ABOUT WOLE LAGUNJU
Wole Lagunju is a 1986 graduate of Fine Arts and graphic design at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He is an accomplished illustrator, graphic designer, installation artist and painter. Lagunju was awarded a Phillip Ravenhill Fellowship by the UCLA in 2006 and a Pollock Krasner award in 2009. He currently lives in the United States.
Wole Lagunju’s hybrid paintings of traditional Gelede masks are juxtaposed with images of modern women in the Western world and redefine the forms and philosophies of Yoruba visual art and design. He re-imagines and transforms cultural icons appropriated from the Dutch Golden and Elizabethan ages interspersed with elements from the Western world in the fifties and sixties. Lagunju’s cultural references, mined from the eras of colonisation and decolonisation of the African continent, critique the racial and social structures of the 19th century whilst evoking commentaries on power, femininity and womanhood.
“My paintings of Yoruba Gelede masks juxtaposed with classical and iconic Western imagery explore the notions of race, femininity, womanhood and sexuality. They are also meant to be contemporary redefinitions of traditional Yoruba visual art.
Gelede (Ge means to ‘pet or tenderly deal with’; ele refers to a woman’s genitalia and de, ‘to soften them with gentleness’) is a male dance by which men celebrate women, their physical attributes, sacred powers and motherhood. I have chosen, therefore, to celebrate the masks by making visual compositions of ‘new’ Gelede masquerades dressed in the ceremonial regalia of the Western world. In doing this, I mean to critique, racial and cultural stereotypes and ideology. These are values and stereotypes that generate assumptions of a dominant cultural prerogative and singular historical perspective within issues of power and gender and identity.”
“My drawings are inspired by the work of traditional Yoruba women textile designers. These are the women who operate the age-old local indigo tie and dye industry (Adire). Adire is an important part of Yoruba culture in particular and Nigerian culture in general. It provides women with financial independence and a voice for social commentary and identity. The women have gained a well-earned reputation for their intricate designs and the sheer aesthetic quality of their products. There are several types of Adire. One of these, Adire Eleko, describes a method and style of Adire that uses corn derived starch resist technique of stencilling and drawing different designs with feathers on a cloth before it is dipped in vats of indigo dye. Adire tie and dye practitioners use several artistic motifs, which are largely drawn from traditional Yoruba religion, philosophy and cosmology. Some of the motifs include IFA divination trays, heads, birds, lizards, snakes, stylised representations of plants and trees, as well as objects of everyday use. These motifs are condensed into squares of identifiable patterns to make social commentaries and esoteric allusions to traditional and contemporary living.
The Adire traditions constitute a rich and varied library with socially important and relevant data from which a range of interesting visual texts and language may be studied. My objective is to borrow from this non-elitist library for a more deliberate and contemporary artistic purpose.
In my drawings, I borrow from the lexicon of Adire to reflect on human character and spirituality and to mitigate the tension apparent in understanding both the physical and metaphysical worlds. As a diaspora artist caught in between different societies in a globalized age, I also use Adire motifs and their associated meanings as a concept to examine multiculturalism. A prevalent motif in my drawings is ‘oju’ or eye/face. The Yoruba’s have a saying ‘Oju ni oro wa’ which means ‘The face initiates dialogue and serves as a connection between the physical and supernatural realms’. My reinterpretation of ‘Oju’ then becomes vis a vis in my art, a gateway to known and unknown worlds. Another concept that I employ is ‘Oya’ or wooden comb, which means ‘May the ties that bind us not be separated like the wooden comb runs through the strands of hair’. In this way of promoting the principle of racial harmony via cultural tropes through the act of drawing, I strive to conjure newer understanding and a different conceptual structure to traditional and existing text.
My watery drip technique with inks, which stimulates the vibrancy of indigo dyeing, thrives on spontaneity as well as a calculated and deliberate artistic process. This conflation of ideas, text and artistic experience enables me to address some pertinent questions relating to what I identify as ‘self’ in my purpose/s as a contemporary African artist.
I am an emotional, spiritual being. My cultural identity subjects me to experience an entity different from others and the way I think and see myself. In that way, I manage myself for better or worse.”
– Wole Lagunju March 2019
2018-2019 ‘YORUBA REMIXED’, EBONY/CURATED, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
2019 ‘DIASPORA’, NEW ASHGATE GALLERY, SURREY, UK
2019 ‘A SMALLER SCALE’, EBONY/CURATED, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
2017 ‘RECITS D” AFRIQUE’, LA GALERIE AFRICAINE, PARIS, FRANCE
2017 ‘COLOUR CHART’, EBONY/CURATED, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
2017 ‘TEMPO, EXPO D’ART CONTEMPORAIN’, CLOITRE DES BILLETTES, PARIS, FRANCE
2014 ‘OPENING EXHIBITION: FURIOUS FLOWER CONFERENCE, SEEDING THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN ‘AMERICAN POETRY’, JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY, HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA, USA
2014 ‘WOLE LAGUNJU: AFRICAN DIASPORA ARTIST AND TRANSNATIONAL VISUALITY’, JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY, HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA, USA
2011 ‘WOMANSCAPE: RACE, GENDER AND SEXUALITY IN AFRICAN ART’, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, AUSTIN TEXAS, USA
2009 ‘EGUNGUN: DIASPORA RECYCLING’, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, AUSTIN TEXAS, USA
2008 ‘AFRICA NOW’, THE WORLD BANK ART PROGRAM, WASHINGTON DC, USA
2008 ‘HEALING BEAUTY’, THE MIZEL MUSEUM, DENVER, COLORADO, USA
2008 ‘ART FOR AFRICA’, JURIED EXHIBITION, THE EMERSON CENTRE FOR THE ARTS AND CULTURE, BOZEMAN, MONTANA, USA
2007 ‘AFRICAN ARTISTS CELEBRATING ETHIOPIAN MILLENNIUM’, THE BELVEDERE, BALTIMORE USA
2007 MBARI ART, WASHINGTON DC, USA
2006 ‘LET’S ART NADINE GUNTERT MEETS AFRICA’. VERNISSAGE: BILDER VON MAUVA LESSOR, OSAHENYE KAINEBI, WOLE LAGUNJU, ABLADE GLOVER, STEIN-UND HOLZSKULPTUREN, LUZERN. SWITZERLAND.
2006 ‘THE ART OF OSHOGBO’, VIA MUNDI GALLERY, ATLANTA USA
2005 PAN AFRICAN FILM AND ARTS FESTIVAL, LOS ANGELES, USA
2004 ‘WITHOUT BORDERS- FOUR CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS’, PAN AFRICAN UNIVERSITY, AJAH, LAGOS
2002 AFRIKA HERITAGE, LAGOS
2002 ‘LINKAGES’, GALLERY 1,2,3,4, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, USA
2002 TOTALFINAELF ART EXHIBITION, PORT HARCOURT, NIGERIA
2000 ‘VISIONS AND SENSIBILITIES’, SIGNATURE ART GALLERY, LAGOS
1997 ‘BEST OF IFE’, GOETHE INSTITUT, LAGOS
1995 SAMMLUNG FUR NEUE AFRIKANISCHE KUNST, AFRIKA HAUS FREIBERG
1995 ONA – BEST OF IFE- SIGNATURE ART GALLERY, LAGOS
1993 ‘BEST OF IFE’, SIGNATURE ART GALLERY, LAGOS
1993 ‘LINKAGES’, GALLERY 1,2,3,4, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO