Chief (Dr.) Otunba Zacheus Olowonubi Oloruntoba JP ("O-Láuren-tóba") was born October 1, 1919. He is a Yoruba chieftain and heir to the throne of Ogidi, Nigeria. He is also a practicing tribal shaman, a recognized clairvoyant, a consultant in herbal medicine at Georgetown University, an avid polo player, a filmmaker -- and an artist whose work has been exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art, reproduced on more than 30 UNICEF greeting cards, and collected by Queen Elizabeth II, David Rockefeller, Mohammed Ali, jazz musician Ornette Coleman, Ambassador Andrew Young and many others.
He began painting at 15 years old to explain the powerful, lucid dreams he had had since age 12. In Yoruba tradition, as with many cultures worldwide, dreams have particular significance as a means for the dead to communicate with the living and advise them through their daily lives. Young Zacheus' dreams were so well-known, he became a spiritual mentor and healer in his village. Chief Oloruntoba credits his mother with teaching him how to use his magical gift of dreams and his grandmother with showing him how to paint.
It was not until 1948 that Chief Oloruntoba began working with hand-dyed cords. He would be unknown as an artist for years to come, focusing instead on becoming an herbal doctor and chief. His art, though a very useful tool, was only one small part of his healing practice.
Before he'd reached his teens, young Zacheus had become known throughout Africa for his powerful, lucid, and seemingly clairvoyant dreams. Many of those dreams were recorded and published by the University of California Press as King Marapaka's Dream. The book presents an evocative tale of a young man's apprenticeship in the healing arts and his eventual mastery of magical powers. Today, Chief Oloruntoba continues to work his magic in paintings that sweep the viewer into a phantasmagoric realm of color, vitality, and mystery.
Working with traditional methods and materials, Chief Oloruntoba translates his clairvoyant dreams into what he calls "paintings for power and life and for the protection from sickness and jealousy." The exuberant images of elephants, lions, great birds, Yoruba women, tribal musicians, and village huts have curative powers far beyond the delight they give the viewer. Each contains a healing spirit who has arrived from beyond to grapple with a specific problem or concern--as represented by such titles as Two Protection Birds and Good Luck and Harmony.
The Chief uses medicinal herbs to dye the fibers he uses in his tapestries and feels, therefore, that his art has curative powers for the viewer. Glass would impede the flow of healing power and should never be put over the tapestries. There is also a practical reason to avoid glass: Over time it causes the deterioration of fiber art. The medium: Cotton-cord applique on canvas. Hand-spun and herbal-dyed, applied with wheat paste and set by the weight of a heavy slab of stone. Silk in appearance. Can be rolled, like any tapestry or rug for transport. The drawn pattern is often visible on the back.
He is first and foremost a spiritual leader of the Nigerian city of Ogidi, a city of the Kogi State, made up of 300,000 people primarily of the Yoruba tribe. He is next in line to succeed his uncle as King of Ogidi. (His uncle is 117 years old.) Following tradition, he will no longer create art when he is king.