By Tony Fisher | Indigo Arts
Prince Twins Seven-Seven is gone. He was one of the leading African artists of his generation, and certainly the most celebrated. Twins Seven-Seven suffered a stroke in April and was hospitalized in Ibadan, Nigeria. He passed away on June 16th, 2011. His family has planned the 'Celebration of Life and Laying to Rest of Prince Twins Seven-Seven' for August 17th in Oshogbo, Nigeria, and you can find more details here.
Twins Seven-Seven at Indigo Arts Gallery, Nov. 2004
Prince Twins Seven-Seven was born 'Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki' in 1944 in Ogidi Ikimu, Nigeria. Seven-Seven was one of the original artists of the famed Oshogbo School (named for the city of that name), which arose in the newly independent Nigeria of the early 1960's.
He had worked as an itinerant singer and dancer before he walked into one of the Mbari Mbayo art workshops led by Georgina and Ulli Beier in Oshogbo in 1964. He took to painting immediately, and became one of the stars of the Oshogbo workshops. While a modernist in style, he took as his primary subject the rich religious and historical tradition of his Yoruba people.
Twins had a dramatic flair which served him well. The sole survivor of seven successive sets of twins, he renamed himself Ibeji Meje-Meje, or "Twins Seven-Seven". As a member of a royal lineage of the Yoruba people he took the title of prince.
Seven-Seven rapidly achieved international fame, with major exhibitions in Europe, Japan and Australia as well as the United States. This included exhibitions at the Pompidou Center and the Musée de L'Homme in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Museum of African Art in Washington, the Houston Contemporary Art Museum, the Fowler Museum at UCLA in Los Angeles, the Field Museum in Chicago and the National Museum of Art in Lagos, Nigeria.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and many private collections.
Twins Seven-Seven's "Blessed Fisherman Family and Golden Fish", 2006
In 2005 Twins Seven-Seven was named UNESCO Artist for Peace, and was invited to Paris to receive the medal from the Director-General of UNESCO and the Nigerian (and African Union) president Olusegun Obasanjo.
But for an eleventh hour effort to get him the permission to go to Paris and still be re-admitted to the United States, he would not have been able to attend. In 2010 he was the subject of a major monograph and biography, "Prince Twins Seven-Seven: His Art, His Life in Nigeria, His Exile in America" by folklore scholar Henry Glassie.
A talented musician, he was a contemporary (and sometime rival) of both Fela and King Sunny Ade. He continued to perform throughout his career. Several of his early recordings have recently been reissued.
Between political troubles and personal setbacks in his home country, Twins spent much of his last fifteen years abroad. We are fortunate that Philadelphia became his refuge and second home.
He was a frequent visitor to Indigo Arts, and a dear friend. I first met Twins when he appeared at our old Pine Street store one day in 1995. I was at our Old City gallery when I received a call to come to the store right away.
Someone named Twins Seven-Seven was there, and he and his entourage were taking up quite a lot of room in the crowded store. When I got there Twins Seven-Seven, dressed as always in full ashoke Yoruba robes, his wife, several children and other Nigerian associates were holding court in the corridor between racks of clothing.
I had never met Twins, but had known of his reputation in Nigeria since the 1960's. He agreed to entrust a few of his paintings to us then and, beginning with an exhibit in 1996, Indigo Arts has shown his work in five exhibits. The exhibit that he and I had planned for this fall (date to be announced) will now be a memorial show.
Rest in peace, Prince.
Indigo Arts Gallery,
The Crane Arts Building,
1400 North American St., #104,
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Posted By: Allan Kapten
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