In WIVA, women get louder voice(First published Tuesday, September 23, 2008)
By Tajudeen Sowole
By Tajudeen Sowole
Women would not stop drawing attention that often suggests there is a point to prove, particularly in men-dominated professions.
The visual arts has its fare share of this protest as women always use the opportunity of exclusive softer gender fora to stress their angst against the society's apathy.
From professional groups of like minds, to several art exhibitions, they appear to be confronting whoever and whatever stands on their way.
Recent in this context was the fourth edition of the yearly All Female Art Exhibition titled Women In Visual Art (WIVA) Perspective. The one-week show, held at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, and organized by Biola Akinsola-led Tour Shop featured 17 artists.
In 1997, an Abuja gathering tagged Women in Art fired the first shot. And in 2001 came Women About Women, an all female exhibition held at the Goethe Institut, Victoria Island, Lagos. Female Artists Association of Nigeria (FAAN) followed this trend when they made their debut in 2001 with A New Birth. However, there was no consistence as only two shows: Creative Feminists 2002 and Progressive Feminism in 2004, followed thereafter.
Having been held consecutively for four years, the Akinsola-led Annual All Female Art Exhibition could be seen as the window to the creativity and intellectuality of what the nation's female artists stand for.
According to Akinsola, the event, at this stage, would have featured at least two of the leading female artists. This, she said, was however not possible because of poor response from female artists of that cadre. "Some of these women were approached, but we didn't get their support. Take for example, this year, we wanted to feature one of the top artists to be part of the show, but we were turned down. Thank God for Nike Okundaye who supported us by coming in as mother of the day during the opening."
The artists whose works featured are a mixture of those in the middle category, the up-and-coming, and those considered to be at the bottom of the ladder of artists' hierarchy.
In the order of the exhibition's catalogue, they are: Odun Orimolade, Clara Eden, Olawunmi Banjo, Sade Thompson, Mobolaji Oshin, Chinoye Gloria Ejimafor, Stella Awoh, Vanessa Nzediegu, Chindima Ochu, Yinka Aromolaran. Others were Chinyere Ofodile-Okanume, Tinu Olabanji, Onyinye Elosiuba, Yemisi Ajiboye-Osundina, Eremina Jumbo, Linda Ohanuka and Chinyere Ndubuisi.
Unlike other female exhibitions, either organised by FAAN or other groups, WIVA Perspective though did not feature any of the top names in art, but it could represent another face of the nation's art.
WIVA had dug into the depth of the art scene and unearthed great potentials, particularly in the self-taught and relatively known formally trained artists.
While Orimolade, Awoh, Thompson and to an extent, Aden added an air of familiarity through their works, others like Banjo, Jumbo, Nzediegwu and Aromolaran as well as Osundina-Ajiboye proved that if given the space, their signatures can make a bolder mark on Nigeria's art landscape.
Self-taught and in her early 20s, Banjo's capture of what she titled Musing, for example, could pass for a signature of an artist in older generation. The portraiture artist said: "My view of art is the creative ability to define the beauty and existence of life, which words alone cannot explain."
And that sounded like an understatement compared to what she offered in Musing – a composite of two mothers and baby, each strapped at the back. She stressed her creative skills in the skins glowing from a hidden, but scorching sun and a Savannah forest kind of landscape in the ground that suggested the geographical setting. With such rendition, an artist to watch beckons in Banjo, who apparently has age ahead in her favour.
If Ajiboye Osundina thought her fantastic surreal painting of a couple in the realm of fantasy titled Meeting Point was enough to lead the painting genre of the exhibits, another revelation of the show, Jumbo, again, stressed the importance of photography in art.
With her touching piece of a disembarked goat head, captured at the slaughter slab, Jumbo justified her inclusion as the only photo artist at an exhibition dominated by paintings.
Selection of artists for the gathering, Akinsola explained, was geared towards a blend that exerts thought-provoking themes of innovation, well rendered.
Revisiting the set objective of the project since inception, she recalled: "The objective is to celebrate the creative ingenuity of our women, inspire young female artists to express their creativity, create a networking platform among the up-and-coming, established artists, art connoisseurs and the public." This, she argued would enhance their perception in national development and expands their horizon, in addition to boosting economic self-reliance of the artists.
The 2007 edition which had its theme, Naija Woman, the Creative Touch whilst exposing the talents abound in the exhibiting artists also showed that women could excel in any medium or genre of the arts.
Also, of note is abstract expressionist, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo-led Identities and Labels was held at Pan-African University, Ajah-Lekki, Lagos, in 2005. At this event and other similar shows, the vulnerability of women must have enriched their intellects. For example, when Nwosu-Igbo tried to be modest about the articulated protest of women through the 2005 exhibition, Identity and Labels, one could read the signals.
She had argued: "The idea of women addressing the over-flogged issue of identity but from four points is amazing. We talked about the artistic identity, identity and tradition, African identity, identity and gender. I wish you understand that we were all women, but we do not advocate a gender-based identity in our works. We are artists who are women and our gender should not be basis for artistic inclusion and/or identity."
Women artists must have suddenly woken up to come up with what could be described as gender attack as the Annual All Female Art Exhibition made its debut that same year.
And just in case gender is the issue at any point in time, Akinsola spoke of the strength of women in the arts. "Women have what it takes to take control of the art scene." Women in this country are indeed very creative people, she stressed, hence the theme of the 2007 edition, Naija Woman-the Creative Touch.
Perhaps, there is the need to get the higher authority informed about the role of female artists in national development, hence the recent visit of FAAN to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode.
Led by its president, Dr. Bridget Nwanze had informed their host that the association was established to promote the art and culture of the country and bring together female artists under one umbrella in order to enhance their creative potentials.
In his response, the minister urged the artists to work hard, and be dedicated in their profession adding that the ministry will continue to encourage artists and support them in their endeavours.
Individually, women artists further implore opportunity of solo exhibitions to present their case.
Perhaps bolder on canvas, in the agitation for greater women independence, is painter, Chinwe Uwatse. She had this to say in Identity and Labels: "Am I a legal tender or am I an accessory? I am neither ... I am me." And in the solo show, Burdens We Bear, she continued to challenge certain restraint the society places against woman.
In a poetry line for the exhibition, Uwatse said: "Divine my future - if you can. Divine my future, not my pain, 'Divine, my future; it is plain' and 'Divine my future; I am not vain."
What is glaring in WIVA is that it offerered a level playing field for all to excel.
Last year, FAAN returned from slumber and staged what it termed national art exhibition to celebrate its 7th anniversary, at Aina Onabolu Building, National Gallery of Art (NGA), National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.
With the theme Echoes of Experience, the group celebrated one of its members, the 77-year old veteran, Chief Afi Ekong. Traditionally, men at the event spoke glowingly of the ladies, but the president of the association, Nwanze said "life of a female artist is not only challenging, "but frustrating."
That show was the fourth in the series of the group's exhibitions since its inauguration in 2001.