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Art

#Africa#art history#Awodiya Toluwani#Indigenous culture#painting#portraits

Stunning Portraits and Landscapes Emerge from ‘Scarred’ Canvases in Awodiya Toluwani’s Paintings

April 8, 2024

Kate Mothes

a painted portrait on a geometrically textured canvas of a Black woman with a large, iridescent afro, wearing a long necklace and a green gown

“Miss. Omowunmi” (2022), acrylic on textured canvas, 37 x 30 x 1 inches. All images © Awodiya Toluwani, courtesy of Zidoun-Bossoyt Gallery, shared with permission

Whether portraying a quiet domestic scene or a sweeping landscape, Awodiya Toluwani’s striking paintings are connected through a unique surface. As much a subject of the work as his portraits, each canvas is covered in relief marks that imitate scars, or tribal marks, historically common to several indigenous cultures in Africa. When European colonial governments began to condemn and criminalize the practice, it declined or disappeared altogether. But for some, continuing the tradition meant performing an act of resistance.

Toluwani’s paintings are created on this textured “skin,” layering empowered portraits and atmospheric scenes over the dark legacy of colonialism and human enslavement. The artist considers both the physical scars of slavery—inflicted by whips and cane lashes—and the trauma it wrought on communities throughout Africa, highlighting a complex history. “History is a very essential part of human existence,” Toluwani says in a statement. “It gives us a better understanding of lives lived in the past, better ways to live in the present, and what legacy to leave for the future generations.”

Figures play a central role in Toluwani’s works, whether evocative of Dutch Golden Age paintings, such as Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid(c.1660), or laboring within a broader landscape in a cotton field or a fishing boat. The artist has recently been drawn to compositions redolent of Lagos, Nigeria, especially an inner-city slum known as Makoko Village, in which residents build stilt houses over a lagoon. The scarred textures are always present, ranging from recognizable images of spiders, feet, or hearts, to abstract glyphs and geometric shapes.

Learn more about the artist on Zidoun-Bossoyt Gallery’s website.

a painted portrait on a geometrically textured canvas of a Black woman pouring liquid into a jug, dressed in clothing reminiscent of figures in Johannes Vermeer paintings

“The Milkmaid” (2022), acrylic on textured canvas, 61.81 x 48.82 inches

a horizontal painting on a geometrically textured canvas of a field with numerous Black people working to collect the cotton

“Sweat and Blood” (2022), acrylic on textured canvas, 59.84 x 77.95 inches

a painting of a pregnant Black woman wearing 17th century Dutch-style garments, holding up a garment she is making out of lace

“Mother’s Instinct” (2022), acrylic on textured canvas, 61.81 x 48.82 inches

a horizontal painting on geometrically textured canvas depicting a dramatic sunrise with a boat in the foreground and mountains the background. a figure works near the boar and various objects sit around it, halfway in the water

“Dawn Set” (2023), acrylic on textured canvas. 48 x 72.25 inches

a painting of a misty harbor with a single figure in one of the boats and a cityscape in the background

“Minding One’s Business” (2024), acrylic on textured canvas, 59.5 x 78 inches

a portrait of a woman sitting in a chair by a window with large drapery. she holds a cat in her lap and wears a blue skirt and white top

“Queen Yelena” (2022), acrylic on textured canvas, 48.82 x 61.02 inches

a portrait of a regal Black woman with a fanned hairstyle, sitting at a three-quarter angle and wearing a teal blue gown

“Wife of Akenge” (2022), acrylic on textured canvas, 36.02 x 29.92 inches

#Africa#art history#Awodiya Toluwani#Indigenous culture#painting#portraits

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