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Winnipeg's vibrant Yoruba community to show off their art and culture during week-long festival

Artist Yisa Akinbolaji and his art will be featured in the upcoming YorubaFest art exhibition.


Artist Yisa Akinbolaji and his art will be featured in the upcoming YorubaFest art exhibition.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2015 (1718 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When artist Yisa Akinbolaji and his wife were house-hunting, he found the perfect place in Fort Richmond.

"Honey, look at this open canvas!" he recalled saying.

The front of the home had a large, blank white space. They bought the home and now his abstract metal sculpture graces its facade.

Neighbours even use the home as a landmark when giving directions: "(They say) it’s two houses down from the one with the metal art in front," Akinbolaji said, with a laugh.

He belongs to an enclave of successful artists descended from West African Yoruba people who call Winnipeg home.

For the first time, they’re coming together to share their talents with the city.

YorubaFest, featuring six artists, kicks off Friday.

A week-long exhibition of visual and performing artists opens Friday at 7 p.m. at Frame Art Warehouse at 318 Ross Ave. On Saturday, they’re holding a celebration dinner in the Norwood Hotel ballroom.

"It’s going to be a very colourful party," said YorubaFest curator and spokesman David Fatimehin.

Interactive presentations, dancing and storytelling are part of the festivities, including the art of tying the Yoruba women’s vibrantly patterned headscarf called the gele.

There are close to 5,000 Yoruba people in Winnipeg, mainly from Nigeria, said Fatimehin, who belongs to the Yoruba Descendants Cultural Association of Manitoba.

Single-name recording artists Sade and Seal are descendants of the Yoruba, who are known to have a higher-than-average incidence of twin births.

"My dad has three sets of twins in his family," said Fatimehin. Well-known Yoruba Winnipegger Kenny Daodu, who owned Tomi-Tola’s African restaurant, is also a twin, he said.

Another distinguishing feature of the Yoruba is the presence of nature in its arts and culture.

"The vital elements — leaves, water and sun — are very evident," said Akinbolaji, a full-time artist. His distinctive painting technique has been featured on the cover of New York’s Art Business News and he’s literally in the Who’s Who of Nigerian Artists published in the Smithsonian Libraries.

His impressionist paintings will be on display when YorubaFest opens Friday night at Frame Art Warehouse.

Akinbolaji, who came to Winnipeg in 1997 and is now a Canadian citizen, sees his city in much the same way he first saw his house — as a blank canvas, ready for art.

"Winnipeg has potential," he said.


Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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