How Omofemi broke records to paint Queen Elizabeth for the 70th anniversary of the coronation
When Nigerian artist, Oluwole Omofemi, began his creative exploration of afro hairstyles about six years ago, little did he know that it would result in something much bigger in terms of world fame in a relatively short time. . Omofemi, who was born in the ancient city of Ibadan where his artistic talent was nurtured by older artists, was recently commissioned to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth of England. He was pleasantly surprised, but he knew it was an opportunity to showcase his talent and give voice to the Afro style that has defined his work, at least for the past five years. “I was excited when I was contacted to manage the project,” Omofemi enthused during a media chat hosted by Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island, Lagos, to celebrate his pioneering effort. “I said, ‘Oh God, why me of all the artists in Nigeria and one from the ghetto’?” For him, as for many other artists, it was undoubtedly going to be a test of creativity, painting Queen Elizabeth – a white woman with white hair. The obvious question was: how was he going to do this? Before, his signature was to paint black women with afro hair. Something he did with characteristic skill and finesse. But it was quite different. He knew he had to do something that is not only unique but also acceptable. “I had to isolate myself from my wife to find inspiration and avoid distractions,” he recalls. “I told him that I was not painting for myself but for my children and future generations,” he added. After days and nights of research and reflection, it occurred to him that as a young woman, Queen Elizabeth welded so much power and fame in colonial times when she had hair black. He therefore decided to represent the power, strength and freedom of women in his painting of the black-haired queen. And when Omofemi came out with her new portrait of Queen Elizabeth of England, the reception was palpable. And it brought Nigerian art to global attention and redefined its creative exploration. “At the end of it all, I was able to paint my truth as an artist, and when I submitted it, it was accepted,” he said. And to top it off, he was invited to Buckingham Palace, London, where he met Prince Charles. For Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island, Lagos founder Patty Chidiac-Mastrogiannis, Omofemi’s achievement is worth celebrating. According to her, ever since she met Omofemi, who started out brilliantly in 2012, she believed in him as she traded and pushed his works. “Omofemi is now a shining star,” she said, noting that Omofemi had her first solo exhibition with Alexis Galleries in 2019 and has since been featured in numerous group exhibitions. “So we celebrate it; we celebrate his return from the UK. He made a portrait of the Queen of England and Nigerianized it with black hair and ankara fabric.
Chidiac-Mastrogiannis is enthusiastic. Omofemi recalled, with palpable nostalgia, how her fascination with Afro hair began in 2016 when she visited an acquaintance’s beauty salon in Ibadan to see her in a bad mood. “A lot of his clients didn’t come anymore because they were wearing natural hair now,” he said. This encounter sparked his curiosity as an artist, so he began to take a second look at some of the old photos his grandfather had taken as a young man with bushy afro hair. And subsequently, he engaged him in the Afro fashion style and movement at that time. Besides research, Omofemi also prayed about what the future held for the afro hair art he wanted to get into. “I’m that kind of artist who wants to try something new, because I want to have different experiences, because I believe that’s one of the things that makes life better. So I started something on the afro, trying to reflect the color of his skin,” he said, adding that, surprisingly, when he posted one of his afro works, during a challenge on the networks launched by one of his colleagues, a Lebanese man. in Lagos was fascinated and ordered for it, paying generously in dollars. This experience in 2017 marked a turning point in his development. ” Subsequently, the founder of Alexis Galleries commissioned three afro hair paintings from me. I also received a few other orders,” he also recalls. And since then, Omofemi has featured in several exhibitions nationally and internationally, including major auctions. It was therefore not surprising that a leading British magazine, Tatler magazine, wanted an African artist who could paint the Queen to mark her 70 years on the throne, he was chosen for the job from the pool of African talent. For Omofemi, “the Afro is a symbol of black beauty and a neglected hair fashion for Africans. It dates back to the 50s and 60s when African women wore their natural hair beautifully. Unstretched afro (frizzy) hair was a way to celebrate the culture and uniqueness of the black race. No wonder women think their hair is a “crown of glory” because that phrase dates back to biblical times. Thus, it helps us understand the mystery behind every woman’s beauty and better understand the artist’s interest in it and why he decided to be so adamant about it. Ejire (twins) is a perfect example. The twins wear their afros beautifully. Their choice of outfits and colors also reflects their temperament and lifestyle. Significantly, Omoyemi’s mentor, Ebenezer Akiola, is delighted with how far he has come since that day when he called him for mentorship many years ago. “The kind of global attention he’s gotten is unparalleled. I’ve been in this business for a long time, but the sales records he’s posting, even the old ones can’t get it.” The value of his work is so high, but people are buying – this has never happened before. Now many people want to be an artist because of his success. He is a real success story. His exhibits sell out even before he opens them.