The Nigerian Twins Seven-Seven, one of his country’s most prominent artists, is an all-around talent. Not only is he a painter, he is a bandleader, dancer, actor, entrepreneur, politician and doctor. The pseudonym of Twins Seven-Seven, who was born as Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Wyewale-Toyeje Oyekale Osuntoki, alludes to the tragic fact that he is the only surviving child of seven sets of twins born to his mother. His artistic career began with the informal workshops which Ulli and Georgina Beier held in the sixties in Oshogbo, the center of the Oshogbo Artists’ Group, a diverse scene of young artists who were largely ignored by Nigeria’s academically trained artists. Exhibitions in Prague and Munich brought Twins Seven-Seven international recognition in the mid-1960s.
Twins Seven-Seven’s works reflect a highly personal cosmology and mythology, creating an independent universe full of people, animals, gods and plants, inspired by the Yoruba culture (one of the largest ethnic groups south of the Sahara). Later works explore social and political issues as well and take a critical look at Nigerian politics. His works are free from all rules of form, perspective and proportion. Playful and daring, they vibrate with an abundance of motifs and ornaments. Twins Seven-Seven works in different techniques such as painting, brush-painting, engraving, cardboard relief and fabric painting. “One remarkable result of the Oshogbo experiment was the rapidity with which the young artists found their own style. Seven-Seven threw away the wide brushes he had been working with and began to draw with the flexible quills of the palm leaves. He begins in the upper left-hand corner and then works his way down, filling the space with dense, ingenious patterns,” Ulli Beier describes Seven-Seven’s style and working methods, which are often imitated in contemporary Nigerian art.
The gouache “Devil’s Dog” was influenced by the literature of Amos Tutuola. This diabolical dog is an enormous monster with six legs and a human space, almost bursting the bounds of the painting. The being’s body is drawn in profile, while its head is turned to gaze behind it – as if in search of possible pursuers. Its body is covered with large scales, and the coiled tail ends in a snake’s head. The creature is surrounded by a number of smaller fantasy beings, snakes, humanoid figures and ornaments. Almost every line is embellished with more ornaments; not a single spot of the picture is left uncovered.
The artist also takes scenes of everyday life in Oshogbo as his motifs. The acrylic “The Fruit Sellers”, from 1988, shows two women carrying baskets full of fruit. One woman balances her basket on her head, while her companion carries the burden in front of her. The two women take up the entire rectangular format of the picture. In contrast to the fine lines in his drawings, here the artist works with luminous colors and vivid patterns. With their outsized eyes and the strong lines modeling the bodies, the figures are highly stylized.
In the etching “Lagos in the Palm of an Architect” (1984), Twins Seven-Seven thematizes the rapid development of the megalopolis, Africa’s fastest-growing city. A claw-like hand with only four visible fingers reaches into the picture from the right, taking up its entire lower half. The hand holds several small round houses of the kind found in African villages and a larger rectangular object, a high-rise. Here the architect’s hand seems mighty as a god’s. Houses appear and disappear at his whim – the people whose lives are radically changed by the activities of this hand are nowhere to be seen; they are given no part in these processes. In this picture Seven-Seven mirrors one aspect of African reality, translating it into pithy, easily understandable imagery.
Twins Seven-Seven was born in 1944 in Ogidi Ikimu, Nigeria. His career began in the workshops conducted by Ulli and Georgina Beier in Oshogbo in the sixties. In 1972 Twins Seven Seven taught at Merced College in California and at the Haystack Mountain Crafts School, Deer Isle, U.S.A. In 1986 he was a member of the jury for the Nedlaw Baringa exhibitions at the National Gallery in Zimbabwe.
His works have been shown in many solo and group exhibitions in Africa, Europe and America and have been purchased by public and private collections, such as the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos; National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.; Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam; Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth and the Museum für Völkerkunde, Frankfurt am Main.
Twins Seven Seven lives and works in Pennsylvania, USA.
Group Exhibitions (Choice)
Exhibition / Installation
"African Art, African Voices“, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USA
"Africa Screams - Das Böse in Kino, Kunst und Kult“, Kunsthalle, Vienna, Austria
"Sexualität und Tod“, Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne, Germany
"Twins Seven Seven“, The James E. Lewis Museum, Baltimore, USA
"The Short Century“, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany
"The Short Century“, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany
"The Short Century“, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island, USA
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa
(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)