Highlighting Akinola Taoheed Olaitan
:An Emerging Talent From Nigeria
There have always been talented African artists who had ardent collectors. In recent years, however, there has been an upsurge of interest in African art. To understand this rapidly changing landscape means knowing that Africa, in addition to its different countries and languages, also has thousands of different ethnicities and social contexts. Therefore, "African art" is best used as an umbrella term for art representing the African continent.
Many credit the rise in popularity and prices of African art to Ghanaian artist, Amoako Boafo. Boafo, based in Vienna, is a portrait artist best known for using his fingertips to paint the hands, faces and bodies of the figures in his works to capture genuine expression. The prices for his paintings exponentially increased between 2018 to 2020, largely due to his work being championed by the influential Rubell family who have private museums in Miami, Florida and Washington, DC. Boafo's paintings now sell for millions of dollars.
Demand for Africa-centric art is booming thanks to an influx of international fairs such as 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair and museum shows. Now collectors worldwide are vying for the work of African artists. In February 2022, at Christie's Shanghai auction, Emmanuel Taku's 2021 acrylic on canvas work, "Ripped" came in with an estimate of $29,458- $44,187 (USD). After a bidding war, the work by the Ghanaian artist was sold to a New York collector for $24, 265 (USD).
There are, however, many talented African artists whose work is still affordable for the majority of African-American collectors. Among them is emerging Nigerian artist, Akinola Taoheed Olaitan (b. 2000) who is based in Lagos. Akinola is a multi-disciplinary artist pursuing a degree in Art Education at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.
In the last few years, Akinola has been featured in numerous group exhibitions in Nigeria and internationally. In 2022, he participated in the group exhibitions, Freedom Non-negotiable, presented by Constance and Sons Gallery, and IT'S ALL IN ME by Affinity Art Gallery. In 2021, he was in four virtual international group exhibitions hosted by Vivid Exclusive Art Gallery. His work is also in private collections in the United States and abroad.
Akinola caught the attention of Black Art In America gallery (BAIA) when he submitted work to their Open Call for Artists in 2022. BAIA gallery now represents Akinola in the United States. In April 2023, Akinola will make his U.S. debut in the duo exhibition, KINDRED, with American artist Kevin Johnson at Black Art In America gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. The exhibition is on view from March 30-April 29, 2023.
Early collectors of Akinola's work are sophisticated art buyers, many of whom now are shifting their focus from established 20th century artists to contemporary artists. One such collector sits on the collection committee of a leading museum in the Northeast of the United States. The finance professional added Akinola's work to a collection that includes paintings by blue chip African-American artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett and Titus Kapur, a 2018 recipient of the John D. and Catherine MacArthur "Genius" grant.
Similar to fellow rising Nigerian artists such as Tega Akpokona, known for his atmospheric renderings of everyday Nigerians and Oluwole Omofemi whose portrait of Queen Elizabeth was a special commission for the cover of the British magazine, Tatler’s Platinum Jubilee issue, Akinola mainly paints portraits of African men and women. These artists all use bold colors and explore the complexities of being proud Africans who also have adopted Western fashions, cultures and slang. Akinola, however, distinguishes himself from his peers through his layered narratives.
The name Akinola translates to “bravewealth” or ‘the strong one has wealth.” It is fitting since Akinola’s work reflects concepts related to his evolving story as a Nigerian man and the world he lives in. In some of his paintings, Akinola uses a painting style that results in less defined facial features that are just shy of being blurred. The obscured faces seem to suggest mystery or some sense of unknowing on the part of the subject.
Even when the facial features on Akinola's subject are clear and they're situated in pleasant environments or against cheery backgrounds, Akinola often inserts a question into the frame through the subject's gaze directed away from the viewer or a faraway look or eyes that appear sad or weary. Akinola also employs what he describes as "purple patch-like scars” on the skin of his subjects to depict ideas such as bravery, spirituality, and wealth. Akinola's use of these artistic devices requires the viewer to make their own assessments about what is really going on beneath the facades of his subjects.
In her famous TedTalk, Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie warned about the dangers of a "single story," which is a narrative that presents only one perspective, which then is repeated again and again. The "single story" perpetuates stereotypes and critical misunderstanding.
African artists such as Akinola Taoheed Olaitan though their art are debunking the single story about Africa that so many African Americans have been exposed to by the media in the U.S. Most importantly, Akinola is part of a new generation of artists who are showcasing to the world how the lives of Africans, their cultures and histories are composed of many overlapping stories.
Yvonne Bynoe is the founder of the curated online platform @shelovesblackart which highlights visual art from the African diaspora to encourage more people of African descent to collect art. She is also a cultural critic and author.
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