These photo portraits might look like designs for the next Star Wars film, but they are actually the vision of Ivorian artist and graphic designer Eric Adé Tanauh.
Going by the pseudonym Rickii Ly, Tanauh blends the features of human beings and aliens to create “Humaliens,” otherworldly characters that are defined by their exaggerated long necks and arms.
With a degree in graphic design, Tanauh has been working for four years as the art director at Blue Lions, an advertising agency in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city. Outside work though, he explores his artistic ambitions. “That’s what keeps me creative,” he said.
Tanauh’s work is created through photographs of models that he manipulates and edits using Photoshop. As he never studied photography formally, most of his education about the discipline came through simple YouTube tutorials.
“Djeneba – Portrait,” by Eric Adé Tanauh. Credit: Eric Ade Tanauh
Of his pseudonym, Tanauh says Rickii comes from a nickname he had in school, whilst Ly is a Senegalese name that he likes. “I think Rickii Ly is different from Eric. He is my creative alter ego. With this, I get into the skin of this character, I am much more inspired.”
Tanauh says that when he started making art that was reminiscent of Afrofuturist themes he didn’t know that the style had a name. It was only after stumbling across other Afrofuturist artists on the internet that he discovered the wider art movement.
“I saw some artists who were doing the same kind of thing on their Instagram, and they had added the hashtag afrofuturism,” he explained. “I clicked and discovered a community of artists. I was amazed and got a boost of inspiration. I was now sure that it was what I wanted to do.”
“A much more evolved extension of our species”
The term Humaliens came from an Instagram poet that Tanauh greatly admires. Writer Rune Lazuli coined the term Humaliens (Half Human, Half Cosmos) to define the physical and spiritual duality of human beings. Tanauh has adapted Lazuli’s definition to fit his stylistic sensibilities; he describes his Humaliens as a more evolved version of humans, which live in a nearby galaxy. “I have been documenting the daily life of their time on Earth for several years through imagery,” he said.
Tanauh has also taken inspiration from other artists, notably British photographer Juno Calypso and American filmmaker Wes Anderson, embracing the director’s signature use of symmetry in his work. “They each have their own worlds, artistic direction and individuality,” Tanauh said of the two. “I try to get as much inspiration as possible from what they do.”
His work predominantly features women as models for his Humaliens. “The African woman is a symbol of life, kindness, grace and beauty,” he said. “I think women are more diverse than men.
“With women we can explore many possibilities with the clothes, with the hair, with the makeup. It is it’s my principal artistic choice.”
Women are usually the models for Tanauh’s Humaliens. Credit: Eric Ade Tanauh
Tanauh hasn’t yet had a solo exhibition, but is preparing for his first in Abidjan in 2023. He was part of an exhibition at the 2019 Yale Africa Film Festival and his work was featured alongside other artists at the Naughton Gallery in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2021. He also has ambitions of producing an animated film featuring the Humaliens.
Ultimately, Tanauh wants to pursue his art full time and hopes to share his vision with more people. “I still have lots of stories to share. Art is clay, you shape it in a way that corresponds with your vision” he said.
“I don’t have a specific goal; I just want to share my artistic vision with the world. I want it to live.”