From today, Wednesday, March 8 through 13 this week, Female Artists Association of Nigeria (South West zone), in collaboration with Nike Arts Gallery, Lekki, Lagos, will hold its yearly exhibition of works that cut across all genres of visual arts. There will also be the launch of a book, Nigerian Women Artists, written by Ben Bosah. With the theme: ‘Women Arise,’ the exhibition also coincides with the celebration of International Women’s Day. It has as theme: ‘Be Bold for Change.’ At the heart of the show is visibility for the female artists and the need for them to be heard in a profession, where men tend to dominate.
Recently, three members of the organising committee, Coordinator, Female Artists Association of Nigeria (South West), Ayoola Oluwaseun Omovo, Secretary, Clara Aden and committee member, and Queen Nwaneri , who spoke to The Guardian when they visited Rutam House, Isolo, argued that the non-visibility charge against female artists was wrong. They said female artists across the country were not just productive, but were also engaged in full time studio practice as well as being artists-teachers in tertiary institutions.
According to Omovo, “We have the likes of Mrs. Akande in Abuja, Ifeoma Ayede and we also have Peju Layiwola – these are people with PhDs in Fine Arts. When you attend the exhibition, you will see that our female artists are doing well. So, I won’t say we are down there. This show is a call to Nigerians that there are female artists existing and still functioning.
“People should expect to see a variety of different art works, ranging from ceramics, textiles, paintings, crafts. When I say crafts, we have some people turn nylon into artistic works, leather works, prints. There will be diverse art works on display for people to come in and see. So, we want people to come out to view our works; not only view them, but to buy and experience the power of women in arts.”
Omovo also stated that although male artists appear to be more visible and loud, the females, as opposed to what many think, are not missing out of the exhibition circuit.
As she noted, “We are not missing out. For instance, I was present at the Contemporary ArtHouse auction that took place just last year. I may not have been there physically, but my work was there and it was on display. My work was on the back page of the catalogue. So, we may not have had the opportunity to be there physically, but our works were being represented. Being women, we have the home and other things to keep up with; this is why we make our works represent us.”
Clara Aden, also a professional artist and secretary of the association, said lack of motivation was what could account for the presence of female artists in most shows. According to her, “I grew up in a country where many female children pursuing arts were and are still seen as peculiar or unusual. You see, at times the motivation is not there; some of us are not being motivated or encouraged. If not for the fact that I had the encouragement of my parents, and my art teacher when I was in secondary school, maybe I would not be where I am today.
“So, I don’t think it’s about them not having the passion for the profession, but the encouragement is absent. The encouragement starts with parents. In fact, that is the number one platform for a female artist or child to emerge and begin to explore the world of arts. I’m very passionate about anything that has to do with women and the girl child. There was this incident of a girl, during one of our workshops, whose parents insisted that she became a medical doctor. The girl in question is very good in painting and highly talented. Her dad was like, ‘there is no way a daughter of mine will become a painter.’
“I felt bad; her parents are going through a grooming process, and maybe after much persistence, or after some counseling, her dad might calm down and allow her. Nothing stops her from being a medical doctor while still practising her art!
For young artists, it’s a struggle trying to convince patrons to give their works a look. Aden has passed through that route and gave expression to it, noting, “I remember then, many years ago, when people pick up my works as a young artist. They would want to know who you are: are you Tola Wewe, Kolade Oshinowo, Olu Ajayi? And if you are a young, aspiring artist and if you don’t have that courage in yourself, you would feel discouraged and say, ‘Oh, does that mean I’m not up to standard or does it mean if I am not up to that level, I cannot project my work? Those days, I always felt bad, but thank God for the passion and the drive I had for the profession.”
Getting a gallery to project your work as a young or female artist is usually a tough call, according to Aden, who said: “Avenues for you to project your work at times are absent because when you go to some galleries, they will tell you, ‘Oh, Okay we can sponsor you, but these are the conditions.”
However, Aden is thankful for the expansion in the arts space and the encouragement that is beginning to come from those who value arts.
As she noted: “But thank God for some art-lovers and art supporters. When they see you, they give you the avenues: ‘okay, let me see your works; let’s see what we can do; okay, we can help project you. There is an exhibition going on; bring three of your works and let’s exhibit them. Thank God for these people, who are really doing a fine and wonderful work! We are using this exhibition, as a platform to project female artists that are invisible and reluctant to come out. Due to shyness, some of them don’t have the boldness to come into the crowd to talk about their work, but you should be able to talk about your work and you should be able to say what inspired you to create such work.”
Queen Nwaneri, a professional studio artist, is passionate about making a difference in projecting female issues through her art, which she wields as a weapon in challenging society to give women a space to thrive.
According to her, “I am making a series of female faces; the theme is ‘Light up our joy.’ I got my inspiration from a story a friend of mine from Kano told me, and also from a movie that really influenced me and prompted the production of the work.
“The ‘Light up our joy’ drawing is about girls in Northern Nigeria, but I am also trying to generalise it to all girls. My work is mostly abstract. When I was doing that work, I distorted the physical beauty of that girl child and focused more on her mind, her inner spirit and the voice she is trying to express to everyone around her, which includes her parents and everyone in the society.
“Girls in Northern Nigeria are not seen as being capable of navigating their own destinies without the direction of a man. They are forced into child marriage and their education is truncated because their parents feel it is of no use. I don’t want girls to be seen in that way: a girl, a little child, to be seen as a beautiful bride, or a possession that would one day be owned by an older person, who doesn’t even believe in women being bold and standing up for themselves in the society.
“Most of us are not even given the right positions in society; they are always given to the men. I am going to use this exhibition and my work to also stand up for young girls and protest against such treatments. Give us the opportunity to be heard, and give us the opportunity to attain certain goals. Most of us are in desperate need for this change, and we are really ready to go far in achieving these goals.
“With this female art exhibition, for instance, we are not just celebrating the International Women’s Day, but strong women are trying to come together as a body and achievers to produce art that explains different events surrounding our societies. We are asking for change, and we want people to know that female artists are actually in the sector. Gone are the days when we sit down and watch our men take over the art space. We are not competing with men; we want to complement what they are doing. We want to come out; we want to speak and we want to express ourselves through our works.”