Nigerian artist Damilola Opedun had humble beginnings. He didn’t come from an artist family, but his mother was always supportive of his desire and talent. She made sure that he always had the supplies he needed and was fully behind his decision to attend The School of Art And Design at Auchi Polytechnic. Once he graduated, Opedun worked at a motel to support himself while still working on his art. In 2015, he finally became a full-time artist and an art educator.
Initially focusing on pastels, Opedun also began exploring creating oil paintings. His paintings are mesmerizing and have a melancholy feel to them. His landscapes feel otherworldly and his portraits always capture your attention. He’s since had several solo and group exhibitions all around the world.
But this is not the story of Opedun’s amazing achievements.
In 2015, Opedun went to a little place called Makoko to gather reference photos with a friend. What he saw broke his heart. BBC described Makoko as a floating slum sitting on water full of rubbish, including human feces and needles. It was not a feasible place to live in, let alone to grow up in. As Opedun made his way to ask the village chief for permission to photograph the place, he decided he would also ask to teach the children art.
After several weeks of petitioning the elders and for them to do a background check on Opedun, he was finally able to teach the children of Makoko in the beginning of 2015.
As noble as his plight was, those early years were a difficult time for him. He was at the growing stages of his career and there were days and weeks when he could barely afford to travel to Makoko. For the first two years, he didn’t tell anyone about his efforts in the slums. He balked at the idea of sharing his good deeds with the world. But eventually, he realized that it would bring more good than harm for him to share about the plights of these children.
In 2017, he began by posting little snippets of his time in Makoko. He shared some of the children he’s met and the talent that they possess. Later on that year, Opedun along with Idowu Opaleye and his friends Gbenga Ijamakinwa and Banji Akande started The Seed of The True Vine (TSTTV) foundation. They were later joined by other folks who believed in the same mission that Opedun had. With help from architect Samuel Okai, the foundation was able to build their first Makoko studio.
It can be hard to understand the impact that Opedun’s art lessons have on the children of Makoko. Why teach them art when they could be taught something more productive that would give them a better economical standing? Why teach them something so seemingly useless as drawing on a piece of paper?
While it’s possible that none of these children will ever become international artists like Amoako Boafo or Victor Ehikhamenor, these art lessons have given hope into their lives. These children - and their family - have concrete proof that they are capable of creating something beautiful out of nothing. Through an artist’s eye, they can see the beauty of life, even within the slums that they live in.
It’s truly astounding to see the talents in these children. While some of them do have a typical amateurish vibe to them, there are those who clearly have an eye for form and shape. Not only are they able to recreate the world in front of them, but they can capture them in a way that tells you a deeper story than what you first see.
With stories of NFTs and artworks selling in the millions of dollars continually filling the headline, we often forget that art is not just a playground for the rich. Art, in all its form, can give a voice to the voiceless and an opportunity for those who thought they didn’t have any. Thanks to Opedun and others like him, art has changed people’s lives.
You can view more of the works of the children of Makoko on The Seeds of The True Vine’s website, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support them by purchasing the works of these burgeoning artists or through monetary donations on their website.