The Power of Storytelling: Introducing our first ever guest editor Yinka Ilori

This week we’re handing the reins of It’s Nice That over to artist Yinka Ilori for an exploration of the power of storytelling within creativity. Whether it’s conversational, written down, designed, illustrated, played or performed, we each have a story to tell and celebrate. This week we’ll be doing exactly that.


I believe everyone has a story to tell. Having grown up in London, and in north London in particular, I’ve continually been surrounded by so many different types of people, from different backgrounds and cultures. As a result, I’ve always felt it’s important to understand where we’re from, what stories we have to tell, and the different stories that make up an individual’s character.

My love of, and need for, storytelling stems from my parents. They’re obsessed with stories, whether it’s Nigerian folklore or their own tales from growing up there, work experiences or their journey to the UK. Retelling these personal narratives is my parents’ way of communicating and, for me, it became a way to stretch out their heritage, legacy and, of course, their story. There are so many stories of West Africa and many narratives of what it means to be Black and British. When communicated through art and design, I believe these stories can be celebrated in new ways and can hold a new power.

When someone tells you a story, whether it’s their own or the account of another, it’s a new way of seeing the individual. I’ve seen how storytelling can recreate memories or allow us to remember significant moments. I’ve seen eyes light up when these stories are remembered, the way a smile can change as they’re told. Although I could see this power first hand, growing up I wasn’t able to harness it myself. I wasn’t given the opportunity to tell my story of being a young Black, British-Nigerian living in London. I wasn’t able to explore what that meant for me, or the story that I wanted to tell.

And so this week, It’s Nice That will be exploring the multifaceted force that is storytelling. The series will feature several articles – some inspired by my own narrative-driven works, some the stories I’ve wished to hear retold by creatives I admire – and each piece will highlight an individual’s thoughts through the combined power of creativity and storytelling.


Yinka Ilori (Photograph by Carlos Jimenez)

“My love of, and need for, storytelling stems from my parents.”

Yinka Ilori

We’ll start the week with a piece inspired by the importance of everyday storytelling and how it holds endless possibilities for inspiration. To consider this on a local level, Priya Khanchandani, a writer, curator and head of curatorial at The Design Museum, makes a case for the power of creativity in community spaces, in light of the Conservative government’s recent proposed cuts to arts education. The artwork created to illustrate the piece is by the artists of tomorrow, who deserve this support, made through workshops held at St Jude’s Primary School in south London with a mix of pupils from year one to year six.

We’ll then be joined by one of my very favourite artists, Yinka Shonibare, for a conversation on the power of storytelling in art practices, focussing on identity and heritage including a portrait of us both by artist, Olivia Twist. More personal pieces will then be told through the lens of creative details. Writer Jareh Das has penned a piece on the way we attach memories to the objects we use in the kitchen, via an essay exploring her relationship to the Evwere, a Nigerian clay pot, while textile designer Yemi Awosile joins us to discuss the storytelling embedded in West African print design.

“I’ve seen how storytelling can recreate memories or allow us to remember significant moments.”

Yinka Ilori

“Art and design are powerful tools that can change someone’s life or opinion, and inspire people around the world.”

Yinka Ilori

Storytelling in my own work has also been interpreted by poet and director Julianknxx, who has reimagined my project If Chairs Could Talk, a series of chairs based on individual characters I grew up with. This project was a turning point in my career, and Julian’s words, inspired by these narratives, showcase the evolving interpretations of an individual’s story. Finally, the stories of individuals across the globe will then be explored in further mediums. Inspired by Inua Ellams’ play Barber Shop Chronicles, which shares stories told in barbershops in Johannesburg, Harare, Lagos, Accra and London, we have interpreted an extract (cut from the original play) and turned it into a graphic novel by illustrator Hannah Buckman. Then, to end the week we’ll be joined by a group of creatives curating playlists on the theme of storytelling.

I hope those of you who join us this week will walk away, firstly, inspired, and secondly, confident and encouraged to tell your own story. Art and design are powerful tools that can change someone’s life or opinion, and inspire people around the world. No matter our medium, location or age, we should each have the space to express our stories. I hope the pieces we’ve put together this week highlight that no part of one’s journey should be dismissed or erased but instead embraced, shared and most of all celebrated.

The Power of Storytelling with Yinka Ilori

This story along with many others are part of a guest edit of It’s Nice That by the artist, Yinka Ilori. To read further pieces from Yinka’s curation click on the link below.

Read the full series

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Yinka Ilori (Photograph by Carlos Jimenez)

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About the Author

Yinka Ilori

Yinka Ilori MBE is a London-based multidisciplinary artist working across furniture design, architecture and homeware as part of a broad artistic practice. Establishing his practice in 2011, much of Yinka’s work explores his British-Nigerian heritage through creative storytelling. In June of 2021, he joined us as our first ever guest editor.

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