Knighthood of New Dawn for African diaspora creatives

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Yoruba sculpture-inspired design of National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, U.S.

When the prestigious Knighthood by the Queen of England holds in June this year, two Africans, whose works in art and design are highly revered globally, would assert the importance of Africa to the world’s contemporary creative landscape. Nigerian-British artist, Chris Ofili, and his Ghanaian counterpart, architect, David Adjaye, also based in the U.K., are on the list of the Queen’s Knighthood honours. It is part of the event that marks the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.

Adjaye, whose works in public spaces across the world are well known, crowns his revered spot in architecture as the lead architect of the newly opened Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C, U.S. Ofili, a Turner Prize-winning artist, who has worked with the architect on the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo and The Upper Room installation (1999-2002), is also being recognised in the Queen’s Honours list as Officer of the British Empire (CBE).

The Knighthood, which traditionally holds in June during the Queen’s official birthday, will also honour veteran photographer, Don McCullin, who recorded conflicts in Cyprus, Vietnam and Africa in the 1960s and 70s, and Jenny Waldman, the director of 14-18 Now, and played a great role in in the U.K’s. creativity of the First World War period. Others are the co-founder of Lisson Gallery, Nicholas Logsdail, and the artists, Bob and Roberta Smith and Ryan Gander.

Interestingly, Ofili and Adjaye always meet on the journey through the landscape of creativity. For example, Adjaye designed Stephen Lawrence Centre, London, a facility in the memory of a black teenager, who was murdered in racially motivated attack. On the same tragic subject of Lawrence – who aspired to become an architect – Ofili’s painting No Woman No Cry (1988) was inspired by the plight of Lawrence’s mother, Doreen.

In fact, the painting, which derives its title from Bob Marley’s 1974 hit No Woman No Cry, was listed among the works that won Ofili the U.K.’s most prestigious art award, the Turner Prize.

Generating emotive depth, the work, done in acrylic, oil, resin, polyester, paper collage, map pins and elephant dung on canvas, depicts tears rolling down the cheek of Doreen. And the tears: tiny reproduced pictures of the murder victim, Lawrence. Recall that after 13 years of trial and retrial, two of the five suspects, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of Lawrence’s murder and sentenced to 15 years two months and 14 years three months, as teenage convicts.

While Ofili’s art is yet to be felt directly on his native Nigerian soil, Adjaye, interestingly, has extended his work to Africa, Nigeria specifically. Adjaye is the designer of one of the newest buildings, Alara Contemporary, in central business district of Victoria Island, along Olugbade Street, Lagos.

And more profound in Adjaye’s African identity of his work is the recently opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington. A three-tiered structure, the motifs, Adjaye told Smithsonian, is inspired by a Yoruba sculpture.

Conceptualised over 100 years ago, the museum, in the last 15 years, got accelerated attention when former U.S. president, George Bush signed its construction into law. From the assumption office of Barack Obama’s administration till the opening last December, donations had been given by both government and private sectors for its construction.

The features of the museum design, which derives its architectural contents from diverse cultures, also has European link. “From one perspective, the building’s architecture follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona,” a statement on its website says. “In this case, the corona is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa.” The sculpture, from an unknown artist, that inspired the central motifs was found in Ile-Ife, Osun State, southwest Nigeria, and reflects the crown of an oba (king).

Adjaye, born in 1966, had his studio’s first solo exhibition, Making Public Buildings at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in January 2006. After a brief working period with David Chipperfield (London) and Eduardo Souto de Moura (Porto, Portugal), he teamed up with William Russell in 1994 to form Adjaye & Russell in North London. In year 2000, the partnership ended and Adjaye established his solo studio, which has been running till date.

Ofili, born in 1968, came into the radar of art world in 1993 after his painting ‘The Holy Virgin Mary,’ became an issue, which attracted a lawsuit between the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999 during a group exhibition, Sensation.

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