MORE THAN PORTRATURE: A WORD FROM PROFESSOR AJIBOYE OLUSEGUN JIDE (Critical review of Legacy “A solo exhibition by Awodiya Toluwani)
The portrait is an artistic genre that dates back to prehistoric times. The main purpose of the portrait is to capture the likeness of the subject. However, it captures more than the likeness. By realistic, expressive, or symbolic means, the portrait shows the subject’s power, prestige, wealth, virtue, temper, and other notable qualities. All of these come together to form a visual statement of the subject’s personality. In doing so, the portraits indirectly recorded historical information about ages past, as fashion and other content that appears in a portrait is pointers to accepted forms or fashions of the past.
In The portraits of Awodiya Toluwani, portraiture pursues more than mere statements on the subject, as seen in its depictions of black women during the Victorian era. History has shown that a large black population existed in Britain before the Victorian era, many of whom were of African, Indian and Caribbean descent. The history of the black population in Britain actually dates back to the Roman Empire. Evidence of this fact is available in writings, records and photographs. Black women form a significant portion of this population (Ashenden, 2016; Old Bailey Proceedings, 2018). The historical, economic and cultural ties between Britain and America brought about the shared experience of Victorism (Howe, 1975: 507-532).
The experience in America brought the “black Victorians” – black women who lived luxuriously like their white counterparts (Giacomazzo, 2021). The “Black Victorian” has become a new standard for black women in America; a synthesis that mixes the fashion ideals of white society with the tradition of black society. Photos of black women from this era in America and Britain are available but not common. While art history generally reflects the beauty and richness of this era through depictions of white women, that of black women is mostly rare.
Awodiya Toluwani The portraits attempt to capture what portrait painting seems to have lacked in history through the black lens by focusing on black women of the Victorian era. In these paintings, black women are portrayed in respectable Victorian-era fashion and imbued with elegance, respect, and seriousness, as in “Legacy,” which shows a black woman out the window looking thoughtfully as if ruminating. on love and prosperity; as the symbols in front of his eyes suggest. ‘Future’ symbolizes the heritage passed down to the younger generation with their eyes fixed and meditating intently on the future. “Seven Lifes” not only refers to the strength and indomitable of the black woman, but is a representation of the beauty, poise and love of human to animal. ‘Munachi’ is a spectacle of class, taste and fashion.
Usually, these portraits are painted on textured patterned backgrounds, which forms the particular style of these portraits. This symbolic innovation comes from Toluwani’s familiarity with the Adinkra motifs of Ghana, the Adire motifs of the Yoruba and Nsibidi of the Ejaghams, both of Nigeria. These designs are combined with Christian icons and many other personally generated designs. Some of these designs are traditional symbols that refer to knowledge, nature, insight, royalty, longevity and regeneration, wealth, love, coexistence and faith. The legible patterns make Toluwani’s portraits not only a cultural synthesis, but a spectacle of the good heritage embodied by black women of the Victorian era. This creative idea is related to the study of traditional African art that the artist received during his first degree at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
These portraits are a blend of two cultures (Victorian and African) that visually connect the history of black women in Victorian times with Africa. Toluwani’s portraits are more than just portraits; they are the pleasant result of an attempt to express the story creatively and visually through the portrait. It is a creative development in its embryonic stage but with future aesthetic possibilities. For now, suffice it to say that this is a brilliant start, as the World looks forward to more and hopes that Toluwani Awodiya takes more steps forward in this direction.
Ajiboye Olusegun Jide (Ph.D)
Department of Fine and Applied Arts
Obafemi Awolowo University
Ile-Ife, Osun, Nigeria
Ashenden, A. (2016). “Photographs of Black Britons in 1800s Discovered After 125 Years Reveal” Rich and Diverse Black Presence “, Evening Standard https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/exhibitions/photographs-of-black-britons- in-1800s- unearthed-after-125-years-revealing-a-black-rich-and-diversepresence-a3251531.html (accessed September 2021).
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (2018). “The Proceedings of the OLD BAILEY London’s Central Criminal Court, 1674-1913 Population History of London” https://www.oldbaileyonline.org// (accessed September 2021).
Howe, DN (1975). ‘American Victorianism as a Culture’, American Quarterly, Vol. 27, n ° 5, pp. 507-532. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2712438 (accessed September 2021).
Giacomazzo, B. (2021). “27 Rarely Seen Photos of ‘High Society’ Black Women During the Victorian Era” https://allthatsinteresting.com/black-victorianwomen (consulted in September 2021).