Oluwole Omofemi Interview

Anna McNay, Studio International, March 23, 2020

Oluwole Omofemi – interview: ‘In my paintings, I try to tell the black community to embrace their beauty, to embrace their colour’

The Nigerian artist talks about how he uses hair – specifically the afro – as a metaphor for freedom and power, and a symbol of identity

Studio International spoke to Omofemi just before the opening of his first exhibition in London, and before the coronavirus restrictions came in to place, at Signature African Art’s new Mayfair venue.

Oluwole Omofemi (b1988, Ibadan, Nigeria) always wanted to be an artist, despite opposition from his family. As a child, he learned about the civil rights movement and the natural hair movement of the late 60s and early 70s from his grandfather, who, at the time, sported an afro. Omofemi now uses hair in his paintings as a metaphor for freedom and power, and as a symbol of identity. Some of his series use the more muted palette of the old masters, showing how entrenched identity and culture are in a person’s belief system; others use a brighter, pop art palette, portraying energy and strength and looking to the future. Whatever the style, he considers his work to be African at heart.

One work in particular stands out from the others on display – In Her (2019), depicting a bald woman set against a bright, almost street art-style background, covered in words such as hope, love, aspiration and queen. This piece is dedicated to Omofemi’s grandmother, who died of cancer, as well as to raising awareness of the disease, and showing that a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily the end of everything: there is always hope. Other works are dedicated to his mother, through the use of floral patterns. In general, Omofemi sees women as close to God, in their ability to love, accept and forgive. This is why the majority of his subjects – and all of those in this exhibition – are female.