The Arts

April 9, 2024

Portrait art: Adesola seeks strength in black women themes

By Osa Mbonu-Amadi

As popular as portrait art has become, it comes with the challenge of being exceptional as most artists of the genre are confined within commercial appreciation.

For Olamide Adesola, focusing on black women appears to be her strength even though some of her thoughts and styles in painting can be contentious.

With the competitive challenges, particularly as commercial focus appears to be the drive that inspires most portrait artists, Adesola’s themes bring more than the regular. Beyond the commercial appreciation value, Adesola, a trained-artist from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, has passion for celebrating the strength of women. Among her paintings that celebrate women are ‘Her Highness’, ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘Focus’, ‘The Golden Girl’, ‘Queen Moremi’ and ‘The African Child’.

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In some of the works, Adesola creates aesthetics out of figurative expressions, celebrating women, but generating imbalance of narratives. Like most artists who celebrate other professionals, Adesola too has fallen into the trap of single narrative, at least from her recent works. So much about the ‘good women’ perhaps no painting about the ‘bad girls’ of the society. On the great women, Adesola, for example, in ‘Her Highness’ extols the virtue of black women, citing leaders such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Chief Justice Meaza Ashenaf, Karmala Harris and Serena Williams.

Her passion for the black woman, perhaps, is so broad that sometimes, the canvas is not enough to express it. “I am a painter whose works center on figurative expressions that reflect my environmental beliefs and cultural ties to the Black race,” Adesola boasted. “Utilizing naturalistic elements with a hint of exaggeration, my artworks serve as creative reflections of these themes. I am particularly drawn to highlighting the experiences of Black women, recognizing the importance of amplifying their voices and celebrating their resilience for the purpose of empowering them.”

In a text attached to ‘Her Highness’, Adesola’s ideal black woman represents humility and wisdom, energised by even mental strength. “She’s Queen, she’s powerful, she’s Black. Her royalty doesn’t necessarily have to be by birth, but by her virtues and values. She’s not a goddess, but she’s a Queen! She’s brave and cannot be overlooked; though history might tend to be unjust to her. Though she’s covered in Green, once you dig to the roots you’ll discover that the foundation is Black.

“Though she’s compassionate, she’s a fighter for what is just and right!  She’ll never stop fighting for the good course because she’s… Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Chief Justice Meaza Ashenaf, Karmala Harris, Serena Williams …and so on.”

Also of interest is ‘No Woman No Cry’, a large painting dated 2022. The artist explained that her subject’s challenges inspire her to higher ground. “She exudes confidence against all odds. Her confidence is inimitable. She has taken her challenges at life in strides. Staying focused and positive is her only chance of survival. Everything will be alright woman… So woman, don’t cry!”    


 Adesola’s art, like that of most artists of her generation, has link to quite some notable masters as regards styles and techniques. For examples, in pieces such as ‘The Girl With the Red Scarf’ and some other artworks, there is a common colour tones with the style of some known artists. While it’s too early to predict the future for Adesola, an artist whose practice is less than mid-career years of practice, the high prospects for Adesola comes with its fragility, in the commercial context. The success of an artist is much about being at the right place at the appropriate time with contents that appeal to the power that be, so experts would argue.

 With over ten exhibitions to her credit since 2018, showing in Nigeria and the UK, Adesola, whose signature is Ayo’lamide, explained his art further: “My artistic practice is deeply rooted in the African culture and personal experiences which I journey through my art to connect with a broad audience, particularly women,” she said in her Artist Statement. “Through my work, I aim to shed light on the often-overlooked sacrifices of Black women seeking to challenge unjust societal norms and spark conversations about their struggles and pain. This, I try to achieve through striking use of vibrant colour palette and a conscious choice of a deep-rooted sense of subject matter.”