You are known as a triple threat. Which of your three featured talents(artist, singer and writer) do you love the most and why?
I like them all for different reasons. Creativity is a beautiful thing in whatever form it presents itself. One of the names of GOD is the Creator, so to work in a creative space at any level is deeply gratifying. I love the solitary internal conversation at the heart of the visual arts. I love the challenge of confronting the page with only my imagination and a facility for language. The writer wages war with language as he or she attempts to wrestle something new from this ancient modality of expression that opens a window into the human experience. I also love the collaborative nature of acting. Working with other talented performers who inspire me to elevate my game is such a gift.
How did you begin your acting career?
My father will tell you without the slightest bit of irony, that I have been acting a fool since I was a kid. Lucky for me, I figured out how to get paid for it. I have been performing since I was a kid, school plays, impromptu gigs for my family as the unofficial sixth member of the Jackson 5. When I was in grad school, I answered an ad for an audition for The Meeting, a powerful play about an imagined meeting between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. I was cast as Malcolm and lucky for me, the play got good reviews. From there, I secured an agent and the grind began. I’ve been fortunate that I have had some success.
Share with us about your journey as a visual artist.
Man, the pencil and the paint brush saved my life. That’s not hyperbole. There were so many experiences that could have led me down another path but that paint brush kept me away from some of the pitfalls that tripped up some of my childhood friends. I was fortunate that I had a creative mother who recognized my talent and fed it with a steady supply of museum visits and art materials that kept me off the streets for the most part. I went to three different arts high schools in three different states.
That exposure to a diverse cohort of creatives was a fascinating experience. Those early years shaped my path towards college and graduate school, and I’m still hooked today. The journey is what is endlessly rewarding. The artist is the real gangsta of the professional class. You have to have the courage and the perseverance to keep going even and especially when others think your dreams are crazy. The thing is, you have to know in your core, that this is yours. Once you know that, the naysayers diminish in importance. They only become prophetic if you make them so.
What inspired/motivated you to begin writing your first book?
My mother. She was this creative, dynamic, brilliant woman who was also deeply troubled. Her life story has enough raw material for several books. When she was transitioning I told her that I would tell her story. I was cleaning out her apartment after she died and I found a box full of her journal entries and books she had begun to write, all about her life. That material became the initial research for the book.
What does success look like to you?
Success for me is first and foremost, a life of service where the work that I do is a net gain for the forward progress of humanity. That work ideally, provides spiritual and material rewards, for myself, my family and my community.
What has been the most difficult obstacle you had to overcome?
I’m an abuse survivor and nothing in my life has been as challenging as working through that. The great Sufi mystic Rumi says that the wound is the opening that lets the light in. There is a kind of restoration that comes at the edge of destruction, and empathy is often most deeply rooted in those that have suffered.
Where would you like to see your career in the next five years?
I’m looking forward to sharing my multidisciplinary practice with the world. The work has that kind of transformative potential. I’m ready.
Masud Ashley Olufani is an Atlanta based actor, mixed media artist, and writer whose studio practice is rooted in the discipline of sculpture. He is a graduate of Morehouse College, and The Savannah College of Art and Design where he earned an M.F.A. in sculpture in 2013. Masud has exhibited his work in group and solo shows nationally and internationally. The artist has completed residencies at The Vermont Studio Center; The Hambidge Center for Arts and Sciences; and Creative Currents in Portobello, Panama. He is a 2017 Southern Arts Prize State Fellow; a recipient of a 2015 and 2018 Idea Capital Grant; a Southwest Airlines Art and Social Engagement grant; and a recipient of 2015-16’ MOCA GA Working Artist Project Grant.
He is the creative director of Blocked: A Global Healing Project, an multimedia performance created to memorialize spaces marked by the trauma of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As an actor, he had a reoccurring role on the BET series The Quad, and has appeared in numerous television shows including Greenleaf; Being Mary Jane, Devious Maids, Satisfaction, and, Nashville.
He is a featured actor in the film biopic All Eyez on Me. He was the co-host of the PBS news based investigative journalism show Retroreport, which premiered nationally in the fall of 2019. As a writer, Masud has published articles for Burnaway; Baha’i Teachings; and is a featured contributor for the Jacob Lawrence Struggle Series catalog, produced to coincide with a major exhibition of the Struggle Series paintings.