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Pearl Lam Galleries set to open 'ATUNWA', a solo exhibition by Babajide Olatunji

Shanghai—Pearl Lam Galleries is delighted to announce the upcoming exhibition, ATUNWA: Portraying the Different Biographies of an Artist, a solo show by Nigerian-born, London-based artist Babajide Olatunji. This exhibition marks Olatunji’s first solo exhibition with the gallery and will showcase a series of captivating portraitures that explore our collective human experience through the lens of African diaspora.

Inspired by James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the exhibition title “ATUNWA” references the Yoruba linguistic tradition prevalent in West Africa and expresses the phenomenon of reincarnation derived from the doctrines of Ifa, the deity of wisdom and intellectual development, signifying transcendence across different times and spaces.

Olatunji’s artistic practice is deeply rooted in engaging with Nigerian history and culture. Rejecting the notion of historical revision and identity politics, the artist deliberately turns away from addressing the injustices resulting from colonisation. Instead, he seeks to repurpose art history, asserting that there is no need to reclaim anything from the colonial past. His aim is to tell Nigeria’s own history, acknowledge its rich lineage, and pay tribute to ancestry as something common to humanity.

Somerset House
BABAJIDE OLATUNJI |b. 1989 Babájídé as an Unknown Quantity , 2024 Pastel, casein and acrylic on primed canvas 84 x 72 cm (33 1_8 x 28 3_8 in.).jpg

Olatunji states, “I contend with this same question: Who are these people that I paint? If I could sit and chat with each of them, what stories would they tell? Perhaps each work is a little part of myself shed onto the world. Perhaps they are possible incarnates in other lifetimes and I am able to create them because they are recognisable to my identity. They are familiar, but I don’t always know who they actually are. They all possess their own superegos imbued on them by their families, religious affiliations and the society into which they are born and nurtured.”

Through the use of hyperrealism, Olatunji creates an immersive experience, drawing viewers into the narratives depicted in his portraits. Influenced by old European masters including Caravaggio, Rembrandt van Rijn, Diego Velázquez, and Théodore Géricault, the artist employs chiaroscuro painting techniques to capture the essence of his subjects. The use of light and mood further enhances the emotional impact of his works, while postulating the viewer’s reception and engagement. Olatunji’s paintings involve keen observation of his subjects, meticulous line drawings, and thoughtful adjustments to facial features, idealisation, complexion, background, and expression.

BABAJIDE OLATUNJI | b. 1989 Babájídé as a Young Artist 巴巴吉德作为年轻艺术家, 2024 Pastel, casein and acrylic on primed canvas 162.5 cm x 117 cm (64 x 46 1_8 in.).jpg
BABAJIDE OLATUNJI | b. 1989 Babájídé as a Young Artist 巴巴吉德作为年轻艺术家, 2024 Pastel, casein and acrylic on primed canvas 162.5 cm x 117 cm (64 x 46 1_8 in.).jpg

This exhibition not only conveys the artist’s technical prowess and storytelling ability but also serves as a catalyst for introspection and empathy. It prompts viewers to consider the multiplicity of human experiences and the interconnectedness of our shared humanity, encouraging a deeper understanding of the diverse paths we all walk in this complex and increasingly segregated world.

Opening Times:

Exhibition dates: 30 March–19 May, 2024

Monday–Sunday, 10:30–19:00

For more information visit:Pearl Lam Galleries



With a bachelor’s degree in botany from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, Babajide Olatunji (b. 1989, Port Harcourt, Nigeria) is a self-taught, full-time studio artist. In a decade of full-time studio practice, Olatunji has shown his pieces in multiple continents globally. He lives and works in London, UK.

Babajide Olatunji (b. 1989, Port Harcourt, Nigeria) | Courtesy of Pearl Lam Galleries
Babajide Olatunji (b. 1989, Port Harcourt, Nigeria) | Courtesy of Pearl Lam Galleries

The artist is largely influenced by his Yoruba cultural heritage, which is represented in the types of projects he selects to research and work on. Works from Olatunji’s Tribal Marks and Aroko series have been incredibly well received. The former is a collection of portraits that explores the ancient practice of facial scarification within Nigerian ethnic groups. The faces in the series are illusory yet informed by the artist’s interactions and discussions with carriers of the marks, which are signifiers of identity and tribal heritage. Olatunji’s Aroko series features drawings of a cryptic messaging system used by the Yoruba based on physical objects.

Olatunji works in the genres of hyperrealism and trompe l’œil, which he creates using acrylics, charcoal, casein paint, and pastels. He also draws inspiration from works by Old Masters of European art history, including Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Vermeer, focusing on their use of shadow and light.

Olatunji’s paintings have been acquired by the Mott-Warsh Collection in Michigan, the Bank of England Museum, the John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture & History in Lagos, as well as important private collections in Switzerland, London, Lagos, Istanbul, and New York. His work is in the private collection of his highness, King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

Alongside various solo and group exhibitions, Olatunji has had works presented in important global art fairs including Art Basel Hong Kong, TEFAF Maastricht, Art Dubai Contemporary, The Armory Show New York, and Art X Lagos.

In 2017, Olatunji was selected for inclusion in a curated section at the Royal Academy Summer Show in the UK, and in 2020 he completed a six-week residency at the Bridgepoint Arts Centre in Hastings, UK.

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