The ongoing duo exhibition, ‘Me & Him’ celebrates tradition, identity and personal history.
THE verse from the holy book, “how can two walk together unless they are agreed?” rings more accurate than ever for Oluwatosin Toromade and Temitayo Badru.
Friends as undergraduates of the Fine Arts Department of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, they have nurtured the friendship over the years and further cemented it in 2020 when Badru, previously living in Ile-Ife, moved to Ibadan, Oyo State just behind where Toromade lives.
Though each had shown individually and in group exhibitions previously, ‘Me & Him’, ongoing at Art Pantheon, Oniru, Lagos till May 22, is their first time featuring together. It’s also further bonding, a good combination with the two artists reflecting on issues including identity, tradition and personal history in beautiful pieces and balloon installations that wowed viewers.
Badru, who specialises in textile and uses embroidery, is a bit more traditional, with works titled in Yoruba and highlighting aspects of the culture. His ‘Gele Odun III’ (thread on linen, 45 x 58in, 2022) reflects the Yoruba’s head-tie practice during social occasions. The portrait is of a young lady trying to tie her gele (head-tie) but somewhat struggling with it. Interestingly, several young Yoruba ladies don’t know how to tie the headgear, and it has since become a line of business for those who do. Some collect up to N2000 per head at parties! Veteran musician, Lagbaja also celebrated the art and beauty of the gele culture with the famous track, ‘Skentele-Skontolo.’
The artist, who also shows himself in ‘Self Portrait’, later disclosed that ‘Gele Odun’ was inspired by the photograph of his wife trying to tie her gele. “When women wear traditional attire, they complete it with gele. A woman’s dressing is not complete without the gele, just like the man’s with fila (cap). Tying gele is an art, and when you know how to tie it, the fit is another matter. Does it fit you? I grew up living with proverbs, so I prefer titling my works in Yoruba. This work was from our naming ceremony, I was done dressing in two minutes, but my wife, like three people, were helping her. Toromade was the photographer on the day, and when he sent me the photo, I decided to turn it into an artwork”.
He explores culture further with the painting, ‘Kingmakers-The Osugbo’. The Osugbo, also known as Ogboni, is a powerful fraternity with religious and political functions. The Osugbo serves as a check and balance to the king’s authority, decides judicial cases and hands out punishment to criminals. Badru captures the Osugbo paraphernalia in the realistic portrait, including the famous ‘saki’ and staff.
The artist also pays tribute to Afrobeat genius Fela Anikulapo Kuti with ‘Abami Eda’. The embroidery portrait shows the iconic musician with a wry smile and his ever-present cigar in his mouth. Badru’s preference for embroidery was from specialising in textile at the OAU. Culture and religion, among others, inspire him, hence the bent of his works.
Toromade focuses on identity and celebration with his works in ‘Me & Him’. His balloon series, including ‘Modern Happiness II’ and ‘Celebrating Sojourners’ stand out and were a draw for viewers. For him, balloons indicate celebrations, including weddings and birthdays but rarely funerals. Therefore his ‘Modern Happiness’ is an ironic commentary on masking true feelings and celebrating while hiding hurt. ‘Celebrating Sojourners’ focuses on the pursuit of happiness by everyone and ‘Masked and Proud’, a painting of a black woman in a mask, is about identity and being comfortable in one’s skin.
On the peculiar exhibition title, Toromade explained: “We had been planning this exhibition for over a year, and as artists, we like to be very creative with titles. Badru sent one title to me, and I said, okay, let’s go with it. Later, I was going to Lagos, and he said let’s make it simple. It’s just you and me. That’s me and him; two sides of a coin. That’s how we came about the title.”
Also commenting on the show and its focus on identity and culture by the two friends, curator and founder of Art Pantheon Gallery, Nana Sonoiki said. “What energies and renewed awareness are created at the boundaries of interaction between the sojourn of the individual and the legacies of tradition? ‘Me & Him ‘is, among other things, about the insights we reap from this kind of reflection.”
The friends Toromade and Badru acknowledge tradition and personal history in ‘Me & Him’. They also reflect on individuals’ identity and phases of the people’s journey that make them who they are. It is an exciting exhibition worth seeing.
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