By Tobijulo Onifade
Wole Lagunju is Nigerian born US based artist. He studied Fine Art with a specialization in Graphic design at the University of Ife and is an accomplished Graphic designer, Illustrator, Textile designer and Fine artist.
Mr. Lagunju’s upbringing in the South West region greatly influenced his Art and beliefs. He was raised in Osogbo and was privy to the Art events hosted for great Nigerian artists like Jacob Afolabi, Twins Seven Seven and many more. According to an interview on ImoDara.com, his father was a pharmacist whose store was next to the Mbari Mbayo gallery, which was also the home of Duro Ladipo, a famous Yoruba playwright.
Mr Lagunju’s worked in different fields, first as an Editorial Illustrator, A graphic designer in Advertising and then finally a studio artist where he took on numerous projects (such as Textile art and many others) and ended up receiving the Philip Ravenhill Fellowship award in 2007 and has been in the U.S ever since.
The Gelede project is one of his prominent projects to date. Gelede is a Yoruba spectacle that celebrates women/mothers. It is a dance that celebrates Motherhood, female’s sacred powers as well as their sexuality. It is a combination of art and dance to amuse, educate and inspire worship. Colourful masks are displayed in this event. There are many interpretations of this event (including a Yemoja and her offspring legend) but the basis of this ritual is for women, celebrating them, respecting them and living in harmony and diplomacy. Mr. Lagunju’s project, though at the core of it is a celebration of the female folk, takes on a different interpretation.
Drawing inspiration from the different era’s such as Pop Culture, Dutch Golden Age, Victorian Age, and the Civil rights moment, Mr Lagunju combined portraits from those Era’s with masks from the Yoruba Gelede. This was done to elevate women as well as “satirize, parodize, entertain and educate onlookers. In the same vein, my paintings also examine the foibles of imperialistic culture and its attendant shortcomings.’
In my opinion, Gelede is a strong body of work because it educates one on the different cultures that inspired the art. I also believe it challenges the status quo because, to be honest, it is a project that makes one uncomfortable in that it makes one think deeply about the positive and most negative aspects of Colonization and Globalization in the lives of African/Nigerian women/culture.
Fun fact, Gelede also celebrates the physical attributes and endowment of the females. ‘Ge’ means to ‘pet or tenderly deal with’, ele refers to a woman’s genitalia and ‘de’, ‘to soften them with gentleness’
To see more of Wole Lagunju’s work, visit his Art635 page.
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