Just 2 1/2 months ago, we lost the founder of the Osogbo Arts Group, Beier – as all Osogbo indigenes, young and old called Ulli Beier back when he made the city his home in the 50s. Now, another in the shining firmament that the city has become in the world of arts, has taken his own final bow from the world stage.
While I never met Seven-Seven nor purchased any of his works as my spouse (Osogbo’s Dr. Depo Adenle) and I did those of his contemporary, Chief Jimo Buraimo, he was no stranger to me, nor were his achievements. Taiwo Olaniyi who adopted his unusual and artsy name was – along with his twin sister, Kehinde, the supposed seventh pair of twins born to his mother; all the earlier twins had died in infancy.
Seven-Seven always stood out in a crowd with his sparse frame and female-style hairdos which has been widely reported as homage to his sister. His works stood him out among Osogbo artists who studied under Ulli and Georgina Beier’s, Seven-Seven was a total artist who was a painter, a sculptor – you name it, he did it. He had as interesting a start in his career as Late Duro Ladipo, the great dramatist (Oba Ko so; Kongi, etcetera). One could almost imagine Seven-Seven dancing for his living in market places, on the streets, just about anywhere – with onlookers gazing in awe at the wiry guy’s incredible movements but before they knew it, onlookers became buyers of medicines and other merchandises.
He deserved his being named UNESCO Artist for Peace which he got in 2005.
Twin Seven-Seven’s passing at 67 is sad but his life and body of works are things of joy that have contributed greatly to Nigerian and African art – great gifts to the world.
Twin Seven-Seven was once married to Nike Okundaiye from the same Osogbo Arts Group/Movement. Ms. Okundaiye has also carved a name for herself in the art world through her work and her Nike Galleries at Osogbo and Lagos.
May he find eternal rest with the Lord, and may God grant his family the strength to bear this loss.
[Below is material that accompanied the news of his demise. I received it by way of an Osogbo group which had received it from Seven-Seven's son, Moronfayo Olaniyi. Seven-Seven and Nike Okundaiye - Nike Gallery, etcetera.]
LIFE WITH MY DAD by Moronfayo Olaniyi Seven-seven on Thursday, 16 June 2011 at 15:52
The extraordinary Twins Seven Seven
By Akintayo Abodunrin
June 16, 2011 08:06PM]
Twins Seven-Seven has come a long way from the 21-year-old dancer who gate-crashed a literary event organised by Ulli Beier in Osogbo in 1964. 46 years later, he has become a world renowned painter with a unique body of work that continues to fascinate art lovers and academics. Christened Olaniyi Osuntoki, he renamed himself Twins Seven-Seven because he is the lone survivor of seven sets of twins born to his mother – an ‘Abiku’ who ‘stayed’ the seventh time after he and his twin sister were born.
He crashed Beier’s event, because “God wanted me there. Osogbo was not as big as it is now and hardly will anything happen without me knowing when it comes to entertainment,” he explains. “I was working with the late Kola Ogunmola at the time, but I think God wanted me to be there so I can be what I am today. Apart from Ogunmola, I was also doing entertainment for traders to boost their sales. They would hire me and I would dance to attract people.”
‘The Devil’s Dog,’ the artist’s first work ever done in pen and ink was produced at a workshop organised by Georgina, Beier’s wife. Twins has stuck to the medium ever since. “Because that’s what made me what I am today. When I was in school, we had a desk and each student had a hole containing a plastic bottle that the teacher pours ink into; that’s what we used to write. At the time the workshop started, no one thought about it but it came to my mind and I decided to try it and it worked. Since then, I use pen and ink for major works though I occasionally use brush.”
His imaginative mythical works, he explains, are so because, “I don’t want to do what everybody does. If you want to be unique in whatever you are doing, you have to be different. The difference is what attracts people to you. In order to make people look, you have to make it extraordinary.”
Did he think people would buy his works when he adopted that style?
