It can be difficult to navigate one’s sense of self, but one Dallas-based artist has learned to express her experience as a woman, African-American and human being through her paintbrush. Abi Salami may work in investor relations, but the Nigerian-American artist has a story to tell beyond numbers. With a style influenced by her Nigerian heritage and by the works of legendary Surrealist artists —such as Dali and Kahlo —Salami devotes her free time to creating portraits and abstract pieces that have both a personal and universal story to tell.

Salami, 31, was born in Nigeria, where she lived for 10 years before moving to many different places. She has now been settled in Dallas for 16 years, but her heritage remains a part of her work.

“Being Nigerian is very much a part of who I am. I try to work it into my art as much as I can,” said Salami. “Lots of things (in my art) relate to being from Africa and living in the US.”

An example of how her heritage plays in her work is apparent in one of her recent pieces, titled “Don’t Let the Shrinkage Fool You,” which Salami said received a very positive response from the African-American community. The painting depicts a girl pulling on a piece of her Afro to reveal long, curly hair, which women in tribal gowns stand on while a crown hovers over their heads. Salami said that this piece depicts how black hair is unique and beautiful, with a message of instilling value in the viewer. Other paintings preach messages such as self-acceptance and sisterhood.

Recently Salami sold a piece titled “Street Graffiti Gele” to the manager of Texas gospel singer Yolanda Adams on behalf of the African-American singer. Born in Houston, Adams is a well-known gospel singer who graduated from Texas Southern University and has since shared her music all over Texas.

The sold work symbolizes the poise of women, with the term “gele” being the Nigerian word for headdress. The painting features a woman in a headdress standing against a background of criss-crossed and chaotic colors and patterns. Salami explained that the background colors painted in disarray are symbolic for the chaos that is life. The woman in the African headdress remains poised in the midst of this.

“It is symbolic of what we go through in life as women,” said Salami. “Whether it be work, love, children, family, friends, stress —put on your proverbial headdress and remain poised and calm despite all that is going on.”

Like many artists, Salami said her style is constantly evolving. Her pieces are all acrylic, with the colors working together in harmony so that one does not scream louder than the other, according to the artist.

Her website describes her work as “simulating contemporary, vibrant and modern art with deep cultural and African roots.” Salami is fond of bright, vivid colors that are used to elicit emotions from her audience.

Overall, Salami hopes her work inspires others to connect to and appreciate art, as well as understand her and her experiences better. Though her work expresses the realities and wonders of her heritage and gender, it also tells the story of who she is as an individual and human being.

To check out more of Salami’s work, visit Original pieces, prints and greeting cards are all available for purchase.