About the Artist
Prince Twins Seven-Seven (1944-2011) was born Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki in 1944 in Ijara, Nigeria. The sole survivor of seven successive sets of twins, he renamed himself Ibeji Meje-Meje, or "Twins Seven-Seven". As a member of a royal lineage of the Yoruba people he later took the title of prince. Seven-Seven was one of the original artists of the famed Oshogbo School (named for the city of that name), which arose in the newly independent Nigeria of the early 1960's.
He had worked as an itinerant singer and dancer before he walked into one of the Mbari Mbayo art workshops led by expatriates and Georgina and Ulli Beier in Oshogbo in 1964. He took to painting immediately, and became one of the stars of the Oshogbo workshops. While a modernist in style, he took as his primary subject the rich religious and historical tradition of his Yoruba people.
Twins had a dramatic flair, which served him well. Seven-Seven rapidly achieved international fame, with major exhibitions in Europe, Japan and Australia as well as the United States. This included exhibitions at the Pompidou Center and the Musée de L'Homme in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Museum of African Art in Washington, the Houston Contemporary Art Museum, the Fowler Museum at UCLA in Los Angeles, the Field Museum in Chicago and the National Museum of Art in Lagos, Nigeria. His work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution and the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as many private collections.As described in a citation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2005:
He is a prominent artist as well as a bandleader, teacher, dancer, actor and spokesman for Yoruba culture. His artistic works reflect a personal cosmology, drawn from Yoruba myths and stories. Twins' highly individual technique is the physical manifestation of a universe of potent forces in a state of constant treansformation. The images themselves are wonderfully complex; forms collide with colors to reveal a mythopoetic world that demonstrates his unique imaginative power.
Twins Seven-Seven's autobiography, A Dreaming Life, edited by Ulli Beier, was published in 1999 by Bayreuth African Studies, Bayreuth, Germany.
We were fortunate that Twins Seven-Seven chose to live in the Philadelphia area for much of the last fifteen years of his life. One of Twins Seven-Seven’s paintings was featured in the Philadelphia Musem of Art show, African Art, African Voices, and the museum since added a major piece to its permanent collection. His work was also featured in our African Visions show. He and his band played live at our November 5, 2004 opening.
In May, 2005, we received the news that UNESCO had named Twins Seven-Seven its Artist for Peace for 2005. The award was presented by the Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura at a ceremony in Paris on May 25th, 2005. The ceremony was attended by His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairperson of the African Union. 2004 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Wangari Maathai also received a UNESCO award at the ceremony.