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In Lagos, women’s mental health unmasked

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Artists and Curators


According to World Health Organisation, depressive disorders account for close to 41.9 per cent of the disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women compared to 29.3 per cent in men

Based on the WHO statistics, the third edition of Standing Out, a yearly exhibition featuring female artists highlights themes and issues pertinent to womanhood globally, began yesterday and would run through May 4 at Wheatbaker, Ikoyi in honour of International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8 every year,

The exhibition titled ‘Unmasked,’ which is organised by SMO Contemporary, is with the support of Wheatbaker Lagos and Louis Guntru. It will showcase the works of seven female artists, with strong links to Lagos, but from different parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, The Gambia, India, and the U.S. Nengi Omuku, Djakou Kassi Nathalie, Somi Nwandu, Nyancho NwaNri, Koromone Koroye, Reha Shishodia and Queen Nwaneri are the featured artists whose works explore women’s mental health through 35 paintings, photographs, digital art, ceramic sculptures, poetry and spoken word performance as well as a large multi-media string installation.

Understandably, this year’s edition departs a little from the usual women’s issues such as lack of access to education, gender based violence, and the need for economic equality, to focus on women’s mental health, which clearly impact their ability to fight for recognition and equality.

Another statistic from WHO states that over seven million Nigerians suffer from depression and 4.8 million Nigerians (2.7 per cent of the population) suffer from anxiety disorders. World wide just 3 per cent of total government spending is for mental health. These artists through different mediums would create awareness on the different inner challenges of women with the hope of stripping the layers to express themselves more, especially in a men dominated society.

At the preview of the exhibition, Founder and Artistic Director at SMO, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago stated that depression and other forms of mental illness could be easily spotted in Lagos, for example. “The expectations placed on women are even more enormous. Not surprising that we wear a mask to hide, deflect, cover, subterfuge and protect our inner worlds. Yet despite these immense pressures, Nigerians have been declared the world’s happiest people. Are we also the happiest women of the world?”

“We believe that art is an important tool for advocacy and change in society,” the curators explained during the press preview. “We choose artists who have a strong message and presence, and could help to publicize the need for society to focus on the mental well being of women.”

The ‘Unmasked’ exhibition is the brainchild of two emerging curators, Nneoma Ilogu and Moni Oloke, who are both health professionals and have been focusing on art through their work at SMO.

Five of the artists were at the preview to shed more light on some of the works. In what may seem first of its kind, the exhibition features one spoken words artist, Koromone Koroye, who treated newsmen to one of her performances titled ‘When the spirit moves’. The poem challenges the stereotype that woman cannot write about anything or express themselves freely.

Shishodia whose works are mostly acrylic on canvas said she draws inspiration from life around her. Shishodia depicts the spirit of woman through her series of “Tryst of Inertia”. The undeterred spirit of a woman is the core of her inner beauty. She remains unperturbed by her circumstances and the inertia caused by the mundane things of life increases her resilience. Another work by her is ‘Woman – The Cradle of Civilisation’, a multi-media installation with strings and charcoal, showing that women are capable of holding everything together.

Nengi Omuku’s works, oil on canvas, show colour anthropomorphic forms, which stand in contrast to the scapes they inhabit. Metaphorically, she points out alluring differences between both sexes, questioning the encounter, ‘how do we react when we meet one another?

Gambian-Nigerian filmmaker and photographer, NwaNri’s works posed a question, ‘what should I wear today? Referring to what one wears to present herself daily to the world. “As women, we bear the burden of high expectations from society. We smile even when we are hurt, we laugh even when we are dying, and we keep our head up even when we are sinking. We believe we have to be strong, to always have it all together. What should I wear encourages women to reject those projections, tear down the walls they have built, peel off the façades and reveal what truly lies within, embracing the beauty of womanhood with all it’s kinks and blemishes,” she said.

Nwandu presents digital print on canvas. Her background in fashion is evidently seen in her works of beauty and true identity. As she puts it: “My works show my facial features interwoven with patterns that reflect my powerful heritage and African culture.”

Nathalie’s work is fired and glazed clay, in which she advocates women solidarity, pointing out that education was the root of all women challenges. For her, women are more impacted by the happenings of society and culture. “I address these issues, in the shapes and faces featured in my work, by reminding us that when we take our last breath, we end up as dust. My art reminds us that we are responsible for what goes on around us, and at large in the world,” she said.

Nwaneri-Olatunde also known as QueenTochukwu, displays acrylic on canvass ‘The Outsider series, depicting emotion and thoughts that revolves around a woman. In different expressions, in colours, strokes and contours, she compels the subject to be comfortable in whatever form.

For the curators, the world is at a pivotal moment, and there is a line being drawn in the sand with the TimesUp and MeToo movements sweeping first, the entertainment industry and then spilling out into the rest of the world. In times of momentous change it is easy to stand on the side lines watching the transformation instead of being one of the catalysts.


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women’s mental health
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