Tinu Fagborun – Tree of Life

2 minute read

My work is inspired by strong women, culture, nature and fashion. Storytelling is the driving force behind my work. My passion for stories encompasses reading, writing and drawing. I enjoy exploring the variety of ways to communicate an engaging concept, it’s is part of why I do what I do.

My name is Atinuke Fagborun I’m a British Nigerian Illustrator born and raised in Bradford, West Yorkshire, currently living in London.

Humans have a symbiotic relationship with trees. Trees give life, they provide us with the oxygen we need to breath, they are food, medicine, tools etc. without trees there is no life. Trees have their own interesting stories to tell that is older than any human will ever be.

This piece ‘Tree of life’ is the first of a series of painting based on the Yoruba Creation myth. I’m particularly intrigued with Yoruba mythology and culture. The Yoruba people have a fascinating history stemming from a rich traditional religion (Orisha-ifa). With 401 orisha’s (Gods) the creation story is colourful and full of intriguing characters, hence the perfect subject to bring to life via illustration.

As with any creation story there are many different versions, but one speaks of all the Orishas living around an Ose (Baobab) tree and tells of how it provided them with all the needed to survive. One of the Gods Obatala (the creation God) wasn’t content and wished to go to the waters below and build land. He went to Olorun (God of Gods) who permitted him go down and create land and life armed with certain essential instruments for creation. Obtala named the newly form land Ife, the first thing Obatala did was to plant seeds to grow trees to sustain human life which he moulded from clay from the earth. The story goes on with twists, turns, other Gods and characters it’s injected with humour, and caution and makes for a engaging tale.

The tree of life is consistent in a multitude of creation stories across many cultures and religions e.g. the tree in the Garden of Eden. Till today Ose trees are held in high spiritual regard, they can be found across Nigeria in town centres. Majority of towns across Yorubaland have an Ooni (king) and outside their palaces you will find an Ose tree, a replica of the tree from the creation story. They ae considered to contain powerful spirits, and even though the traditional religion is not a widely practiced anymore some still make offerings to the trees. When I went to visit the palace in Ife I saw a tree with a humanlike face carve into it, a representation of the spirits said to inhabit it.

Being Yoruba myself I have a vested interest in Yoruba folklore as it is part of my heritage. Both my parents were born in Ile Ife which is considered as ‘the cradle of existence’. Though I do not practise the traditional religion, my last name ‘Fagborun’ literally translates to Ifa (God of divination) gba (take) orun (5 days)- traditionally they worship the God of divination every 5 days. My maternal great grandmother was part of the Olubushe family one of the royal families in Yorubaland which are said to be descendants of Odudua – the father of the Yoruba people.

Find Tinuke here: @Tinuke.illustration