It was 1996: Allen Iverson’s rookie year. Adeyemi Adegbesan – who was in grade nine, who was in dazzle tearaways, who was incognizant to the fact that he’d one day find acclaim as a Toronto street photographer under the pseudonym SoTeeOh – had just bought the iconic Slam issue with the player on the cover. Iverson, whose famous quote would find itself most relevant in Adeyemi’s work 20 years later:
Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. Practice.
It’s 2016 and a blown-up copy of the Slam cover featuring Iverson’s quote in big block letters is up on display at Adeyemi's new art show, Message 2 Yung Self. Among the six pieces of work, the artist says it’s the one that best represents his show.
“The daily practice, the daily process, that’s what I want to draw attention to.”
Adeyemi is all grown up now but his show is a return to youthful authenticity, confronting the perils of adulthood by reverting creatively to a child-like wonder.
"For me that’s kind of what I lost when I grew up: the appreciation for the process. When I was a kid I spent a whole weekend drawing pictures in a sketchbook. There was no exhibition, there was no client, there was no anything, I was just drawing because I liked drawing.”
A far cry from childhood sketches, the pieces in Message are intricate digital collages, portraits of regal black faces adorned with swirling pop culture details that reveal the work of an experienced artist. Transferred onto clear vinyl prints, the artwork is applied to the back of glass frames and colour elements are painted in by hand with a final touch of silver spray paint on the glass to create a layering effect akin to screen printing.
The collages, says Adeyemi, are meant to address appropriation and the “mining of black culture."
“The ideas of streetwear and a lot of the fashion and a lot of cultural elements are all born out of black culture, hip hop culture. They’ve gone global, but I’m just trying to distill them into something that feels very black, very African.”
If photography is a game, Adeyemi has been playing it well; high-profile client work and a strong Instagram following for his @soteeoh account pushes him to the forefront of successful photographers from the city. But Adeyemi’s lesser-known handle, @yung.yemi, has recently become a stronger embodiment of where the artist resides mentally and creatively. Featuring mostly graphic design work, the account is personal and more importantly serves as an outlet for the artist to express himself freely regardless of followers and likes.
"As much as I love photography I need to be able to do something else just for pure passion, for pure fun, and that’s what this is.”
The mental image of young Adeyemi – Yung Yemi – circa grade nine in a Reggie Miller jersey and Nike Air Flights, side-by-side with grown up Adeyemi and his worn copy of Iverson’s Slam issue, still one of his favourite possessions; it's nostalgia overload. But Message 2 Yung Self is not just advice thrown into the past, it’s the artist’s call for everyone to enjoy the process of life, to live in the now.
“My message to young people: don’t focus on the outcomes. Don’t be judgemental. And wherever you’re at in life, just be there,” he says. "Be present.”
You can view Message 2 Yung Self at Capital Espresso and Pastries until the end of the month.