The Creative Triad
Shao Yen Chen, Winifred Adeyemi and Peter Edwards
London, June 2012

The multicultural triad of subject, designer and painter whose visions and energy contributed to the development, creation and execution of the portrait AFRICAN MUSE in 2012 holistically reconnected and unified the cultures of Africa, Asia and Europe via the medium of Art.


I have said in conversation and within the pages of my Christie’s auction catalogue where the work was first presented prior to its unveiling in July 2012 that:

“In Peter’s hands, paint becomes the fifth element.

He has the gift to see to the core of a creative vision and the power to make it as close to flesh as the canvas will ever allow.”

When working with a master artist, it is best to go with their flow…

…Several years elapsed between our first meeting at the bar of the Chelsea Arts Club and our next meeting within his London studio.

I had assumed that Peter would welcome a commission to immortalise an African poet or that we might riff on the verse theme and he could paint a singer instead: literary Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka or Pan-African musician Femi Kuti were easily conjured in my mind in layers of oil paint and Yoruba cultural heritage.

In the Autumn of 2011, A:S&H presented Peter Edwards with the opportunity to explore new ground and take his art in a new direction.

He accepted the first A:S&H Fine Art commission and chose to paint the company’s founder.

We worked together closely in exploration of the ancient and modern history of African femininity particularly in regard to its portrayal within and impact upon Western Art.

On the African Muse concept, Peter was true to his form and inspired by and invoked English poetry:

“SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes…”

Lord Byron, 1814

Research presented as morsels and at times thick tomes to inspire creativity – and align synergies – uncovered many unseen images and forgotten voices that had left fossilised footprints and resonant echoes of the African female throughout history: from 5,000 year old African cave paintings, ancient hymns to the Great Mother Goddess, the accounts of defeated European armies trounced upon the battlegrounds of African female warriors to the smoky and honeyed vocals of legendary C20th performers.

We studied the role of African women as the inspiration and metaphor within the works of William Shakespeare (Lucy Negro: Dark Lady of The Sonnets), Baudelaire, Paul Daxhelet, Jean-Baptiste Debret, Gauguin, Matisse, Henri Rousseau and Picasso and explored the constellations and star forming regions of the cosmos to combine the divine elements of the universe with the earth’s feminine energy.


COSMIC unSEEN Peek– The Orion Nebula is the closest massive star formation to Earth and lies a distance of 1,344 light years away. It is one of the brightest nebulae in the night sky.

We gained the endorsement of Cynthia Carroll, then chief executive officer of Anglo American PLC and a De Beers stakeholder to amplify the portrait with even greater metaphysical potency, but our creative innovation fell through the cracks of the corporate machine.

In hindsight this has proven to be kismet as the portrait has gained from the “Less is More” lesson, the Universe often teaches those who submit to its will and adhere to its great work and golden ratio.

…Instead of standing in a vein of gold, I soar upon a comet within the Constellation of Orion.



1985 unSEEN Peek  – Self Portrait

Peter Edwards won the BP Portrait Award in 1994 and is the artist of six works within the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) Collection and two within the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Edwards was born in Chirk, North Wales, he lives in Shropshire and works from a studio in London. His foundation in art was laid at the Shrewsbury School of Art and he gained a degree in Fine Art at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design.

His first works were primarily self-portraits, he presented one at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1980 and it was purchased by the eminent collector, Sir Brinsley Ford.

Edwards later acquired fame for his portraiture of poets; in 1986, the NPG purchased “The Liverpool Poets”

NPG_NPG_5853.jpg© National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

The appreciation of Edwards’ work by Robin Gibson – then 20th Century Curator and later Chief Curator of the NPG led to a major one-man exhibition in the Gallery in April 1990.

The ‘Contemporary Poets’ show consisted of 18 life-sized portraits of 20 poets, accompanied by a poem from each subject and numerous studies.

A series of Saturday morning readings from Seamus Heaney, Douglas Dunn, Charles Causley, Wendy Cope, and Craig Raine allowed the subjects and exhibits to be both seen and heard.

Edwards’ studies of the Seamus Heaney portrait commissioned by the NPG and purchased by the instituition in 1988 command buoyant prices at UK auction houses via the secondary sales market.

Bonhams gave the following pencil sketch to the NPG in 2015:


In July 1991, Bobby Moore unveiled Edwards’ portrait of Bobby Charlton in the National Portrait Gallery; the work had been sponsored by British Gas plc and marked the 25th anniversary of England winning the FIFA World Cup.

Edwards has since painted footballer Ryan Giggs for the National Library of Wales.

In 1993 Edwards exhibited in the ‘Portrait Now’ exhibition alongside Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Nam June Paik and David Hockney.