“I was doing it because that was what came from my mind. And because I am in the spirit world, they express what I have in my head.” However, not all the ideas were his. “I started reading Amos Tutuola’s books as far back as 1964 -‘The Palmwine Drinkard’, ‘Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle’, ‘Pauper Brawler and Slanderer’- in primary school. In secondary school, I read Fagunwa’s novels – ‘Igbo Olodumare’, ‘Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole’ – many books by D.O.Fagunwa; and all of them inspired me to do my paintings in my own way.”
Twins Seven-Seven has not been spared by imitators but is indifferent. “In the beginning, yes, I lost a lot of money but that’s ok. It’s good that some people are copying you to live too. When I realised that people are forging my signature, I started including some other features but no matter how much you try to copy my signature, it can’t work.”
‘The Devil’s Dog’, he informs, “Was collected in London in 1967 by a lady called Elaine Winter. She is one of the richest art collectors in London but I don’t know where it is now.” He also doesn’t know the amount the work went for, “Because it was sold by Ulli Beier from his own collection. He collected it from me.” He adds with a laugh, “He’s smart but when I realised he was making good money from helping to bring me to the limelight, if I do two paintings, I would show him one and keep one for myself.”
His first exhibition, he recalls, “was at Osogbo before it moved to Lagos. After that, I found myself in London in 1967.”
Better known as a visual artist, Twins Seven- Seven was first a musician. “I was born with music. Though my band was not very well known, I was known in the area where I was living until I came to Osogbo and became popular. I was doing what I felt happy doing, I never knew that one day, I would leave this country on the basis of my art, or that people would invite me all over the world.”
Trials and triumph
Like all mortals, Twins Seven-Seven has been through tempests. His most haunting was in the US. “I really don’t know why I went because at that time, I was comfortable. But I think it’s because God wanted this book (‘Prince Twins Seven-Seven: His Art, His Life in Nigeria, His Exile in America by Henry Glassie, a professor emeritus of Folklore at Indiana University, Bloomington, due for release soon) to come out. I would go to the casino to gamble and drink because I had lots of money. By the time I realised what was happening, I didn’t have a dime. A guy who thought I stole money from Nigeria to buy houses in the US cheated me so I started having problems paying my house rent.” He lost one of three houses.
“Then I had to file for bankruptcy. It was during this period that I met the owner of Material Culture, who sells rugs. When he buys my art, he picks some of them to design rugs. He never knew how big I was until Glassie, his childhood friend, told him. So, he hired me and I started painting on the paper used to package items that people bought at his store. I think he started paying me 25 dollars per hour. I worked with him for four years but when President Obasanjo nominated me to UNESCO as Artist for Peace, he realised I was too big to be earning 25 dollars per hour. He started buying my work, keep them, deduct whatever he spent on me to do the work and we will share the rest. Some of the paintings that I did during this period have been sold but the important ones will be sold this year.”
Women, wine and notoriety
Is it true you smoked, drank a lot, womanised and abused women when you were younger? I delicately posed this question to the artist.
“I smoked grass. I wasn’t notorious, I just don’t take nonsense. If I like a lady and she is a good dancer, good for my job and wants to marry me, I don’t take nonsense from her family. But as I grew up, and discovered who I am (the self discovery occurred in 1983 when he realised he is from a royal family), I became mellow.” Pointing to his groin, he adds, “The only punishment I have for a stubborn woman is holding on to my thing and refusing you access to it. But I don’t beat women.”
He plaits his hair and is always attired in white, “because I had a twin sister who died young. People thought I was doing it because of my love for Sango (the thunder god) but it is not so. White is my favourite colour and as we approached the new millennium, I decided to go for white because for almost fifty-something years of my life, I had worn different colours.”
Though aging, Twins Seven-Seven is not tired. The artist who is soon to be installed the Mogaji (clan head) of the Osuntoki family in Ibadan, is not slowing down. “I still paint at my workshop in Osogbo and get commissions. There are some people who contact me directly. When I’m dealing with not too rich people, I treat them like myself. But when I’m dealing with very rich people, I treat them like themselves.”