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Journey to Belonging: Visual Stories of Toronto's African Diaspora Unveiled through Photography

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Feels like home

Home is more than a mere location; it's a profound connection to our innermost selves and a sense of belonging. Josef Adamu, the visionary behind Sunday School, a creative agency in Toronto, understands this sentiment well. Growing up as a first-generation Nigerian within the vibrant tapestry of Black and South Asian communities in the city, Adamu recognized the beauty of diverse cultural expressions within the diaspora.

 From an early age, he grasped the concept of home as something metaphysical, something that surpassed the limitations of physical boundaries. It was a quest for shared connections and kinship in unfamiliar territories, a pursuit that resonated deep within his spirit.

Growing Up

Growing up, Adamu's quest to connect with his motherland was a significant part of his upbringing, even though he couldn't physically be there. He discovered various avenues to forge a bond, whether it was through savoring traditional cuisine, donning cultural attire, or engaging in heartfelt conversations with family, friends, or fellow churchgoers. 

These subtle nuances became the building blocks of his identity. However, Adamu's aspirations extended beyond personal exploration; he yearned to broaden the dialogue, amplifying the voices and narratives of individuals from Africa and the diaspora.

Recognizing the pressing need for greater representation of African and diaspora cultures within the realms of media and arts, Adamu embarked on a mission to become the catalyst for change. In 2017, he brought his brainchild, Sunday School, to life. As a creative director, visual storyteller, and entrepreneur, he seamlessly merged the worlds of art and commerce, striving to create work that centered on Black lives, perspectives, and aesthetics.

Now, with his inaugural museum exhibition, Feels Like Home, currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Adamu returns to his roots. The exhibition showcases three pivotal projects from Sunday School, delving into the depths of community, memory, and identity. 

Among the featured works are 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. For Adamu, this exhibition is a homecoming, a poignant reunion with his origins, as he had relocated to New York several years prior.

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

Through Feels Like Home, Adamu breathes life into narratives that reflect the essence of African and diaspora experiences. It is a testament to his unwavering dedication, showcasing the power of art to bridge gaps, foster understanding, and celebrate the rich tapestry of diverse cultures.

In his own words, Adamu expresses his deep connection to Toronto, a city that continuously draws him back through creative opportunities and family gatherings. For him, showcasing his work in the city he grew up in is a significant moment. He believes it's crucial for the people who have played a part in his journey to witness it—his mom, dad, cousin, peers, and those with whom he has created timeless memories. Any other location wouldn't hold the same meaning.

Influence of His Project

Adamu's projects are influenced by formative experiences from his youth, where he discovered that home is a space of creation, collaboration, and community—reminiscent of the atmosphere at Sunday School. Growing up as the son of a youth minister, he understands the spiritual aspect of a home, which manifests when people come together, whether in church, the beauty salon, or the basketball court.

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

By tapping into his own life experiences, Adamu meticulously crafts projects that embody the essence of Sunday School. One such project, "The Hair Appointment," draws upon memories of the barbershop—a place where conversations flowed naturally while waiting for a turn in the chair, accompanied by a beef patty and a refreshing 7-Up. Adamu frequented a barber shop connected to a neighboring beauty salon, bringing two distinct worlds into focus and shaping his perception of home as spaces where people can coexist harmoniously in a community.

He recalls, "You had two experiences happening: the hair braiders would be having a conversation while doing hair and listening to music. 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 energy, 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."

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

To create "The Hair Appointment," Adamu and Jeremy Rodney-Hall journeyed to Brownsville, Brooklyn, collaborating with Alima of Alima's Hair Salon and Helena Koudou of Slayed in Braids. Together, they crafted an intimate story celebrating the art of Black hairstyling and the transformative power and joy that a new hairstyle brings.

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

Adamu explains, "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. 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."

The exhibition "Feels Like Home" is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto until May 31, 2024.



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