The Nation Feature of The Way We Were

Udemma Chukwuma, The Nation, March 11, 2020

Seventeen oil and acrylic paintings by contemporary artist, Oluwole Omofemi, are on display in London, in his ongoing solo art exhibition titled The Way We Were.

The works, on display at Signature Art Gallery in London, depict women on Afro hairdo and some bald women, the-twin signature style of the artist. The exhibition which opened on 12 March, is a splendour of African beauty. Omofemi’s works depict everyday occurrences and seek to correct social vices, vast spreading in society.

“Afro hairdo is a symbol of black beauty and a neglected hair fashion of African women,” he explained, “Afro dates back to the 1950s and 60s, when African women wore their natural hair gorgeously. The kinky hair celebrates the culture and uniqueness of the black race.”

The Way We Were, is a celebration of Afrocentric pride, as well as a reflection on the post-colonial era. The British artist Claudette Johnson has talked of the ‘fiction of blackness’ that colonialism left in its wake; and of the need for people to assert their identity through their own stories. Omofemi embraces this idea, focusing on the importance of hair amongst Black communities.

In Omofemi’s work, the hair stands as a metaphor for freedom — indeed sometimes, it literally spills over the edge of the canvas, as with Root II; while in others, such as Omonalisa, it dominates the composition, becoming larger than the subject itself. Rendered in oil and acrylic, these paintings sometimes have simple primary coloured backgrounds, which lend them a vivid pop art sensibility.  In others, a darker mood is created, referencing the works of the old masters.

While it has always been a signifier of status and identity, Omofemi looks back to recent history, to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, and the natural hair movement. This encouraged black people to eschew European styles for Afros.

Some of the works on view are Omoge, Omonalisa, Ariyike Golden Tears, Root I and Omonalisa II.

Oluwole Omofemi (born 1988) is an international artist who hails from Edo South in Nigeria. He was born in Ibadan, where his artistic talent sprang to life and received the nourishment of older artists. He had his Ordinary National Diploma (OND) and Higher National Diploma (HND) in Fine Art at The Polytechnic of Ibadan. He has participated in many group exhibitions both locally and internationally and two solo exhibitions.

He shared his early life with his grandpa, who was a major influence on him and wanted him to become an electrician. As a child, Omofemi loved to display his creativity through infantile drawings on the floor. He dazzled his older neighbours with such displays that a woman once predicted his future artistic accomplishments.

He not only experienced a measure of hardship in his childhood but also faced lonely spells. These further helped to deepen his artistic vision and sensibility; a bit of melancholy providing sources of materials for his creativity.  In Omofemi, you could spot a boiled down version of the English John Keats, though Omofemi would flower in the visual arts, while Keats blossomed in English romantic poetry.

At his early years, Omofemi was propelled to hawk beer.  But while doing this, he used a part of his earnings to buy drawing books to kickstart his artistic career. He later acquired a wheelbarrow to facilitate his beer business.

The hustle and bustle of the famed Dugbe Market in Ibadan metropolis, were factors that imbued him with creative impulses; and fired his artistic imagination. He later met an artist, from whom he acquired some first-hand informal artistic skills. Omofemi was later recognized as one of the best artists at his Junior Secondary School – Community Grammar School, Mokola, Ibadan.

He once opened a Kiosk for the display of his miniatures. Interestingly, the name, Oluwole, was given to him by his grandpa. It is a Yorùbá word that literally means, ‘The Lord has entered our home’. This is because his grandpa had always believed Omofemi would be his heir.

His strength as an artist lies in showcasing human figures, and this is a skill he has steadily honed on the professional turf. His chosen media are oil and acrylic, with a preference for oil.

Omofemi’s first art exhibition was at the National Museum, Ibadan, Nigeria. Alliance Française, Ibadan, has also hosted his exhibition. His other exhibitions include the ones at some prestigious galleries in Lagos, Italy, Belgium and Ghana.

For him, African Art has more depth since it is often a portrayal of sometimes complex personal experiences. His mind continues to resonate with childhood experiences that proved material for his art. He believes art has a functional role in society to correct vices, to reveal the messages in the mind of the artist, and to beam records from the past.

Omofemi has always wanted to deploy arts to better the lot of the underprivileged, to showcase African fashion and feminine charm, and to bring about the rediscovery of Afrocentric pride. His works are widely collected in Nigeria and abroad.