The Life and Times of the Flamboyant Twins Seven-Seven of the Oshogbo Experiment

At a farewell gathering for Michael Crowder in September 1963 at the Mbari Mbayo Club in Oshogbo, Nigeria, a young man crashed the party. …His somewhat garish costume … and innovative dance movements caught the eye of Ulli Beier, who was hosting the party. The young man introduced himself as Twins Seven-Seven.

(A Dreaming Life: An Autobiography of Chief Twins Seven-Seven, edited by Ulli Beier, 1999)

The above marked the introduction of the most flamboyant of the Oshogbo artists to the Oshogbo Experiment. A multi-talented artist, performer and musician who, later, produced several albums, Prince Twins Seven-Seven was one of the first to develop an individualistic painting style at the Oshogbo Workshop. His style was characterized by vivid colours, dense, fish scale-like web of lines, and elaborate motifs, with themes derived from folktales, myths and religious stories.

Born Taiwo Olaniyi Osuntoki Oyewale, he was the only surviving child of his mother’s seven sets of twins—hence his chosen alias, Twins Seven Seven. An artist with tremendous innate talent, he believed he had chosen the head of an artist in the garden of the creator before his birth. This destiny would lead him to Oshogbo and Ulli Beier. Thus, he would tour the United States at the height of his career, mentor and tutor other artists, marry more than 15 wives (a number of them artists), have his death announced on radio while he was still alive but in a coma, go on a self-imposed exile in the US, become destitute, work as parking-lot attendant, and become a UNESCO Artiste for Peace.

Join me as I take a look at the colourful life of Twins Seven-Seven (I took the liberty of creating a separate list of his numerous group exhibitions to concentrate the timeline).

1944

May 3: Birth of Taiwo Olaniyi Osuntoki Oyewale in Ogidi, Kogi State.

1947

Taiwo’s twin sister dies leaving him as the sole survivor of seven sets of twins born to his mother, Mary, a native of Ogidi.

Circa 1960

His mother and paternal grandmother introduces him to the circuit trade, buys him a bicycle and sends him off with goods to sell. Instead, Taiwo buys a gramophone with his earnings and becomes an itinerant singer and dancer, choosing the alias Twins Seven-Seven.

The Spirits of my Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters

He joins a traveling medicine show, selling Superman Tonic that was guaranteed to make ‘men potent and women fertile,’ as its dancer.

1963

Twins meets Ulli Beier after gatecrashing Michael Crowder’s funeral.

1964

He attends the third Oshogbo Mbari Mbayo art workshop conducted by Georgina Beier.

1965

A solo exhibition of his works holds at the Third Anniversary Celebration of Mbari Mbayo, Oshogbo.

1969

He invents laminated paintings on wood. He calls the technique ‘sculpture’s paintings,’ and it separates him from his imitators.

1970

May: he holds a solo exhibition at Goethe Institute, Lagos.

July: another solo exhibition ‘The Paintings of Twins Seven-Seven,’ at USIS, Ibadan.

1971

Another solo exhibition of his works holds at the Goethe Institute, Lagos.

1972

Twins Seven-Seven teaches at Merced College, California, USA.

A solo exhibition of his works holds at Merton D. Simpson Gallery, New York, USA.

1973

February 21 -March 3, solo exhibition at the Goethe Institute, Lagos.

1974

He lectures and conducts demonstrations at Haystack Mountain Crafts School, Deer Isle, Maine, USA.

1980

He features in the exhibitions: ‘Twenty Years of Oshogbo Art’ at the Goethe Institute, Lagos; ‘Moderne Kunst in Afrika’ at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and ‘Contemporary Nigerian Artists: Ten Artists of the Oshogbo Workshops’ at the New World Center Campus Art Gallery, Miami, USA.

1982

July: Twins is involved in an auto accident and is pulled out of the wreck unconscious. He remains in a coma for weeks.

Radio stations wrongly announce his death.

He wakes up from the coma, is given an artificial hip and confined to bed for eighteen months.

Warrior, Twins Seven Seven, 2004, Ink and Acrylic
Warrior, 2004

1986

He is an artist-in-residence at the National Black Theater, New York, USA.

He attends the Nedlaw and Baringa Exhibitions, National Gallery of Zimbabwe as a judge.

1989

His work features at the Third Biennial Exhibition, Centro Wifredo Lam, Havana, Cuba, and at the ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris, France, as part of a worldwide exposition of contemporary artistic talent.

1996

January: he receives the chieftaincy title of Ekerin-Basorun and the Atunluto of Ibadan.

December: he is given the chieftaincy title of Obatolu of Ogidi in Kwara state

2000

To get away from the demands of his position and other troubles, Twins moves to the United States and ends up in Philadelphia.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art opened a wing devoted to contemporary African art with an exhibition featuring his work.

Circa 2002

In Philadelphia, he is swindled and evicted from his house.

He survives on a series of menial jobs including as a parking lot attendant.

2004

He’s employed as a handyman at Material Culture, an import-export business.

George Jevremović, the proprietor of Material Culture finds out he’s an artist when Jevremović told a friend he had engaged a mercurial character named Twins Seven-Seven. The friend turned out to be Henry Glassie, College Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, who had known about and admired Twins Seven-Seven since the 1970s and would eventually write his biography.

George Jevremović asks Twins to decorate the office for an event, and subsequently gives him a studio space.

2005

George Jevremović mounts an exhibition for Twins on a profit sharing deal.

