would be a lie to ignore the fact that some thrive
in the fast-paced, do-or-die, eat-or-be-eaten environment. But there’s a reason the 1% is
For Kamal, the way work takes up space in the average man’s life is unhealthy – and this
collection bemoans the dearth of regular activities such as fostering community and
enjoying nature’s gifts:
“Capitalism and work culture blind us from what’s real in life. It’s like being on a
hamster wheel – capitalism puts the cheese in front of you and starts the rat race. The
average person doesn’t wake up and just appreciate the earth or nature, or even have
time to pursue knowledge of self. These are things that are important but most people
would consider them irrelevant and not worth even the slightest attention. It is
essentially a way to program people.”
Will the working man ever be free? I don’t know. He doesn’t either:
“I don’t know really. I think for the working man to be free, capitalism has to die and
that’s really not something I think is happening anytime…but I believe freedom is a state of mind. I know is attainable but it is only attainable if we pursue and strive for it. If the working man strives for freedom as hard as he does the biddings of capitalism, he’ll surely attain this state of mind.”
We all have to pitch in and contribute to this struggle. With this collection, Kamal hopes
to contribute to awareness. The images are haunting representations of pain, of
frustration and fear. Despite the general themes, Kamal understands that art is specific
to each person and thus, wants each viewer to find a personal connection when they
look at “Office Man.”
“Art is very spiritual mehnn… the message is different for each person and I hope that
this body of work spreads and resonates with people and they find their own meaning in it. For me this collection is a mirror – office man(the character) is an exaggerated product of our society. It was a kind of wake-up call that kind of just made me reflect on
capitalism and my place in that system. I have just developed a weird mindset about
money and just figuring out what I’m really chasing on my own hamster wheel”