Agusto recalls her first flirtations with fantasy and the surreal in literary and cinematic works.
"I remember when I first read The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola. I was about thirteen-years old and reading a stream of Nigerian literature, mostly Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so my mind wasn't prepared for what I stumbled on in The Palm-Wine Drinkard. The story started off normal, a simple story in our reality that soon began to tumble further and further into fantasy and the surreal. I instantly fell in love with this book and it quickly became a favourite of mine.
As an analytical reader, I was able to draw connections between this book and another story wildly popular for tumbling (quite literally) out of reality and into the surreal: Alice In Wonderland."
Coincidentally, while Agusto was falling in love with fantasy, bold colour palettes and the idea of Wonderland, the musician Janelle Monáe was making waves with her label Wondaland Records and she quickly became the most influential musical figure in Agusto's life, both lyrically and in terms of performance.
"Janelle Monáe's music came into my life when I was already not always performing femininity the way people expected and was questioning many of the ideologies I had inherited from family and the society around me, and just from the way she carried and expressed herself, I became more and more confident in who I was growing into. I was so obsessed with her music that one time, I convinced my English Literature teacher to let us analyse the lyrics of Q.U.E.E.N. in class. I eventually saw Janelle in concert in 2018 and I momentarily teared up. She was that influential in my development as an artist and as a person."
The practice of world-building is by no means new. Agusto sees it in literature, film, video games and even music videos.
"I wanted to be a music video director for the longest time. I was excited by the prospect of getting to create a new world for each new work. Music videos are still hugely influential for me; I keep a list of them I repeatedly go through when I need some inspiration. World-building in music videos is often akin to branding and creating a specific visual language that is sustained throughout an act's music, videos and performances for a particular body of work. I'm talking about LSD (a collaborative album between Labrinth, Sia and Diplo), Sia as a solo act, of course Janelle Monáe, Aminé, Ibeyi, etcetera. However, my two favourite musical acts that do this: Beyoncé and Travis Scott."
"It is important for me to have very contemporary influences as well as historical references. It makes for the richest way of evoking what is like to exist right now in this point in history."
On the influence of the Sci-Fi genre.
"Science Fiction is a sub-category of Fantasy often powered by technological development and as much as I love a magical, mind-boggling story, I also love how Sci-Fi rationalises itself and logically builds to the unrealistic, unattainable or fantastical. My main point of entry into the Sci-Fi genre is the Marvel Cinematic Universe where magic and science, mythology and history are explained as being one and the same. I am particularly big fan of the MCU because of the sheer scale and intricacy of its storytelling twenty-five films in.
I had already created Within by the time WandaVision came out, but it rather hits the nail on the head in terms of the main character creating a pocket dimension tailored to her desires the way I have with Within."
On the influence of video games.
"One cannot speak of fantasy and not speak of escapism. I've always known all too well about escapism and that's because as much I am a fan of visual art, literature and dance, I am also a big fan of video games.
I'm the last child of five children and all my siblings are significantly older than me so I was pretty young when I started playing video games with them. I was probably about five years old when I started playing The Sims and I have been hooked ever since. It is a life situation game where players are this omnipresent figure controlling the lives of the sims and that is clearly very direct inspiration for me creating my own world Within. In a sense, I essentially have at least seventeen years of experience in world-building. I even have an Instagram account dedicated to sharing the architecture that I design in the game.
I also can't look at certain works in my oeuvre and not instantly see Little Big Planet, another video game I played a lot in my teenage years. My compositions are sometimes heavily inspired of the traditional layout of a video game where it is simply an avatar moving through a fictional plane which is present in games I played like Little Big Planet, Super Mario Bros, and Tomb Raider.
I was mostly playing The Sims and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is also when I first started building Within, and I can't help but see the connections in terms of world-building and escapism."
On world-builders and storytellers in visual art.