Globetrotting, international philatropist, collector and artist Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo has demonstrated through his dedicated, multi-faceted career that he is one innovative artist. Unafraid to experiment with colors, textures and mediums while firmly rooted in a devoted spiritual core, Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo considers his artistic practice as a part of his wider mission to elevate African artists on the world stage. Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo frequently produces art exhibits and advocates for contemporary African artists in addition to his practice as an artist. Featured in solo and group exhibitions from Minnesota to Montenegro, New York City to Florence, Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo’s fearless approach to experimentation in his creative process is rooted in seeking harmony and balance and bringing the world to his culture on his own terms. We caught up with Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo in the days leading to his upcoming exhibit with Retro Africa at London’s 1:54 Art Fair, at London’s Somerset House from Oct 4-7, 2018.
ANTE. Thanks for taking time to meet with us! So far your work has been exhibited both in the US and abroad, in Italy, Nigeria, Montenegro, and soon at 1.54 in London. Can you explain how you hope different audiences perceive your work? Are there common threads across cultures that you hope your work speaks to? Is there a common universal language to your work?
OOAG. I actually don’t care about how they (others) perceive it (my work). It is none of my business how they see it, but the one thing is that they should not make up labels for it if they do not understand. They should accept their level of misunderstanding, or seek out knowledge from the artist directly, or seek out knowledge through the journey with the work or the culture from which the work stems from.
Meaning the culture of the artist, and his or her origin.
Quite honestly I don’t think I owe any other culture in the Western World any explanation of identity, or similarities.
I’m from a different realm, completely different civilization, the only thing I have in common with those outside my culture, “ Western Cultures,” is that I am a human being. Therefore it is my duty as living history of my culture and ancient history of my culture to teach others about my culture.
Accepting this difference means that one can come to a possible similarity culturally , which could help alleviate the ignorance of trying to force the notion of similarities in order to satisfy selfish desires. But if others choose to be ignorant about it (other cultures), they will fail their own cultures.
In conclusion this question does not justify my culture being significant. Therefore I say no to colonial mindsets and western perceptions of African people and its main indigenous cultures, I say no to neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and even socialism as a gateway to teaching my culture to those different from me. Frankly I think those concepts are poisonous to the creative world, while they also diminish the emphasis of the human being, or person.
There is no common universal language to my work. No to a common language, because my language is distinctive to my culture, and in fact an apex language that gave birth to others in terms of enriching the art and social practices of my people. There is a common sense to my work, which is the notion that what I create breeds life and sustains the spiritual creation of life. Which opens up the gateway for people to have permission to question their
previously acquired intellect.
ANTE. Your work across painting, sculpture and mixed media embraces both figurative and abstracted elements. Can you speak about your process and how these elements fit together? Do you incorporate the figurative and abstract to evoke different meaning, or are they integrally connected to communicate an overall message?
OOAG. My work is neither figurative nor abstract. It is an embodiment of spiritual knowledge and my purpose in this world. It does not succumb to categorization as figurative and abstract nor will I fit it into that institutional logic, in fact those things are limiting the honesty of the work.
These works, across all media, are a vessel: a catalyst for viewers to question everything around them, their ideologies, their manmade comfortability, and their logic around their preconceived notions. It is a very intellectual process and a very deep spiritual process, and it comes from within.
ANTE. In your practice, you incorporate Yorùbá imagery within larger, complex compositions. Can you elaborate on the relationship of these individual objects and expressions to each work as a whole? Can you explain some of the specific symbolism used throughout your work?
OOAG. In the case of my creations, not all my creations, sculptures, drawings, or paintings have Yorùbá imagery. It would be very cliche and stereotypical to assume that all my works have Yorùbá imagery simply because I am from the Yorùbá kingdom. Although I am from this ethnic group, the essence of being Yorùbá is the ability to articulate ones ideas and thoughts in multiple honed ways, to better support a diverse narrative that goes within the culture,
Hence, my art reflects diverse narratives within my life, which incorporates, timeline (simply a diary of my life;
situations of my life) my culture, Yorùbá spiritual concept, and the way humanity treats itself in the positive and the negative. My work is a gateway for individuals and collectives to question their previously and recently acquired intellect. And also a testament in holding accountable the Western lens of false narrative surrounding African cultures globally. Which pushes for the relevance to the social importance and economic significance of African culture and art.
There is specific symbolism I can explain. The dots you see in my work, relate to my love of astrology and mythology and even a love for archeology since I was young. In time as I grew and was more self aware I realized that using the dots, even creating in a none present way, was a calling back to my origins, which would be Yorùbá culture with an emphasis on its spirituality and its spiritual concept, Ifá. It was a calling to focus on balance and how to be a better human in a world created by a nonhuman entity. I also often use cowry shells, which is a representation of Yorùbá spirituality and also a form of currency, and was something that was worn by the Yorùbá elites. This symbol itself represents one of the strengths of my culture.
