Saturday 3 August 2019

Painterly activism of Ezenwa Maja-Pearce in 'Overcoming Misogyny'

Against all Odds by Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce
After her artist-in-residency in Swansea, U.K, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce returned with paintings that are armoured in defence of women's right. In partnership with Yemaja Gallery, the programme was sponsored by the Marion Donalda Fund for Visual Artists.

Like nearly all her previous exhibitions and themes, Ezenwa Maja-Pearce, again, returns in the latest exhibition with sympathy for women. Titled Overcoming Misogyny, and showing from today - August 9, 2019 at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, the exhibition is a mix of fresh textures and old styles of the artist. Last year, Ezenwa Maja-Pearce showed Beyond 2018 at the same venue.

In her current work, Ezenwa Maja-Pearce notes the efforts of women’s advocacy groups in the country, but seeks more government input “to deliver Nigeria from the hands of those who desire her destruction.” In that context comes one of the series in the exhibition, 'The Praying Women', inspired by ‘Praying for Nigeria’ collection, which the artist explains “honours the efforts and faith of Nigeria’s praying women.” 

In one of the paintings, there is a sharp difference of tone in the artist’s application of light and shade, compared to her previous works. The painting, which celebrates baby strapping on mother’s back radiates pop art texture, a freshness that Ezenwa Maja-Pearce’s canvas wasn’t exactly known for previously.

 Despite the glaring change radiates by some of her works, Overcoming Misogamy still emits the artist’s signature of masks and masquerade themes. This much is seen in  ‘Triumph over Misogyny’, which depicts a masquerade in colourful costume. A “maiden masquerade”, the artist says, “represents the many small victories individual women achieve as they consciously and collectively engage with the challenges of misogyny.” Yes, there are rear situations of female masquerades in Africa, but for an artist whose canvas drips in women activism, every figure behind the masks should be a woman.

In reality, some people would argue that misogyny appears like something possibly from fictions, or mere sensational topic to raise women’s defence mechanism in the context of always playing the victim.  For Ezenwa Maja-Pearce there is no place to accommodate liberalism on the issue. “In gender social relations, it is a multi-layered system of social control than the state of mind of a person,” she argues in her Artist Statement. “It is behaviour which manifests as acts of social control and dominance where the victims are female and the perpetrators are male.” She also cited the gender complex factor of intolerance, noting the manifestation “when a woman disagrees with dominant man, even in casual conversations.”

Surprisingly, the battle against misogyny in a contemporary world of ‘sophisticated’ ladies appears an uphill task. Ezenwa Maja-Pearce captures this much.
'Triumph Over Misogyny' by Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce.

Excerpt from her Artsist Statement:  “The role of women in society is now more sophisticated. It seems as if, for all the freedoms this century has offered, society demands full payment in compensation. Single, stay-at-home moms are no longer acceptable. Non-professional women are frowned upon and termed lazy. The average woman is expected to be a perfect mother, an excellent wife, a caring and polite in-law, a successful professional, a good marketer and a PR expert. A slight flaw in any of these roles and the criticism comes pouring in. Society expects the modern woman to be a super-hero and will punish her mercilessly if she falls short. In short, women are set up to fail.

“In many respects, mothers do indeed wield a strong influence on her child’s first impressions of the world. But she is a person with a history and with flaws, just like everyone else. The case is made worse if she is under age, a child herself with a child. So powerful are mothers - or their absence – that they are blamed when the child turns out bad. So powerful is this influence deemed that it requires a great deal of regulation and control (especially where it affects power and authority in royalty), so much so that it becomes punitive, including gender-targeted taboos and restrictions.

"Misogyny has everything to do with alerting us to codes of practice that legitimize the systemic humiliation of women. Evidence of misogynistic acts is often invisible, ignored or covered up by both the powers that be and the victims. The problem with misogyny is that people don’t think it should be taken seriously. Men assume that women want to satisfy their own needs without thinking about what women want. Uninformed women are the ventriloquist’s dummies of patriarchy, being the mouthpiece or protagonist of the patriarchy which colludes in oppressing their own sisters. This is most evident in harmful cultural mores, notably FGM, gender–shaming, gender discrimination and harmful widowhood practices.”
 - Tajudeen Sowole.

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