|From the installation 'Mmanwu (masquerade)', by Ngozi Schommers.|
Curated by Wura-Natasha Ogunji, artist and curator, the way we mask expands the body of work by Schommers focusing on memories, culture and identity. She returns to memories of time passed to look in-depth at how hair shapes the identity of Africans. She searches for what existed before today’s hair culture, as well as the meanings of the hairstyles.
Schommers conceptualises a space (or spaces) where the understanding of identity and the ideals of beauty are far removed from representations constructed in recent times. She states that “The discussions on hairstyles of Africans are often overshadowed by colonial history, western representation and perception of our culture with no regards to pre-colonial history. For my research on these works, among other references, I engaged with pre-colonial Igbo hairstyles through the archival images of Agbogho Mmuo (maiden spirit mask), using internet sources and the book ‘Among the Ibos of Nigeria’ by George Thomas Basden.”
Beyond examining pre-colonial archives and the images of Agbogho Mmuo, Schommers delved into photographs from her childhood to study the hairstyles of her mother and other women. She found striking similarities between then and now. Regarding this connection, Ogunji writes in the curatorial statement, “We began with a photograph of stylish women in wigs. How could they know that their image would have a place in this future, that their simple pose would inspire the markings and makings of a daughter yet-to-be-born? It is this return and remembrance that so eloquently frames the work before us now, and the work we do as artists in the world. We give ourselves to the 'widening circles.’”
Schommers (born in 1974 Enugu, Nigeria), is a Nigerian-German artist based in Germany and Ghana. Her work focuses on subjects of identity, equality, memory, culture, migration and colonialism. She uses the body and experiences of the female gender, archival materials and memories of her childhood in tackling these subjects. As an artist living between West Africa and Europe, she incorporates experiences of both locations in her work and further expands the discourse on the past and present relations between the two regions. The artistic outcome is a combination of installations with media such as paper, paint, charcoal, fibre, photography and performance. These she manipulates to draw new forms and parallel meanings.
Schommers presented her first solo exhibition We Are Not Welcome Here in 2016 at Rele Gallery in Lagos. She has participated in group exhibitions in Nigeria since 2013. In Germany, she was part of the exhibition The Blind Spot at Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany, where she presented (Un)Framed Narratives, contributing to critical dialogues examining the collecting history of Kunsthalle Bremen in regards to
patronage and colonial trade. She has also shown her works at Staedtisch galerie in Bremen and Ystad Konstmuseum in Ystad, Sweden.
In 2018, she was an artist-in-residence at Arthouse Foundation in Lagos. She researched and presented works titled Ìgwè bụ ényí (There is Strength in Numbers), examining motherhood, infertility, and the choices women make around family planning. Her studios are in Takoradi, Ghana and Bremen, Germany.