A couple of weeks ago we hosted a visit from the charming, stylish and erudite Chuka and Dubem Okonkwo, aka Chet and Joe, aka The Islington Twins.
Well known on the London fashion, fine art and general culture circuit (not to mention familiar figures in Islington), Chet and Joe make a big impression even before you meet them: they are identical twins, who more often than not dress identically.
Chet and Joe’s parents come from Onitsha, a city in Southern Nigeria. They told us how:
In Onitsha... twins are considered a double blessing. If they are identical twins, their parents are considered to be extremely lucky. We've always found the jubilant reaction from Africans who meet us in London peculiar.
Westerners are excited with the idea of seeing 'two peas in a pod' (we don't believe there's such a thing), and curious about whether we feel each other's pain.
Africans tend to bless us and our parents. Over the years we've been blessed by many strangers.
At the Horniman we have a collection of ibeji twin figures, and other objects from around the world associated with ‘twinness’, which we were keen to share with Chet and Joe.
Ibeiji are very moving objects, made on the sad occasion of the death of a twin at or shortly after birth.
They are traditionally said to hold the soul of the twin, cared for by the family in the same way one might care for a loved-one. Some of our examples show signs of the careful attention once bestowed upon them, with marks where they have been gently and repeatedly rubbed.
We wanted to show Chet and Joe some light-hearted objects too.
Since they are known for their love of English clothing, and can at times cut a dapper dash, we shared some of our favourite fashion items made in Nigeria, yet very British indeed.
These included a strange little model of a District Officer in horn-rimmed glasses, a smart little jacket, a pith helmet and a nice little pipe. It is the work of Thomas Ona Odulate, a well known Yoruba artist who made fun of colonial administrators through such models between 1900 and 1950.
Chet and Joe were only at our stores for a couple of hours, but they managed to say something positive and sometimes even inspiring to almost everyone working there. We were left with the feeling that we had met two very unusual and rather wonderful people.