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Wole Lagunju - Spirit Rites

Spirit Rites
Oil on canvas
153 x 124 cm
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Born in 1966, Lagunju is a contemporary Yoruba artist trained in graphic design at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. Wole graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts in 1986. He his an accomplished illustrator, graphic designer, installation artist and painter.

Drawing adeptly upon his childhood experiences in Oshogbo and professional life in urban Lagos, Lagunju's work is also associated with Onaism, a contemporary art movement of the Ife Art School dedicated to reimagining the forms and philosophies of traditional Yoruba art and design. His paintings and installations featuring the Yoruba adire fabric interrogate and explore themes regarding the changing nature of the traditional African market, a change that is primarily initiated by contemporary globalization while his recent series which draw upon images of Gelede masks and the Victorian era critique the racial and social hierarchies of the 19th century.

Wole was awarded a Phillip Ravenhill Fellowship by the UCLA in 2006 and a Pollock Krasner award in 2009. He lives in the United States.


2014 Opening Exhibition: Furious Flower Conference, Seeding the future of African American Poetry. James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
2014 Wole Lagunju: African Diaspora Artist and Transnational Visuality, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia (Solo Exhibition).
2011 Womanscape: Race, Gender and Sexuality in African Art, University of Texas, Austin Texas.
2009 Egungun: Diaspora Recycling, University of Texas, Austin Texas.
2008 Africa Now, The World Bank Art Program, Washington DC.
2008 Healing Beauty, The Mizel Museum, Denver Colorado.
2008 Art for Africa, Juried Exhibition, The Emerson Centre for the Arts and Culture, Bozeman, Montana.
2007 African Artists Celebrating Ethiopian Millennium. The Belvedere, Baltimore USA.
2007 Mbari Art, Washington DC, USA.
2006 Let's Art Nadine Guntert meets Africa. Vernissage: Bilder von Mauva Lessor, Osahenye Kainebi, Wole Lagunju, Ablade Glover, Stein -und Holzskulpturen, Luzern. Switzerland.
2006 The Art of Oshogbo, Via Mundi Gallery, Atlanta USA.
2005 Pan African Film and Arts Festival, Los Angeles, USA.
2004 Without Borders- Four Contemporary Artists, Pan African University, Ajah, Lagos.
2002 Afrika Heritage, Lagos.
2002 Linkages, Gallery 1,2,3,4, Trinidad and Tobago.
2002 TotalfinaElf Art Exhibition, Port Harcourt.
2000 Visions and Sensibilities, Signature Art Gallery, Lagos.
1997 Best of Ife, Goethe Institut, Lagos.
1997 Vernissage - Geiger, Klink & Berdelmann, Recht Sanwalts – und Steuerberatungsskanzlei. Mainz
1995 Sammlung fur Neue Afrikanische Kunst, Afrika Haus Freiberg
1995 Ona - Best of Ife- Signature Art Gallery, Lagos
1993 Best of Ife - Signature Art Gallery, Lagos


.- Falola, T., ed., 2013, Esu, Yoruba God, Power And The Imaginative Frontiers. Carolina Academic Press, Durham. P. 234-242.
.- Castellote, J., ed., 2012, Contemporary Nigerian Art In Lagos Private Collections: New Trees In An Old Forest. Bookcraft Limited, Gloucestershire.
.- Okediji, M., 2012, Western Frontiers Of African Art. University of Rochester Press, Rochester. P. 153-154.
.- Okediji, M., 2011, The Tree Of Life: Lawino Kituba, The Nation, November 16, Lagos.
.- Okediji, M., 2011, When Art Looks Strange, The Nation, November 2, Lagos.
.- Adeyemi, E., 2006, Zeitgenossissche Kunst: Contemporary Art In Nigeria & Ghana, Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag, Basel.
.- Kainebi, O., Osaghae, B., Isichei, R., Lagunju, W., 2004, Without Borders. Four Contemporary Nigerian Artists. Exhibition Catalogue, Pan African University / Lagos Business School, Ajah, Lagos.
.- Olatunji, A., 2004, My Father Wanted Me To Be A Pharmacist, The Comet, November 8, Lagos.
.- Uwaezuoke, O., 2004, The Art Of Boundless Fancies, Thisday, November 8, Lagos.
.- Filani, K., 2005, Patterns Of Culture In Contemporary Yoruba Art, Symphony Books, Nigeria.
.- Jeyifo, B., 2002, Wole Lagunju: High Priest Of Imagination, Introspection And Sensibility, Unpublished??
.- Filani, K., 2002, Wole Lagunju And His Creative Sagacity, Unpublished
.- Beier, G., 2002, …Discovering Life In Wole’s Art, The Guardian, June 2002, Nigeria.
.- Okediji, M., 2002, African Renaissance Old Forms, New Images In Yoruba Art, University Press Of Colorado, Colorado. P. 48
.- Okediji, M., 2002, Archaeological Mythoramas: Wole Lagunju’s Visual Excavations, The Guardian, June 22, Nigeria.
.- Onipede, A., 2000, Untold Stories,Vision And Sensibilities, Saturday Punch, March 5, Lagos.
.- Benseler, A., Kammerer-Grothaus, H., 1995, Afrika - Haus Freiberg: UMUZI, Sammlung Fur Neue Afrikanische Kunst. K.A. Publishers, Germany.


