Twins Seven-Seven, Oshun Whospers (Woshiper)

Date
1988
Medium
Ink, watercolor, acrylic, and oil on cloth
Credit Line
Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2019
Dimensions
89 x 89 in.

Twins advocated for an embrace of Yoruba mythology as a means to understand life. In his work he often intertwined his own family history with the story of the water goddess Osun, the protector of bounty, fertility, and the life-giving water who came to earth at the site of modern-day Osogbo, the city where Twins lived.

Here Twins depicts Yoruba ancestor worship and offerings made to the Osun River, named for the goddess. The central figure in the lower register leads a procession with attendants who carry whips, pushing away onlookers to clear a path to the river. The figure’s spiderweb-like mask indicates that he is an Egungun ghost, a living manifestation of a dead ancestor. His garment comprises folds, called lappets, of precious fabrics that express the history and wealth of his family line. At left, a vessel of fresh water and a basket of fish are offered to the river.

In the upper central section of the painting, Twins depicts a figure who may represent his royal grandfather, King Osuntoki; he brandishes a scepter and a horsehair implement for shooing flies. Attendants play instruments to announce his presence. The Egungun ghost figure may be a living manifestation of the King’s spirit.

Philadelphia community activist Lois Fernandez visited Twins in Nigeria, where she saw Egungun rituals like the one depicted here. Those events inspired her to create Philadelphia’s annual Odunde festival, a community-building celebration of African culture, music, art, fashion, and food. Twins participated in Odunde numerous times and it too includes an offering to the Schuylkill River.

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