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This Artist Turned A Messy Divorce Into A Lucrative Opportunity To Land Her Dream Job

Dunnie O blossomed and bossed up to take her life back.

BOSS UP

Just a few years ago, Dunnie Onasanya, affectionately known as Miss Dunnie O, had the perfect winning trio of a roster of amazing clients, a huge online following, and a relationship that was publicly among the coveted, sparking IG comments like "Bae goals." She and her ex launched a popular Los Angeles-based swimwear brand, leading to the further increase of her online following and widening the brand presence of the then mother of one and events producer. But things got messy when the couple separated and subsequently divorced, with details of the split playing out very publicly on social media.


After finalizing the divorce, taking a step back, and getting the support of family and friends, she decided to pursue a passion she'd had since childhood but had never really considered as a viable career choice. She's a Tuskegee University alumna and Delta Sigma Theta member who studied business administration and marketing before starting her path in entrepreneurship.

Today, she's an artist-in-residence at VisArts in Rockville, M.D., and she earns five figures and up for her pieces that reflect her faith and Nigerian heritage. She also recently celebrated the birth of her second daughter, with an internationally famous new bae (one whose identity we will be keeping on the hush hush as to respect our good sis's privacy.)

We caught up with the artist to talk about how she was able to overcome the hurt, heartache and public scrutiny of the past, totally reinvent herself to reclaim her life, and how other women can tap into pursuing their wildest dreams after divorce:

Image by Dunnie O

xoNecole: Any separation or divorce is tough, and it can be even more challenging for a successful businesswoman and mom whose 2018 separation played out online in front of tens of thousands of followers. What was it like for you going through that?

Dunnie O: Well, it was a very toxic situation. I feel like a lot of women will be able to relate in the sense that a lot of women stay in situations because they are trying to keep their families together, even though they probably know deep down inside this is not healthy. And sometimes it takes your friends or people closest to you at the time to help you navigate out of those types of situations. So, I'm grateful for the support system that I did have in L.A. [at the time] because they were able to help me get out of that situation and back to a safe and healthy environment for my daughter and myself.

Our wedding was all over the Internet, and you kind of feel that obligation to your followers or to your family. It's like, 'Oh my gosh, I don't want to let people down or make people upset.' But then are you actually living? That's what's most important. I think the biggest lesson that I learned out of that situation is that perception, you know, people are always going to talk.

"People are always going to have something to say, but at the end of the day, you need to be able to go to sleep at night with peace of mind, knowing that you've made the best decisions for your own wellness—for your mental health and physical health."

It's crazy because sometimes when you're in relationships, you know, things don't start off that way. It's usually a progressive build and there's some kind of breaking point or something to where the other person starts to make poor choices that are now affecting the entire household. And you can either choose to suffer in silence or break away and move on.

xoNecole: That's so true. We have to practice self-care and do what's best for our well-being. So, how did you transition from that and your work in branding, events and PR, to your current work as a full-time artist?

Dunnie O: Art is something I always loved as a child, but it was never something I actually thought I could pursue as a career. And when I came back home and everything, my mom's just like, 'Well, what are you going to do? You want to go back to school?' I was like, no, I really want to try painting. I didn't go to art school, but I just knew I at least wanted to give it a shot. I was like, OK, let me try this for a year and see how it goes. If it doesn't work, then I'll go back to school and maybe pursue something like healthcare, something more stable.

"I'm so blessed because God really allowed for me be fruitful in this endeavor. I started painting and then I just started sharing my work online, just from the platform I already had."

People reached out wanting to purchase my work, which was super encouraging to just keep going with it. Within my first year, I got invited to exhibit in Toronto as an international artist for a big festival out there. Then I got commissioned to do a few different projects in my area and in Canada, too. So, all of that first-year work was the perfect thing that I needed to actually apply to be a resident at an art gallery. I was attending a networking event with a friend and someone at the event told me [about VisArts]. Initially, it felt like, you know, impostor syndrome.

That's what I essentially had because I literally turned my application in the day before the deadline. About a month later, they sent me an email. They're like, "We would love to have you as an artist-in-resident at the gallery." It was a huge accomplishment—a testimony for me—just because it was something that I really wanted. I didn't go to art school, but, you know, it was a personal miracle in the sense that yeah, I got it.

It's amazing [because] as a result of being a studio artist there, I've been able to teach and host artists talks. Even in the pandemic I've had to work from home primarily, but I still have my studio space so I'm able to meet clients for pickups and remain plugged into the community that way. I'm really grateful to be where I am on my journey so far.

Image by Dunnie O

xoNecole: That's amazing. Now, shifting from one lifestyle and career to another can definitely have a major effect on one's finances. What has the journey been like for you in that regard, and how do you find opportunities that allow you to earn well as an artist?

Dunnie O: Well, it starts with putting your work out there and letting people know what's for sale. People need to know that you are offering a service or offering a product that they can readily purchase. I believe I've built a niche for myself in the sense that people now seek me out for custom paintings for their homes or their businesses. I [recently] put out a spring collection of paintings that people can purchase that are readily available to ship.

"I literally built my business around what I love to do, so it's not strenuous and I'm happy in the work that I do."

I have a request form on my site. People can request then it gives me information to generate a quote for them in terms of what it would cost for me to take on their project. I basically applied the same skill set as I would to produce an event. It's the same skills, and I tweaked a few things and made it to apply toward artistry.

So now, my starting prices for an original on the smaller end can start at $500 [per piece], and I've done projects at this point now, like one-offs, starting at $11,000 [each]. And I think the really cool thing about art is that, you know, it's a luxury buy, so it's something that people are also looking to as an investment. As my brand grows and as I continue to grow, so will the value of my work. Art collectors who decide to invest in the early or the potential trajectory of my [art career], the worth of my collection down the line, you know, is pretty substantial.

xoNecole: Yes, many art lovers would agree with that. And we see art value appreciating all the time. So, what have been the biggest lessons about yourself that you've learned overall in the transitions, both personally and career-wise?

Dunnie O: It was definitely challenging, but [it was about] owning my story and knowing that I cannot allow myself to be defined by other people, you know? If I allowed myself to be defined by my divorce [then] that's what I'd be, a 'divorced chick' the rest of my life, you know what I mean? But that's not going to be my story. That was one chapter, [and I'm now] moving along to the next.

"My artistry has been my therapy and brought about so much of my healing. Renewing my faith in God has helped me to start this new chapter of my life and fully transition into my career as a visual artist and muralist."

With consistent prayer, practicing unapologetic self-love, meditating, and affirming myself daily, I've been working consistently to grow spiritually so that I stay in alignment with my purpose and soul mission. As a result of staying in alignment I've learned how to protect my peace of mind. God has blessed the works of my hands with financial success, and I've established consistent income with my artistry and amazing clientele who truly value and appreciate all of the artwork that brings me so much joy to create.

For more of Dunnie O., follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Pablo Raya

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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TW: This article may contain mentions of suicide and self-harm.

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