BOLUWATIFE OYEDIRAN

BOLUWATIFE OYEDIRAN WAS BORN IN 1997 IN NIGERIA. HE CURRENTLY LIVES AND WORKS IN ACCRA, GHANA.

Oyediran is a contemporary painter working primarily with figuration and text. His practice is informed by a deep commitment to reimagining and reorientating black identity in the canons of history, religion and Western art, using cotton as an essential symbol of interrogation.

His works prompt reflection on long-standing systemic oppressions, particularly through his interrogation of the connecting link between the history of fashion, the history of cotton, and how these histories are related to black people. This informs his signature approach of placing black people dressed in high fashion in cotton fields, as well as his installation of black people in spheres of power that are hostile to them, rebuilding them with the inclusion of black possibilities and representation.

His works ask questions about looking, while injecting fresh perspectives and alternative narratives into ways of seeing. They reach into established norms, probe and question European constructs of biblical origin, characterisation and identity, as well as power plays and representation in organised Christianity.

His works are nourished by history, text, religion, literature, the African and Afro-American experience, the African Diaspora, the Global South, and issues ongoing in his home country of Nigeria. His approach is such that he pries into issues and conceives an idea towards that direction, then he moves on to translate such conception on canvas in the form of figuration or text, using oil, acrylic, gold leaf and spray paint.

Boluwatife Oyediran has exhibited in Nigeria and Switzerland.

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FORMATION
2013-2016

Emmanuel Alayande College of Education, Oyo, Nigeria
Fine and Applied Arts

EXHIBITIONS
2017

Life in My City Art Festival Regional Exhibition, Group Show Oyo, Nigeria
Alliance Française

COLLECTIONS
Sir David Adjaye Collection New York | London | Accra

 

RESIDENCY
2021

The Noldor Residency, Ghana
Visiting Fellow

 

WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL STORY? HOW AND WHEN DID YOU BECOME AN ARTIST? HAVE YOU ALWAYS FELT THAT YOU WERE A PAINTER OR DID IT COME TO YOU LATER?
My earliest memory of creating art dates back to when I was six or seven, at which time I began drawing pictures on paper. In those childhood years, drawing was for me a hobby, a channel of self-expression, and a cavern of solitude as I grew up deeply-introverted in a sleepy town within southwestern Nigeria. In my junior secondary school years, I met two people who helped me discover I had a talent and burning passion for contemporary art. One of these enablers was Tayo, my then best friend, and the other was Mr Clement, my then Fine Arts teacher.
Tayo and I drew a lot of comics back then, copying from the famous comic series “Supa Strikas”. After my first year at senior secondary school, I moved to another school, a Baptist-owned, day and boarding school where Fine Arts was taught in the senior classes. This was majorly because Maryland, my former school, had replaced Fine Arts in the senior classes with French. Another reason was that I had been caught drawing pictures in church during sermon several times and my parents had come to face the fact that I strongly wanted to be an artist. Nonetheless, it was at the boarding school that I was able to refine my talent and taste-level; it was there I discovered I preferred drawing and painting to working with clay, carving, textiles, or the Sciences. After secondary school, without informing me or my mom, my dad got the admission form to a college in our state and filled in Fine and Applied Arts as my course of study. That was when my destiny to be a painter was sealed and cemented, at the stroke of my dad’s pen.

YOU OFTEN QUOTE THE SURREALIST MOVEMENT AND MORE SPECIFICALLY RENÉ MAGRITTE AS A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION FOR YOUR WORK. HOW DOES THIS INFLUENCE MATERIALISE IN YOUR PRACTICE, THOUGHTS AND STYLE?
René Magritte is one of the few artists who have influenced the way I think about my practice, partially in the cotton fields I paint, which are spaces that are both factual and fictional, calm but yet tempestuous, real and unreal (or surreal)—all depending on how the viewer sees it. In René’s oeuvre there is this ever recurrent image of a lone, stoic figure standing in an environment that sometimes you’re unable to wrap your head around. The figure is always alone, always standing, sometimes outdoors, and you begin to try to find the connection between the figure and the environment.
This idea is core to my works; there is a tie that binds the lone figure of a black person dressed in couture/high fashion to the cotton fields surrounding them. You stand facing my painting and, as with a René’s, thoughts begin to rush in.

WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN SOURCES OF INSPIRATION?
I draw inspiration from history, from texts, from the African and Afro-American experience, from literature, the African Diaspora, the Global South, issues ongoing in my home country of Nigeria, and from looking at other people’s art.
I am inspired and deeply influenced by the works of Meleko Mokgosi and Titus Kaphar, contemporary artists with whom I feel a faraway kindred spirit in terms of history painting, subject matter and approach to the process of painting itself.
These form the culmination of my inspirations.

THE COTTON FIELD IS A RECURRENT PATTERN IN YOUR PAINTING. WHEN DID YOU START REPRESENTING IT? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
I began the representation of the cotton field in my practice in early 2021. This came about at a period in my budding career when I felt the need to say something meaningful, gravitas, relevant and bold. The original inspiration came from my extensive study and perusal of the black experience in America and juxtaposing it to my own in Lagos. I felt the need to visualize the experience of my ancestors who were carted away via the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but in a re-birthed modern and almost context. I came across some facts in history that enlightened my mind concerning the relevance of cotton in global history. For instance, in the 19th century, cotton as a cash crop was America’s greatest export; following the Civil War of 1861 – 65, America exported 3 million bales of cotton, the U.S.A single-handedly supplying half of the world’s cotton, which helped fuel the century’s Industrial Revolution in both the United States and Great Britain. This cotton was all massively produced by the sweat, toil and suffering of black people, for the realization of some people’s inordinate quest to accumulate wealth and/or capital, but no one talks about that.
No one talks about all the bales of cotton exported to France, which contributed to setting the stage for France as one of the major countries relevant to the history of fashion with some of the world’s largest fashion houses coming from there. I dress my figures in flamboyant, elaborate and high fashion and place them in the cotton field as a way of connecting the link between the history of cotton, the history of fashion and how these histories have been affected by black people. Cotton being the ultimate symbol of exploitation and the opulence as a rebellion to that very exploration. I met someone who once told me that my figures appear to be phoenixes rising out of their own ashes (the cotton fields), in glory and splendour. I quite agree with that.

YOUR WORK IS ANCHORED IN HISTORY THROUGH THE REFERENCE TO THE COTTON FIELD BUT ALSO THE USE OF HISTORICAL FIGURES. WHY SO? WHICH IMPACT DO YOU WANT TO HAVE BY RECALLING A GLOBAL MEMORY?
The guiding idea for my debut show in Paris with Afikaris Gallery is the reimagining of historic figures in a newer sense of black representation. It is a visual attempt to install black people in spheres of power that are hostile to them, spheres that are clouded with racial tendencies. It is also an attempt to correct notions of power, monarchy, religion, fashion and spirituality, in connection to how black people are perceived. The works I have made for the show reach into established norms, probe and question European constructions of biblical origin, characterization and identity, as well as question power plays and hierarchy in organized Christianity. And so we have an image of a black Pope, an image of Jesus as a black man at the Last Supper, a self portrait as Napoleon, amongst others. The paintings are testifiers to the fact that the brutality of racial hierarchy and power constructs established by historic figures in the past can be subverted and pulled down.

WHAT ARE THE MESSAGES YOU AIM TO CONVEY THROUGH YOUR WORK
That our experiences as people of colour, both past and present, do not define us. We are now free exist as ourselves despite being mistreated, misinterpreted, marginalized, exploited, excluded, underrepresented and victimized perennially. In a way - my work though provocative, is truly optimistic in its outlook.

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