Babajide B Olatunji’s Tribal Marks
Babajide B Olatunji is a Nigerian artist whose hyperrealist paintings have earned him international recognition. His acclaimed series of works titled “Tribal Marks” examine the practice of scarification, by showing the faces of those who bear its marks. The origin of the practice in Nigeria was to identify people in the tribal wars. These days tribal marks are more about fashion than providing an instant visual history. Scarification is no barrier to success in most of Africa. It is a tradition in all three of Nigeria’s major tribes. In this piece, we see a young girl looking directly at the viewer, with a small scar present under her eye, her face eye-catching and completely silent and still.
There is such clarity in the portrait from the pores of the girl’s skin, to the hairs of her brows, to the shine of her earrings, that it may easily be mistaken for a photograph. The details of her face are stunning, light bathing her rich skin and reflecting in her eyes. Her hair is kept away from her face by a deep blue cloth, emphasizing her features. Though her scar is present, it is almost forgotten when looking into the calm of her deep, thoughtful eyes, or the pinkness splashed on her lips.
This young girl’s scar does not define her, and it does not take away from her striking beauty or her humanity. Though there is pain in her history, it does not encroach upon her stillness or her quiet power. It is hard to know if she carries her scar with sorrow or with pride, but it is easy to see that she is a beautiful young woman, whose scar has healed, and who continues to grow with elegance, grace, and assurance in her own strength. Our pain, our past, is always lurking just behind us, and some people carry this pain with them, etched on their faces. But how we deal with this pain, how we carry our scars, how we press on, defines who we are.
What do you think of this painting? washingtonpost.com
I really enjoyed reading this article, but I’m a little confused about the meaning. Earlier in the article, you say that tribal marks in the present are more so for fashion than to tell a story. Is this piece for fashion or for relevance? Also, how can you tell that her history has pain in it? Are you making the statement based on the history of her culture or from the piece?
In this piece, we’re unsure of the girl’s intentions in receiving her scar, whether she wanted it for fashion, was obliged for tradition, or the many other motives she may have possessed. Though many people may currently use scarification as a fashion statement, we can’t assume that everyone does so for this reason. But we are sure of the pain that she felt in receiving it, hence her pain in the past. Though her culture may have gone through pain, I was referring to her personal history, as receiving any type of scar takes perseverance through pain. Thank you for the great question!