Oluwatobi Adewumi reflects upon the human experience to inform his art and spark powerful conversations.
WORDS / SUMMER EL-SHAHAWY
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
Oluwatobi Adewumi’s contemporary art is a beautiful and accessible avenue to discuss current events in American society. Originally hailing from the capital city of Oyo State, Nigeria, Adewumi’s perspective is uniquely positioned in an almost bird’s-eye view, allowing him to showcase facets of cultural and social issues that might have otherwise gone unseen in his art.
The majority of Adewumi’s artwork focuses on history, culture and voice, particularly those of Black American and African communities.
“As an immigrant, when you come to the US, ‘you’re Black’ becomes a discussion. It’s a real topic and you get tagged as that,” Adewumi said. “It’s tough being an immigrant and being a Black man; you start to see the division in race and how people relate. As you begin to question those things and discuss it, it becomes too controversial and delicate to touch.”
Adewumi said that these social issues run deeply, and from police brutality to topics like “Black-on-Black crime,” his art is an attempt to pave the way to address subjects that people often don’t want to talk about.
“To me, actions play a role in changing the world. As a Black man, I can’t change the experience of racism—I can only mirror through my art what is taking place,” Adewumi said. “It reflects what is around and my art adapts itself to the context.”
Adewumi said his next goal is to receive a grant to create a body of work on simply being human. While he acknowledges the presence of cultural differences, he said he wants to start from a place that makes a simple statement: we’re all human.
“I did a piece about the Black Lives Matter protests,” Adewumi said. “America is great, and that’s why people want to come here, but it’s not perfect—nowhere is perfect, it’s just being covered up.”
To make his pieces Adewumi often uses charcoal, which he is both comfortable and quick with, but he said his art itself chooses the medium.
“I allow the art to choose the medium,” Adewumi said. “The new body of work I’m working on now is mixed media and it will be paint and color and charcoal. I pick what suits the timeframe, subject, and topic I want to talk about.”
As a self-taught artist, Adewumi said he’s had to prove himself to the art world again and again. In 2020, Adewumi was one of two artists to win the Derwent People’s Choice Award in London for his piece, Doublesided. The hyper-realistic depiction of a face, revealed in fragmented glimpses between two intersecting silhouettes divided by columns of blank space, is commentary on Adewumi’s belief that each person has a story to tell.
“Winning that was great,” Adewumi said. “As a self-taught artist, the world is a funny place, and you’re not going to get a free pass. It was huge because you’re in another country and people can still appreciate what you create.”
In the future, Adewumi plans to continue breaking barriers and gaining exposure. Two of his dream exhibition spaces are Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. He hopes that the opportunity to showcase his art on that level would help to communicate his message on a larger scale.
“Ultimately, the point of making art is to talk about your experiences, and there’s no one who can take that away from you: they’re yours,” Adewumi said. “As an immigrant and an outsider, I’m going to keep talking about my experience as a Black man, and there’s no better way to do that than through art.”
IG / @OTOBIART
Tobi is one of our cover artists for The Legacy Issue.