|'Show Time' (oil on canvas, 150 x 180 cm, dated 2023) by Olumide Oresegun.
CLOTHING as a medium of functionality covers the wellbeing of people, radiating mental health, so suggest recent paintings by artist, Olumide Oresegun. In his works, Oresegun brings fashion onto the scale of wellness to evaluate how colour, aesthetics and traditions determine behavioural patterns of wearers of specific designs.
If there is anything as the 'perfect' form of art to lift the subject of fashion and mental wellness, Oresegun's hyperrealism painting fits the toga. There are certain subjects that the much-revered subjectivity of art can't cover broadly, particularly when it comes to disemminating populist themes . With no disrespect or trivialisation of critical art contents, some themes just can't breathe well enough without broadening their appreciation potential.
However, the beauty of art – irrespective of the subjects or themes being handled by any artist – is to capture attention across the appreciation nets of critical, commercial and populist divides. For Oresegun's paintings that deal with his choice of subsisting fashion and wellness themes, the aesthetics of the paintings are strong enough to create attraction and discussion around the chosen subjects.
Design, a branch of visual culture, of which fashion or clothing falls under, also, like fine art serves therapeutic purpose beyond its primary functionality. The functional and mental wellness aspects of fashion come into synergy with Olumide's strokes of resilient hyperrealism aesthetics.
It's important to clarify that Olumide's visual message on the subject is not challenging whatever science, specifically the mental health practice, says about how people's dressings affect their wellness. Art is exactly what it is: subjective and stimulating broad interests. For example, the subjectivity strength of art comes into focus as professionals across fields of disciplines, science inclusive, are still creating critical engagements, till date, with a 16th century painting, Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci.
In Oresegun's paintings that celebrate fashions of native contents, there are textures that present so much for everyone to pick and digest for current and the future of African generations. As the proverbial saying goes that 'charity begins at home', Oresegun's works in the Fashion Period of his career, takes off from his native Yoruba culture. The artist's current fashion period, perhaps, by extension, capture native contents from other parts of Africa.
Native fashion such as the gele – a Yoruba origin for lady's headwear – features prominently in some of the paintings under review. The gele, a quite unique headwear for ladies represents one of the most resilient African origin native fashion. In fact, the gele also speaks volume about its Yoruba origin. 'A ji se bi Oyo la'nri; Oyo o ki nse bi Baba eni kankan' (The Oyo people set trends for others to follow; Oyo people don't copy others), is an ancient and common attributes of the Yoruba people. Oyo, an ancient Empire, in this context used to represent the entire Yoruba race. This much, the gele fashion represents as quite a number of other non-Yoruba tribes have imbibed the culture of the gele as parts of their dressings.
And bringing the old Oyo attributes to the context of wellness, energised by fashion, the gele comes to mind. In paintings by Oresegun such as 'Pride of Culture ', 'Show Time' and 'Omoge Eko ', among others, the confidence radiated on the faces of the young wearers actually represents generic pride. The generational transfer of the gele culture from, roughly, over a century or more, passing through modern and contemporary periods, must have planted some seeds of pride onto the psyche of the people. Those cultural seeds that germinated and blossomed, in the gele example, against intimidating western values keep pulsating, even in the diaspora, as captured in some of Oresegun's paintings.
"The girls in the study who wore traditional ethnic Nigerian clothing were less likely to have mental health problems than those who choose to wear western clothing," Oresegun argued. He also noted that "the choice to wear ethnic dress was related to a more traditional upbringing, which would generate less exposure to unfamiliar and therefore culturally challenging life events." Oresegun's assertion, from his cultural research, does not need any validation from mental health medics. The artist's expression is still within his artistic licence. Such an artist's study, perhaps, throws out the challenge for whoever is interested to make further research on the subject.
However, no matter how much cultural resistance a people walled against colonialisation, remnants of the colonisers would remain for a long time, perhaps forever. This much Oresegun's works such as Reconciliation depicts. Unlike the combined two-piece native Yoruba buba (blouse) and iro (wrapper), Reconciliation celebrates the hybrid of western blouse, and wrapper with scarf-style gele. This kind of hybrid is common among the south south and south east Nigerian women.
Creative expressions that involve subtle health pronouncement can't be based on logics and perception. It should be backed up by research, so Oresegun explained. The artist disclosed that a study "rated women as less competent when their blouses were revealing or unbottoned as compared to buttoned" ones. In fact, he argued that "women who appear sexy are judged as less competent, less intelligent, and less moral than those who dress appropriately."
As contentious as "appropriate" dressiNg is in 21st century popular culture, the choice of colour converges both sides of the divides. "Color is critical in creating attractiveness," as well as the other side of what's not attractive, Oresegun stated. He added that colour in fashion could also be used as "critical cue" to send sensous signals across to potential partners.
And still on the native fashion narrative, the artist noted that colour application makes significant impact. "People use color native attires to express who they are, how they feel and what they believe; social identity, emotions, self image, and aesthetic tastes."
With his new study about the impact of native fashion on wearers' mental behavioural patterns, Oresegun has opened fresh perspective to connect art, fashion and wellness.
-Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based writer on The Arts.