There is renewed interest in Twins’ works, and he begins to receive commissions for his works.

He sold an old work to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and found buyers for a few of his new masterpieces

25 May: he’s named UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Artist for Peace 2005—in recognition of his contribution to the promotion of dialogue and understanding among peoples, particularly in Africa and the African Diaspora.

Circa 2006

He paints the Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters (2006-2007) in Philadelphia.

Twins is unable to manage his finances and runs out of money again.

2008

June: he returns to Nigeria with the dream of becoming the Olu of Ibadan, following the footsteps of his great grandfather.

2010

Twins attends an exhibition of his oeuvre at Material Culture in Philadelphia.

As a step towards his goal, he’s waiting to be made the Mogaji of Ibadan after being selected—this would never materialize.

2011

16 June: he dies at the age of 67 at University College Hospital, Ibadan following complications from a stroke.

 

Group Exhibitions

“Moderne Kunst aus Oshogbo,” Neue Miinchner Galerie, Munich, Germany, 1965.

“Contemporary African Art,” Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, March 17- April 18, 1967.

“Contemporary Nigerian Art: Exhibition for Ori-Olokun Opening,” Ori-Olokun  Cultural Centre, Ile-Ife, June, 1968.

“Contemporary African Art,” Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, USA, March 13-May 4, 1969.

Toured the USA from 1969-1973:
Studio Museum in Harlem and New York University, New York; University of Missouri, Columbia; Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland; West Virginia State College, Institute; North East Missouri State College, Kirskville; Rio Hondo College, Whittier, California; Compton Community College, Compton, California; Citrus College, Azusa, California; Mira Costa College, Oceanside, California, and Civic Arts Gallery, Walnut Creek, California.

“Oshogbo Artists,” Goethe Institute, Lagos, March 19-26, 1969.

“Contemporary African Art,” Camden Arts Centre, London, August-September 1969.

“African Painting at the BBC,” Bush House, London, 1970.

“Oeuvres Africaines Nouvelles,” Musee de l’Homme, Paris, France, February 13- April 13, 1970.

“Moderne Malerei in Afrika,” Museum fur Volkerkunde, Vienna, Austria, December 1970-February 1971.

Second Indian Triennial, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, India, 1971.

“Oshogbo Artists,” Goethe Institute, Lagos, January 13-23, 1971.

“Ten Artists from Nigeria,” Arts Club of Washington, DC, March 21-April 9, 1971.

Eighteenth Festival of the Arts, Virginia Union University, Richmond, Virginia, USA, April 18-24, 1971.

“Contemporary Tapestries, Brass Castings and Graphics from Nigeria,” The Egg and the Eye, Los Angeles, California, USA, May 1971.

“New African Art in Czechoslovakia,” Naprstek Museum, Prague, Czechsolovakia, January- April 1972.

“Contemporary Nigerian Art,” Montgomery College, Rockville, Maryland, USA, May 1972.

“Africa Creates ’72,” Union Carbide Gallery, Union Carbide Building, New York, USA; Community Church and Inter-Church Center, New York, USA; Bedford- Stuyvesant Restoration Center, Brooklyn, New York, USA, October 1972-April 1973.

“Oshogbo Artists,” Goethe Institute, Lagos, November 12-18, 1972.

“African Art,” Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, February – April 1973.

“Tradition and Change in Yoruba Art,” E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, California, USA, March 9-April 14, 1974.

“Graphics from Five Countries,” Southern University in New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, March 14- April 11, 1974.

“Art in Africa Today,” Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA, April 20- November 3, 1974.

“Art-Craft from Africa,” Maryland Commission on Afro- American & Indian History & Culture, Annapolis, Maryland, USA, November 1975.

“Two African Artists: Amir I. M. Nour and Twins Seven-Seven,” Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, April 15-May 25, 1976.

FESTAC ’77, Lagos, 1977.

“African Contemporary Art,” Gallery of Art, Howard University, Washington, DC, April 30-July 31, 1977.

“National Art Exhibition,” National Theatre, Lagos, September 30-October 7, 1978.

“Moderne Kunst aus Afrika,” Staatlichen Kunsthalle, Berlin, Germany, June 24- August 12, 1979.

“Twenty Years of Oshogbo Art,” Goethe Institute, Lagos, 1980.

“Ausstellung Nigerianische Kunst der Gegenwart,” Bonn, Germany, August 9-18, 1982.

“Oshogbo Arts,” Elf House, Lagos, May 5-8, 1983.

“Contemporary African Art,” National Center of Afro- American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, December 9, 1983-January 31, 1984.

“Evolution in Nigerian Art,” Lagos, 1984.

“Oshogbo Art,” Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, London July 4-29, 1985;

Commonwealth Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland, August 12-31, 1985.

Franco-German Auditorium, Lagos, June 1987.

“Oshogbo Artists,” Heritage International Hotel, Oshogbo, 1988.

“Art from the African Diaspora: Becoming Visible,” Aljira, Newark, New Jersey, USA, February 12-March 13, 1988.

“Songs of Power, Songs of Praise: Modern Visions from Haiti, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea,” San Jose State University Gallery, San Jose, California, USA, September 11-October 18, 1990.

“Images of the Nigerian Nation,” National Theatre, Lagos, September 29-October 13, 1990.

 

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Adekemi is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the arts, particularly African art history. She is dedicated to discovering and documenting the most excellent artworks of our time. Follow her on Twitter at adekemitweets.
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