Ezenwa Maja-Pearce’s painterly activism in Overcoming Misogyny
In partnership with Yemaja Gallery, the Marion Donalda Fund for Visual Artists sponsored the programme.
Like in previous shows and themes, Ezenwa Maja-Pearce returns with sympathy for women. Titled, Overcoming Misogyny, and showing from August 3 to 9, 2019 at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, it 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, she reveals the efforts of women’s advocacy groups in the country but seeks more of the government’s input “to deliver Nigeria from the hands of those who desire her destruction.”
In that context comes 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 a baby strapped to the mother’s back, radiates freshness that Ezenwa Maja-Pearce’s canvas isn’t known for.
Despite the glaring change, Overcoming Misogyny still reveals 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 victories individual women achieve as they consciously and collectively engage the challenges of misogyny.”
Yes, there are rear situations of female masquerades in Africa, but for an artist whose canvas stress women activism; every figure behind the mask is a woman.
In reality, many will argue that misogyny is fiction 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 a behaviour, which manifests as acts of social control and dominance where the victims are female and the perpetrators are male.”
She also cites 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.
Excerpt from her statement reveals: “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 lazily. 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 respect, a mother does, 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 not of 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 that it becomes punitive, including gender-targeted taboos and restrictions.”
“Misogyny has everything to do with alerting us to codes of practice that legitimise 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 female genital mutilation (FGM), gender–shaming, gender discrimination and harmful widowhood practices.”