If my works don’t have Yorùbá symbols, it does not mean that it’s not work coming from Yorùbá culture. My very being creating the work is the symbol of the Yorùbá people, with an emphasis on its contribution to collective human existence throughout time.
ANTE. Can you explain your journey into art-making as a career? Did you begin with painting then move to sculpture, or have you always worked in an interdisciplinary style? How has your practice evolved over time?
OOAG. Yes, I can. I don’t see art-making as a career. For me, it is destiny to create art to reach a higher calling. A higher calling that is predestined for me. I don’t even call myself an artist. It’s a boxed-up, contrived notion. What I am simply doing is adding to human history with positivity. But, if you would like to know, I, without any one person’s advice decided to use my art to make money. I always choose who I work with, not the other way around. I understood business and saw how business and art come together, and so, in that way it is a career, but it is not the primary concept I live my life by. I’ve been making art since I was a child, it’s a part of who I am. I didn’t really begin anywhere, I just have made what my soul tells me to, and the only place I began was my mother’s womb with the blessing of Olodumare.
ANTE. Which artists or artistic styles have impacted your work? Are there any artists whose work you admire who are working today, or artists from the past whose work you draw inspiration from?
OOAG. Number 1, I dislike Picasso. I do not have a specific style that has influenced me nor do I adhere myself to any movement. I feel that they alter the truism and purity of one’s work, and output in various social contexts. Although one could be influenced by many things and many cultures directly and indirectly, it is important to realize that we can still choose and invite those things to influence us or not. Choice allows one to be a purist in one’s craft. As an artist, and creator of art, it is disheartening, that as a African man in a global setting, that a past context is
often placed upon my present content. For example, the notion that by being African, you are influenced by Basquiat. Without anyone asking you otherwise, people assume this influence and time is spent dispelling it and breaking down the historical timeline of contemporary art that didn’t even originate with Europeans.
I don’t draw inspiration from any particular artist but definitely from the culture of my people and human existence; the turmoil, the discord, the peace, the love within humanity. I will say this, I am not influenced by, but I respect individuals like Julian Schnabel, his stance on artistic autonomy I respect. Also Fela Anikulapo Kuti, his creation and output to reach out and commonize the situation of people globally to be made aware to progress. And, also my family, the strength of my family, the strength of my grandmother, I draw part of my inspiration from them. As well as the strength of black people everywhere. Most of all my inspiration comes from Olodumare.
ANTE. What themes and concepts are central to your practice, particularly in regard to your
OOAG. My work has no category, whether painting, installation, or drawings. To clarify: I don’t categorize my
work. It is merely a sole embodiment of my being. My history, my journeys and my origin. In terms of concepts; I ask for man to question everything, to selflessly try to produce solutions to sustain betterment other than for himself or herself. I have a conceptually strong focus on spirituality and how it’s significant for the development of our planet. And not spiritually in the Western fetishized sense where it’s more so about self indulgence and narcissism instead of selflessness and the reverence to its origins.I also the focus on the concept of iṣẹ, meaning work in Yorùbá language. iṣẹ (work) is very important to the Yorùbá people. The concept of work that is beyond the concept of work , if you get my point. Work is beyond it’s definition in Yorùbá language- its expansive to philosophy, the way you live your life. It’s expansive to how you sacrifice for your family, how you lead your people as a royal. It’s expansive to create a circle of balance.
ANTE. Supporting cultural, artistic and human rights are also important endeavors for you.
Can you share some of the initiatives, both in your home base of Minneapolis and
elsewhere, that you support that are important for you personally?
OOAG. Minneapolis is not my home base. Nigeria is my home base. My country is my home base. The United States is part of my journey in my life.
I would tell you about my endeavors for the future and now. My endeavor for the present is to create paths for artistic philanthropy and build cultural bridges between the United States and Africa alongside the global art world and build infrastructure in my country (Nigeria) for people in need of infrastructural presence. For example, affordable homes for people in my country who are in need of homes or have been displaced and the push for cultural re-education to understand what it means to be African for the purpose of self-sustainability.
Part of what my philanthropy focuses on is African art, with special attention to traditional and contemporary Nigerian Art. I advocate for the preservation of African culture, specifically that of Nigerian cultures, even more specifically Yoruba culture. I support African artists economically and in a way that they are seen and respected as much as their Western counterparts. Not to say we need to prove ourselves, it’s more about educating the West to how we are relevant due to our own cultural experiences and adaptations. I collaborate with other like-minded peers who want to see the sustainable growth of Africa. This is necessary in keeping with the integrity of my vision and principles for how African art and culture is valued not only in the art world but beyond, and how it can teach and influence others beyond its cultural boundaries.
I am interested in expanding touristic outreach in the arts and cultural sectors by building a museum and galleries in my country. Focusing my energy throughout the educational, cultural, and economic sectors, all of this will be done within my philanthropic practice in collaboration with other African philanthropists and visionaries.
In terms of human rights, I advocate for cultural rights, specifically those of indigenous cultures to practice their cultures freely without Western intervention.