In 1994 he won the BP Portrait Award with ‘Portrait of An Artist’s Model’.


The subject Marguerite Kelsey, had been the model of choice for many leading artists during the inter-war years including Augustus John, Alan Beeton and Meredith Frampton; she was hailed one of the last of her kind. Edwards was her final artist before her death in 1995.

The BP Portrait Award led to a commission to paint the acclaimed writer Kazuo Ishiguro.

Edwards is a successful portrait artist who has undertaken commissions for many institutions including Barclays Bank and major universities.

He has worked in North America, across Europe and the Middle East painting actors, ambassadors, three Nobel Prize winners and foreign royalty.


ARCHIVAL unSEEN Peek™ – This 1995 image captures the lightening sketch of Edwards’ pupil Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and illustrates an unrestrained freedom of movement and lightness of character not often associated with his more solemn style.

Edwards is open to evolving his art in unexpected ways.


In 2006 his painting of British supermodel Kate Moss’s iconic facial features on a pair of platforms by her favourite cobbler Terry de Havilland  were bought by Linda (L.K.) Bennett raising many thousands of pounds for the Chelsea Arts Club Trust, Trinity Hospice and the Artists General Benevolent Institution.

He has continued in his tradition of painting illustrious poets and has immortalised Carol Ann Duffy: the current Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in life scale.


She is the first woman and Scot to hold the esteemed position.

The work is in the collection of a renowned composer.

In 2012, Edwards immortalised Leslie Yellowlees the first female President-elect of The Royal Society of Chemistry.


A:S&H identified great scope to revolutionise the relationship between paint and chemistry in many innovative, unexpected ways and sensual ways programmed to create a visceral and holistic audience impact and look forward to realising this vision in future commissioned portraits, architectural and interior design projects.

One of my favourite portraits by Peter Edwards, alongside my own is his 1987-1988 capture of the Scottish-Ghanaian artist Maud Sulter.

maudbig (2).jpg

Maud’s work has always had an arresting impact upon me whether it be visual, literary, theatrical or cultural.

Her first volume of poems “As a Blackwoman” was published in 1985, when I was but a little brown girl dancing to Boney M within a ring of adoring adults without a care in the world, but is still as resonant thirty years later.

Maud’s words spoken in 1982 would have been timely in 1882 and may still be so in 2082:

‘as a black woman creativity is central to my existence. It is a means of survival…Within a hostile urban environment we deconstruct dynamisms of sex, race and class to survive.”

As I discovered whilst the paint on my portrait dried, Maud also explored the theme and iconography of the muses of classical antiquity in her 1989 body of photographic work “Zabat” which is within the V&A Collection.

Whether in this world or the next, we are all one where creative sisterhood is concerned…

Perhaps in future Peter and I will expand upon our original project and add some women of letters, lyrics and script and African descent; both continental and Diasporean to the African Muse canon.

It is not over until the opulent and plump ladies sit!

It would be wonderful to continue to transmute the feminine aspect to fuse traditional Western Art and modern African Aesthetics to greater potency with an exhibition on African soil…


“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.”


The metalline palette, conjunctive techniques and raw texture of Shao Yen Chen’s Autumn/Winter 2011/12 Sseddog Collection – Goddess in reverse – intuitively expressed the elemental themes of carbon, melanin, gold, minerals and cosmic matter that the A:S&H project sought to explore.


The collection’s name was only discovered after I had been arrested by the sight of the golden dress upon a mannequin within the Freemason’s Hall during the Vauxhall Fashion Scout presentation at London Fashion Week in February 2012.

I introduced myself to Shao and informed him that the dress was in perfect synergy with the ancient and modern status of African femininity and the metaphysical strands of my project brief.

He was inspired and kindly loaned his priceless sample and creative support to the African Muse project.



“The auric twinkle of Saffron Knitted Dress was reminiscent of the glow of African skin whether sunlit or dusted with gold in the Adioukru  or Ashanti Queen Mother’s custom. The subtle glister of almost crystalline fibres woven into the fabric made me think of the visual impact that the Gold Coast women of the 1400s must have had upon the Portuguese traders who would later export them into the most brutal form of historic enslavement and utilise their wombs as producers of labour that would build a rich new world.

To my eye, Saffron Knitted Dress’s texture upon the skin of an African woman mimicked melanin’s determination of scar tissue and keloid formation.

When I gazed upon the knitted welts they appeared to me to be motifs both sacred and profane: simultaneously calling to mind the opulent result of ritual fertility scarification, the gilded stigmata of dethroned divinity, the infected wounds of flogged chattel and the golden crust that replaced the skin of a thirteen year old girl burnt by her sadistic mistress in 1866 Virginia. 

