Girl Power!

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They are bold. They are creative. They are artists and they are women! Yinka Olatunbosun reports on all-female exhibition at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The heat from the kitchen foreshadows the feminine energy that is bubbling forth. The last time that Lagos felt anything this close was at Ford Foundation’s 2014 Femme Fatale in Banana Island, Ikoyi. This time, it is a show of thoroughbred women in art as well as emerging artists with a streak for “standing out”. The artists have demonstrated that their energy is renewable by showcasing their artistry using different expression that deviates from the regular. A preview to this show at Temple Muse a fortnight ago revealed as much about the works of the select eleven female artists in painting, photography, print, sculpture, ceramic, mixed media, jewellery and performance art.

Tyna Adebowale, Ranti Bamgbala, TY Bello, Carey Godwin, Taiye Idahor, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Zemaye Okediji, Obiageli Okigbo, Nnenna Okoro, Nike Davies-Okundaiye and Karin Troy were tasked to live up to their names, albeit not literarily. As individuals, each has a retinue of works that conveys rich visual metaphor. That must have caught the attention of the show’s curator, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago who came across some post cards by The Guerrilla Girls during her recent visit to the Tate Modern, London. The question on the postcards provoked in the curator the urge to collect and showcase female artists. Rather than limit the selection to the Nigerian-based female artists, she sourced artists from far and wide.

Her search led to the discovery of unique techniques, variety of media and the profound statements made by each of the selected artists. In all, she admitted that their works exude “resilience, interconnections, overlapping memories and identities”. The two-hour tour of the Temple Muse with two of the artists, Wura-Natasha Ogunji and Zemaye Okediji was quite instructive regarding the direction to which women perceive the world and their personal experiences. The works provide deep insights into internal, family and societal boundaries.

For Ogunji, embroidery and threads are fascinating tools that she appropriates in communicating about the power of women. Drawing strength from classic African films by Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl and Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki), she explores the inner conflict between aspiration, nostalgia and housework and the will power to overcome the physical and mental inhibitions in life. For her performance art, the woman hair expresses the spirit of resilience in women. But will the woman hair become a stereotypical medium of identity soon? Ogunji didn’t think so.

“I mean that is what the people think. Of course not. There is a particular form of gender expression that woman are supposed to have that makes you valid in the world. One of my questions is that what is the relationship between my appearance and who I am in the world? I have value regardless of how I look. But we grow up in a society where women are expected to be beautiful, presentable in order for you to be acceptable,” she explained to this reporter in a private chat.

Meanwhile she is not the only one with a thing for the hair. Ask Taiye Idahor, she will tell that the hair is a visual language. Two years ago, her first solo exhibition titled, “Hairvolution” let us into her feminist perspective as related to larger issues such as environment and globalisation. In this show, her collages spoke for her on the cyclical nature of life. In “Imadode”, she draws attention to public versus personal image, reality versus virtual to provoke thoughts in the viewer especially as to how these contrasts can be reconciled.

Okediji brought a bewildering dimension to photography art with her underwater images that blur the lines between perception and reality. Her aquatic expressions tapped from personal emotions were interpreted in mesmerizing images. The works are deep and thought-provoking; representing opportunities and barriers within natural and imagined intellectual landscapes. She was also at the preview to shed more light on the works in the ways her strobe lights could not.

Her underwater photography in itself pushes the boundaries for a female who has stereotypical societal roles. In her work titled “Iceberg”, a female model emerges from the pool of water while in one of the untitled series, another model is caught in the whirlwind of terrestrial existence. “In a way, the journey of the woman is set in water that is bound only by whatever contains it, reinforces the notion that boundaries only exist in our minds and inspires a conversation about distinction in a way that reflects the very bias that it seeks to challenge,’’ said Okediji

Based in Brussels, Obiageli Okigbo brings back history with her collection of monumental figures in Africa. In the series titled, “Female Heroes”, this artist who is incidentally the late poet, Christopher Okigbo’s daughter, evokes the memories of leading women of courage, intellect and sense of purpose. These include the singer-songwriter and civil rights activist, Mariam Makeba; the Nobel Laureate Waagari Maathai; the warrior queen of Hausa, Amina Mohamud amongst others. Okigbo also is inspired by her father’s poems and it’s no surprise how these have found their way into her creative expressions.

On her part, Nnenna Okorie who is a Professor of Art at the North Park University, Chicago brings a different feel to the show with her ceramic and mixed media techniques. Her drawings on hand and paper as well as her hanging burlap speak on human labour and the effect on her material world. The artist’s perspective seems to suggest a Marxist interpretation of the exhibition theme.

For Nigeria’s celebrity/ fashion photographer and singer, TY Bello, the exhibition was long-overdue for her to express self in a unique experience for the viewer of her works. Her super impositions provoked some gender debate at the preview whereas her intention with the work titled Intercessions was to show what connects all, regardless of age, gender or social status. Interestingly too, the Intersection features another female Nigerian artist based in France, Asa. The more you look at the works, the less you see the actual images because the mental images offer more profound statements.

The leading female artist and owner of Nike Art Gallery, Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye, sinks the adire motif into her world of her works. Asides her contribution to this show, Okundaye had promoted women empowerment by facilitating workshops in rural areas such as Oshogbo. Her work in beads, “Celebration’’ is a large portraiture of everyday heroes and it occupies a very prominent space in the gallery and hopefully, a special place in viewers’ hearts.

Karin Troy, an American artist who had lived two decades in West Africa is showcasing her wearable art at this group exhibition. Placed on mannequins clad in designer wears, the works have such aesthetic pull that ignites interest and then brings the contention of whether her works were only capable of making fashion statements or exploring deeper meanings around the theme.
The show which runs till August 15 is sponsored by UBS, the Swiss International Bank and luxury house Moet Henessey.