“I see and understand the world through people,” says portrait artist Oluwatobi Adewumi. “Their faces, expressions, and gazes allow me to represent the often overlooked faces of Black African immigrants across the diaspora.”
Raised in Nigeria, Oluwatobi—who goes by Tobi—moved to the States in 2016 for an artist residency in upstate New York. Now settled in Arkansas, the mostly self-taught artist creates stunning charcoal portraits that relay the story of his journey from one culture to another. “With every piece of art, I produce a story, an opportunity to provide history, a new voice and perspective for my audience,” says Tobi, who sees his work as a conduit for storytelling across different cultures and societies.
His own story echoes a larger narrative surrounding race, history, culture, immigration, and perspective. “History is a big part of my practice,” he says in an interview with The Arkansas Art Scene Blog. “Nigerian newspapers shaped my early knowledge about race and history, as well as stories from my grandparents. Those images were rich, powerful, and heroic.” Translating images from his mind’s eye onto canvas, Tobi reconstructs the lost history of the African diaspora with an eye toward tomorrow. “My practice engages in a critical commentary of the past to learn and unlearn how history shapes our understanding of the present and, in turn, impacts our perception of the future.”
Tobi brings that future to life in two recent bodies of work: Headlines, a series of collaged works that celebrate the resilience and fortitude of Black women; and Facialogue: Dialogue With the Faces, a charcoal-based series that explores traditional African hairstyles, clothing, tribal marks, and face painting. “The men and women who populate my works have been pushed to the second class,” Tobi muses. “However, they have stories—and a history society must acknowledge.”
“I see and understand the world through people.” — Oluwatobi Adewumi
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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