Friday 11 September 2020

In Suowari's monochrome strokes, beauty, fashion blossom

  Ama' (ink and acrylic on paper, 5 x 8ft, 2020) by Jacqueline Suowari. Pic: from the artist.

DESPITE being the oldest form of art, figurative painting has been defined differently by each generation of artists across cultures. In the unfolding world of 21st century contemporary art that is giving figurative painting diverse tones, Jacqueline Suowari is one of such artists, whose brushstroke and ballpoint of fluidity are in romantic flow with monochromatic contents.

Based in FCT, Abuja, Nigeria's capital city, Suowari creates works that celebrate the resilience of monochromatic textures while subtly acknowledging the vibrancy of colours. Mostly of female themes, the artist's strokes in portraiture style figurative painting highlight beauty, fashion, contemporary challenges and high points of women.

Every artist who places much priority in being unique brings fresh perspective to what may be considered as common themes. Suowari's signature in figurative rendition of black and white, spiced with colours, enriches visual vocabulary of 21st century art from Africa.

Living in a country where women — partly for self-inflicted mentality of submissiveness and largely for the society's static norms — struggle against everything, any female artist would have her palette full. For  Suowari, her visual narratives emit courage and sometimes radiate an aura of sympathy for the fragile gender. 

The ever contentious aspect of what makes a woman's public appearance decent or not comes to mind in one of Suowari's work titled Her Eyes Do All The Talking. The title of the work attempts to take one's concentration onto the eyes of the lady, but so much seems to be loaded elsewhere in the figure's body. The bare arm and chest in half cladded moulding would take more attention of individual viewers, for different reasons. For some men, a search for the lady's speaking eyes (oju to n' soro) may not be the immediate attraction; female flesh seems to communicate faster in a world of misplaced virtue. In fact, the mass media of the 21st century, visual culture inclusive, has commodified female body more than ever done in the past decades.

However, for a different reason of fashion statement, Suowari's Her Eyes Do All The Talking piece, has so much for women to chew over in the artist's style and technique of rendition. For example, planting a drawing of black and white face/body inside bold colours of drop-shoulder blouse, could offer a good lead or inspiration in conceptualizing fashion design. 

Consistently, Suowari has been on the path towards the mastery of monochromatic rendition, spiced by loud colours. Beauty and boldness of Ama, a piece in brownish tone against yellow background asserts how Suowari, most times, brings odd textures in cohabitation as art. This much oozes as the artist's signature is better appreciated in Ama's manicured purple nails of riotous narrative context of creativity with the monochrome flesh. Again, the artist's odd coalesced of colours becomes a strength in creativity.

"Ama is a Ghanaian model whose body language has always inspired me," the artist discloses during a chat few days ago. "This is especially because I am more interested in the subliminal expressions than the obvious."

Perhaps, female figure attraction, even to a woman too, is a personal choice. And being an artist further makes Suowari's choice more relative. "It's body language that fascinates/inspires me and it has a lot to do with the human face and hands."

Most of her paintings with focus on facial and body details easily give her preference of features away. "And the whole body sometimes," she adds. "If I zoom in on a person, it's because there's an emotion I want to communicate with my viewer."

Among the period when female submissiveness becomes unavoidable is enacted by Suowari, in which zero protection is available for a growing girl child. One of her works titled What If captures the naughty issue of girl child education against the norms of under-age marriage in Africa. Rendered in ink and acrylic on paper, the adult portrait of unknown lady radiates so much of contemplation with chin rested on her right palm.  

What's the contemplation all about? The piece, Souwari explains, revisits her school days as a minor. One of her classmates, Mariam, suddenly stopped attending school. She was curious to know what happened to her classmate. Mariam had been married off to a family friend, Suowari would later learn.

The trauma of imagining Mariam's state of mind as well as condition of care under the husband haunted Suowari from childhood to her adult years and generated the paper work titled What If. Perhaps, the other side that the artist and other schoolmates of Mariam thought of then was: 'What if any of us becomes the next 'Mariam.''

The truth is that across Nigeria, irrespective of tribe or religious affiliation of the people, child marriage of girls to adult men are not exclusive abuse in a particular region of the country. Like most situations in Nigeria, the stereotype mentality always take a single narrative that focuses one tribe or religion on issue of socio-political imbalance. 

A studio visit, via online, from which this review has been generated may not give a whole view of the artist's depth and scope as a solo art exhibition would have. Her plans for a solo show in Nigeria this year, she said, were already in motion until "the lockdown," set in.

As the third decade of the 21st century unfolds into post-COVID-19 crisis, the textures of Suowari's art is still pregnant of more surprises. "I am currently working on projects that bring other forms of Art into my 2-dimensional representation."

Suowari, b. 1990, got her B.A Fine Art and Design (Painting), from University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. Her works have been exhibited in Nigeria and abroad, including a recent solo show titled Body Language, held in November 29 2019-February 9, 2020 at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Perform,ing Arts, Miami, Florida, U.S.

 -Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based Art Advisor.

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