.- 2009, The Pollock Krasner Award
.- 2006/ 2007, Phillip L. Ravenhill Fellow UCLA.
.- 1996, 1st Prize Poster Designing Competition, Afrika Project 1996 - Goethe Institut, {German Cultural Centre} Lagos.
.- 1992, The Daily Times (Nig) Chairman’s Award for Excellence.
.- 2014, Residency, The Sawhill Gallery, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
.- 2007, Resident Artist, University of Colorado at Denver, Denver Art Museum, USA.
.- Cover pages, design and illustration, The Daily and Sunday Times, Nigeria.
Illustration of articles by Biodun Jeyifo, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro Wiwa, Femi Osofisan etc.
.- Poster Design, Oedipus by Matthias Gerht & Amona by Ben Tomoloju, Afrika, Project 1996, The Goethe Institut, (German Cultural Centre), Lagos.
.- Suite of Drawings: Eko Ree [The many faces of Lagos ] - by Simbo Olorunfemi. Hoofbeat Books, Lagos
.- Design of covers: Glendora - African Quarterly on the Arts.
.- Illustrations and Design - Glendora - African Quarterly on the Arts
(with published cover design in Revue Noire)
.- CD Music Cover Designs, The Jazz Hole Lagos Nigeria
.- Lagos, A City at Work with Essays by Rem Koolhaus, Odia Oifemum, David Araedeon etc, (Published with funding by The Prince Klaus Foundation, The Netherlands) Glendora Books. Lagos


.- 2007, Adire and Globalization, The Fowler Museum, UCLA, California, USA.
.- 2008, The Braziers International Artist Workshop, United Kingdom
Wole Lagunju’s recent works are about the hybridization of cultures and reinterpretation of iconic representations of women of power in Western culture. Lagunju re-contextualizes his subjects within the framework of Yoruba Gelede masks and other related beliefs and practices. His paintings transpose Gelede masks from the Yoruba people of West Africa onto classical images that document social hierarchies of the Western world.
Gelede is a male oriented dance for women in Yoruba culture. The dance celebrates their sacred powers, motherhood and sexuality. Lagunju’s paintings explore how the societal values of traditional Yoruba culture are documented in indigenous iconography prompting deliberations on issues of procreation, motherhood and femininity when juxtaposed with images of women from the western world.

Gelede masks and dances in Yoruba society satirize, parody, entertain and educate onlookers and the society at large. In the same vein, Lagunju’s work examines the foibles of imperialistic culture. As much as Gelede celebrates the powers of motherhood in Yoruba women they are also a salutation to their personal physical attributes and endowment. This is found in the meaning of the word Gelede itself. Ge means to ‘pet or tenderly deal with’, ele refers to a woman’s genitalia and de, ‘to soften them with gentleness’.

In choosing representations of women of power in Western culture or the modern world, draws upon images from The Dutch Golden age, and in the English Victorian and Tudor eras. The artist takes cursory note of sex symbols and movie stars of the past and present and engages with vintage fashion and glamour of the fifties through the sixties. Whilst the images from 19th century Europe are representative of the age of colonization of some parts of the world, those of the fifties and sixties signify the era of decolonization and the independence of several African countries. More so, the fifties and sixties were the age of the counterculture, the birth of the African American civil rights movement and the rise of feminism.

In making composite images of women and Gelede from these two eras, Lagunju challenges and critiques notions of imperialistic cultural idioms. Values and stereotypes that generate assumptions of a dominant cultural prerogative and singular historical perspective within issues of power and gender and identity. In producing his current work he has chosen to draw inferences from Yoruba culture, a culture that affirms itself as being the origin of all the other global cultures. He draws parallels between the icons of this culture and the icons in the Western society querying how the social structures of traditional societies are impacted on both positively and negatively by globalization and the hitherto blurring of the line that separate the sexes.