A new exhibition by Josef Adamu’s Sunday School in Toronto showcases photos that draw from the deepest wells of community, memory, and identity across the African diaspora 

Home is more than just a physical place, but a state of being and belonging connected to our highest selves. “It’s something that aligns with your spirit,” says Josef Adamu, founder of Sunday School, a Toronto-based creative agency that elevates Black artists and stories on the global stage. 

As a first-generation Nigerian growing up in Toronto’s Black and South Asian communities, Adamu embraced the glittering display of cultural expressions across the diaspora. From a young age, he understood home as a metaphysical state that transcended the boundaries of time and space in search of shared kinship in new lands. 

“A big part of my upbringing was trying to find ways to connect with my motherland without necessarily being there,” Adamu says. “Whether it was through food, cultural attire, conversations I have with family members, friends, or people at the church, these different nuances are elements of identity. I’ve always wanted to expand the conversation, speak to the people that come from Africa and the diaspora, and tell the stories of people from these places.” 

Realizing the need for greater representation of African and diaspora cultures in the media and arts, Adamu created Sunday School in 2017 to be the change he wanted to see in the world. Through his work as a creative director, visual storyteller, and entrepreneur, Adamu brings the realms of art and commerce together to produce work that centers Black lives, perspectives, and aesthetics. 

With Feels Like Home, his first museum exhibition (now on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario), Adamu returns to his roots with three seminal Sunday School projects that draw from the deepest wells of community, memory, and identity. The show, which features work from The Hair Appointment (2018) by Jeremy Rodney-Hall, Ten Toes Down (2021) by Kreshonna Keane, and Jump Ball (2019 – ongoing) by O’shane Howard and Joshua Kissi, is a homecoming of sorts for Adamu, who moved to New York a few years ago. 

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018© Courtesy of Sunday School 

“The connection I have to Toronto always brought me back, whether it’s through creative opportunities or family functions,” he says. “The exhibition is an opportunity to showcase this work in the city I grew up in. It’s important that my people see it: my mom, dad, cousin, my peers, and the people I created these really timeless moments with as well. I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.” 

Drawing upon formative experiences from his youth for these projects, Adamu intuitively understood home as a space of creation, collaboration, and community – much like Sunday School itself. As the son of a youth minister, he recognizes the spiritual element of home too that occurs when people come together, be it in church, the beauty salon, or the basketball court. 

Pulling from his own life experiences, Adamu carefully crafts projects that embody the ethos of Sunday School. For The Hair Appointment, he drew upon memories of the barber shop, where conversations flowed naturally over a beef pattie and 7-Up while waiting for a turn in the chair. Growing up, he regularly visited a barber shop that was attached to a neighboring beauty salon. The proximity brought the two worlds into focus, shaping his notions of home around spaces people can peacefully coexist in a community. 

“You had two experiences happening: the hair braiders would be having a conversation while doing hair and listening to music,” Adamu says. “Then on the flip side, you have the barber shop where the men were talking about sports and life in Africa. It’s a very vibrant space with a lot of energies, and it was fascinating to see how there were very aligned but also very different and that there were significant experiences on either side of the wall.” 

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018. ©

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018© Courtesy of Sunday School 

To create The Hair Appointment, Adamu and Jeremy Rodney-Hall traveled to Brownsville, Brooklyn to collaborate with Alima of Alima’s Hair Salon and Helena Koudou of Slayed in Braids to create an intimate story celebrating the art of Black hairstyling and the transformative power and joy that a new style brings.  

“I was always really excited to go to the hair salon because it felt comfortable down to the smells. It was aligned with things I saw in my own home,” says Adamu. “It comes down to the fact that I live these things so I know how to get into the beauty of it. We try to make it accessible so that it feels within reach. Then there’s this sparkle, it’s fleeting, but in that magic moment, you’re able to distill these photos.” 

Feels Like Home is on show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto until 31 May 2024. 

Source: anothermag.com 

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