Friday, 17 June 2011

Prince Twins Seven-Seven | 1944 to 2011

So how shall we remember him? Will we make for him a statue or construct a building in his honour? One of the greatest artists from Africa has died.

For me, it is terribly sad. To leave this earth and not to be replaced. To exit; and with your exit leave a void. A space too big to fill. Somehow Twins made up the old skool; the bad boy made good. The school of hard knocks and with his parting he has taken with him the spirit of the age. Nigeria has dramatically changed in the past 50 years almost changing beyond recognition but with Twins Seven-Seven's departure so the country has less of an identity and maybe in jeopardy of missing a heartbeat. What sadness to hear that the Great Twins Seven-Seven is dead. It is an end of era. The first of the Contemporaries has died. He was the beginning; he was the middle and the end. Twins works included: painting, traditional Yoruba singing, acting, writing and poetry.

Reports today from the Nigerian Tribune confirm the death of Nigeria's Greatest Artist, Prince Twins 77.

"Twins Seven Seven died on Thursday at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, where he had been receiving treatment for stroke related illness." 

Life for a Contemporary African Artist on the Continent has improved very little since he began in the sixties and although, Bisi Silva is doing her best in Lagos, genuine change is far from obvious. The Art House Auctioneers are busy pushing the work forward with the likes of Ayo Adyinka and others in London, like Elisabeth and Chili at the October Gallery. Olivier Sultan's Gallery, Les Artistes Dernier in Paris and Nuno Lobo, Influx Gallery in Lisbon. Not forgetting the Kenyan supporters of Maggie Otieno, Andrew Njoroge and Ed Cross, Jessie Scott and Robert Devereux bringing up the rear..............but for now Nigeria must be mourning as the sad news rushes into Lagos, Ibadan and elsewhere. Prince Twins Seven-Seven has died, at the tender age of 67. As well as his artistic endeavours, Twins was one of Nigeria's most notorious polygamists, with a harem of 17 wives. News of his passing is filtering through from Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the World Wide Web. One of the most successful artists of his generation, his artworks embody the magic of Africa. They almost shape the Nigerian Nation. He showed, with such skill, the lives lived in West Africa and drew on stories from his Yoruba cultural background. He influenced all the African artists, of that I am quite sure and was unquestionably the best known artist outside the Continent. He lived for many years in the United States and it was here where his works first became  popular and Internationally respected.  His no nonsense approach to being Nigerian was a breath of fresh air; back in the days when the Osogbo workshop was fully operational; as far back as the 1960's, is when his career really started. Unsurprisingly, he managed to convince Georgina Beier and  her  German husband, Ulli that he was the artist of the future but it wasn't until his works were seen in London, in the 1980's and 90's, at the October Gallery, just off Holborn, did the world begin to wake up to Contemporary Africans and their art. Elisabeth and Chili were the women behind the scenes at the Gallery and their success with artists such as Twins, Chief Jimoh Buraimoh and El Anatsui and others can be seen right across the world.

Seeing Twins works at the October Gallery, back in the 1990's, were some of the earliest reasons for my falling in love with African Art. His imaginative technique of layers of plywood and his playful clawed characters, sent myself and many other contemporary Artlovers, rushing to the bank...His works were some of the very first Internationally recognized Contemporary African Art. The British Museum have shown his works and hopefully they will again.

Born in 1944 and christened Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelade, he renamed himself Twins Seven-Seven because he was the lone survivor of seven sets of twins. His career began in the 60s in Osogbo after he participated in a workshop organised by Georgina Beier, wife of the late German linguist, Ulli Beier. The artist, a wild young man, had earlier gate-crashed a literary event organised by the Beiers in Osogbo in 1964. Twins managed to convince them to participate in the 10 year workshop. Prior to that, he had previously been a street dancer for a medicine seller but he will be best remembered as a world renowned painter. An artist who created a unique body of imaginative mythical African works and in terms of Contemporary African Art he was a pioneer and an artist of his time. He was certainly one of the biggest hitters in the African Art World and his works speak volumes for Africa and today. They continue to fascinate and delight both art lovers and academics alike. Thankfully, at the beginning of the 21st Century, he was  awarded and named a UNESCO Artist for Peace on May 25, 2005. This was in recognition for his contribution to the promotion and dialogue of Contemporary African Art and the enabling of a fuller understanding of Yoruba culture among peoples, particularly in Africa and the African Diaspora. I understand from different sources that he also held a traditional chieftaincy title in Ibadan and crowned himself Prince. His artistic works have been widely exhibited internationally and are included in some of the best Contemporary African Art Collections on earth.

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