The dress evoked many potent visions that were woven of many historic strands which resonated with my ancestry and spirit, being of both royal and enslaved lineage, the old world and the new, the African continent and her South American and European Diaspora: a soul weighing more than the sum of any material parts.”




Shao Yen is a London-based womenswear label founded by Taiwanese-born designer Shao Yen Chen. He began his education at Central St. Martins College in 2003 and interned with Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan whilst studying.

In 2009 he was awarded the 2009 Fashion Weekend/Le Vif Award in Brussels, Belgium for his BA graduation collection. He gained an MA in Fashion Knitwear from Central Saint Martins in 2010.

Shao Yen’s trademark is his experimentation with unconventional materials and form and arresting themes drawn from the natural world.


His unique designs combine traditional knitting techniques with unusual and innovative materials; he painstakingly mixes nylon string with cashmere, a touch of lycra and other miraculous materials to form extraordinary bold, graphic yet soft silhouettes.

In February 2011, Shao Yen was invited to curate a Selfridges display window as part of their “Bright Young Things” project; he has also designed limited-edition dresses and necklaces for their pop-up shops.

Shao Yen was also featured in Nicola Formichetti’s Pop Up Shop in New York during September 2011 and created a bespoke dress for Icelandic singer Björk which was showcased during the release of her 2011 album “Biophilia” which was critically acclaimed and explored Björk’s interest in nature and her concerns about the environment particularly in her native Iceland.

MINERAL unHEARD Beat™ – Björk – Crystalline:



“The one whom God clothes will not go naked.”

~ Ethiopian proverb


“Philosophy is subjective, but to me, She is in possession of Her soul and venerates Her ancestors. In particular Her female line is akin to a chain of goddesses linking back to the First woman on Mother Earth.

An African Muse preserves her natural endowments and refines them to greater depths. She is well aware that She alone is the Alpha and Omega of her existence on Earth and thereafter.– She is well read, well-groomed and well presented in all aspects and arenas and positively strives to bestow the same philosophy upon Her descendants.

Her sons will value women who look like their mother and Her daughters will be proud to emulate her authentic example.

She is sensual and attuned to all her senses and strives to connect others with their own also.

As Shakespeare said of the Dark Lady in Sonnet CXXX, who is said to have been a madam of African descent “If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.”

…An African Muse is comfortable in her own skin and will tell others to be the same regardless of the skin they are in: You need to own yourself and smile at your reflection each morning, even before you brush your teeth or hair!

There have been many African Muses in history and there will be many more in the future, each will have her own personal perspective, philosophy and way of living.

Each to Her Own Path ☥”

© W. O. Adeyemi/ AFRICA: Seen & Heard Ltd and africaseenheard.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to W. O. Adeyemi, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and africaseenheard.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




Queen Candace of the Ethiopians http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/queen-candace-of-the-ethiopians/

Dahomey’s Women Warriors http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/dahomeys-women-warriors-88286072/?no-ist

Paul Gauguin and Savageness http://www.escapeintolife.com/essays/paul-gauguin-and-savageness/

The Religious Significance of Scarifications http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=15&ved=0ahUKEwjM7sXRpr7JAhXFWhQKHWeYCzwQFgheMA4&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdh101.humanities.ucla.edu%2FDH101Fall12Lab5%2Farchive%2Ffiles%2F5dea9e77670bfbc8626b3837b112cdb4.pdf&usg=AFQjCNEbzFaEmno0hpV3LPzzIaL7vMtp-w


INJURED HUMANITY – A representation originally circulated in 1805 to educate the public about the treatment of slaves https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/early-republic/resources/horrors-slavery-1805

Whipping a Female Slave, Suriname 1770s http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/details.php?categorynum=16&categoryName=&theRecord=61&recordCount=74,

Effects of Punishment by Burning, Richmond, Virginia, 1866 http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/details.php?categorynum=16&categoryName=&theRecord=22&recordCount=87

BIBLIOPHILES might appreciate acquiring or reading these informative books – but two of many – which served as references during the 2011/2012 artistic process:

Cosmos: A Journey to the Beginning of Time and Space: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cosmos-Journey-Beginning-Time-Space/dp/1847241255

Black Women in Antiquity http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Antiq-2nd-Journal-African-civilizations/dp/0878559825/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449136056&sr=1-1&keywords=black+women+in+antiquity

OTHERS might prefer listening and will learn more from this lecture on Black Women by Professor Ivan van Sertima:

CONTACT A:S&H for further references or bespoke consultation that could add value to your academic research or commercial and cultural projects

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