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To design the cover of its tribute issue to the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, published in July, the very chic British magazine Tatler turned to Africa. It was the Nigerian Oluwole Omofemi (represented by the London gallery Signature African Art) who was finally selected to create an exclusive portrait for this publication specializing in the style, fashion and news of British high society. “It was a big challenge for me, because I never met the queen and I didn’t know much about her”recalls the artist, who says he has “tried to seize the essence” of his subject.
For four weeks, the painter, aged 34, isolates himself completely from his wife and their two young children to absorb himself in the study of the life of Elizabeth II. Oluwole Omofemi printed around 100 photographs and watched dozens of online videos to craft her portrait, ultimately based on an image taken around 1955 in which the sovereign wears the sash and star of the Order of the Garter. “I had to think about how I was going to infuse Nigerianness into this portrait”explains the artist, whose work is centered on the representation of black women with imposing hairstyles.
“I wanted to represent the queen at the height of her strength, her power and her beauty.he explains. Natural hair is a symbol of the power of the black women I paint, it’s like a halo around their head. » The queen’s jet-black headdress therefore takes center stage in this brightly colored portrait that evokes pop art. The silhouette of the young Elizabeth stands out against a bright yellow background, belted in a blue dress decorated with flowers. “This pattern allows me to give life to an environment tinged with Africanity. But I didn’t want to go too far either, to offer a representation that remains universal,” explains Oluwole Omofemi.
“A symbol of hope for many people”
The painter displays his pride in being “the last African artist” to have represented the queen during his lifetime, even if he did not have the chance to see her pose for him, like his illustrious predecessor the sculptor Ben Enwonwu. In 1956, he offered his services to the Secretary of State for the British Colonies on the occasion of Elizabeth II’s first official visit to Nigeria. The sovereign will pose for the Nigerian artist the following year in London. The monumental bronze statue created by Ben Enwonwu is now housed in the Lagos National Museum.
“I too have remained positive in my portrayal as I think she was a beacon of hope for a lot of people in Commonwealth countries”, says Oluwole Omofemi. The artist’s grandfather also told him with emotion of his memories of the Queen’s visit in 1956, which had taken her to the four corners of the country still under British domination. The man, now 99, was able to see the monarch waving to the crowd through the window of his Rolls-Royce. “I painted this portrait for my generation, for my family and my country, so that history remembers that it was a Nigerian from Ibadan who made it”, proudly concludes his grandson.