#54 Untitled (Detail) by Adebisi Fabunmi No date [1970’s], yarn adhered to fabric

This visually electric yarn tapestry is a feast for the eyes and one of Fabunmi’s more striking examples of his yarn technique! The rich combination of colors juxtaposed against the blue sky draw you in because of the vibrancy. The patterning, similar to a stained glass window, is very complex necessitating that Fabunmi constantly change colors of yarn to achieve the beautiful prismatic effect. Once you focus on the piece, the imagery starts to unfold. Sitting on a tree branch is an undistinguishable mysterious, magical bird... perhaps a peacock or phoenix? The body of the bird faces the viewer but the head looks at us askance. Arms and legs are ambiguous but at the bottom of her lap, near the branch, she cradles her treasure, her offspring.

A wonderful aspect of this artwork is the addition of buildings with brown roofs, which adorn the bird’s chest and tail. They hark back to Fabunmi’s early prints of cities he was very well known for.

Fabunmi was born in Takoradi, Ghana to Nigerian parents in 1945. He had a difficult childhood being shunted from here to there but ended up in Oshogbo, Nigeria where he met Duro Ladipo and became an actor in Duro’s troupe. In 1964 he also joined Georgina Beier’s workshops in Oshogbo where he learned to carve linoleum blocks. There he started printing images of cities like Benin City, Takoradi Sea Port, Oshogbo and many more. With a solid knowledge of printmaking under his belt, he next experimented with embroidery on cloth. Having mastered this technique and finding it a bit tedious, he was looking for another medium and studied a Huichol tapestry shown to him by Jean Kennedy. Soon, not knowing that the Indians had used beeswax to embed the threads of yarn to the backing, he devised a way to use glue to adhere strands of yarn to a heavy muslin or plywood. This became his signature medium for many years.

Adebisi Fabunmi’s work has been exhibited all over the world and can be found in many important collections. He is proud to be known as one of the first artists from the Oshogbo School.

Mimi Wolford - Mbari Institute

August 2019