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I am and … nothing else

By Florence Utor
25 March 2022   |   3:42 am
This quote from the book, “Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype,’’ by psychoanalyst, author, and poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes, inspired a show titled ‘I am and...

This quote from the book, “Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype,’’ by psychoanalyst, author, and poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes, inspired a show titled ‘I am and … nothing else,’ in commemoration of International Women’s month, featuring five visionary female artists from Nigeria and South Africa.

Showing at Affinity Art Gallery from March 20 to April 16, the works, presented by Donna Duke, Nene Mahlangu, Roanna Tella, Buqaqawuli Nobakada and Tomilola Olumide, deal with themes of healing, identity, community, wholeness, femininity and what it takes to exist in today’s world as an African woman, while paying homage to past generations.

Through the medium of materials such as, lace fabric, gold leaf and embroidery, the works reveal that African women can simultaneously embody softness, fortitude, delicacy and resiliency.

The artists draw connections across time and space to the emergence of the African woman as a wholesome being. Duke said her work is inspired by people around her. It is a contemplative study of the unknown possibilities of walking into new scenarios, situations and territories in the exploratory phase in the life of a young woman.

The use of materials such as motifs of gold and copper leaf in Duke’s work signifies the need for recognition of power, fortitude, and strength in the historical and contemporary context through black female storytelling.

The composition of her paintings explores mixed media through the use of acrylic, oil, metal, and 24k gold leaf and resin. Her influence originates from historical and contemporary accounts of the black experience while weaving a personal narrative within each piece.

The figures in Mahlangu’s works depict vulnerability, healing, confidence, wholeness, and a transcendent sense of power. Her works are evocative and thought-provoking, reasserting the rhetoric of authority of the female voice in the everyday world.

Mahlangu, based in Johannesburg, uses her work as an affirmative escape and a reminder of the beauty, divinity and blessing of being a woman.

In celebration of 25 years of democracy, Mahlangu made history, by being the youngest woman to design two coins for South Africa, championing education and children’s rights.

Tella, on the other hand, creates an alternate reality by situating herself in dreamscapes, where she gets to be at rest and unperturbed by external expectations of the chaos in her present reality. She incorporates hand-sewn narrative embroidering texts along the borders of her paintings, which serves as a meditative practice, helping her think through the work.

Tella conveniently creates a universe that explores various emotional states, mental resilience, and coping mechanisms.
Using the relationship between paint, paper and lace, Nobakada, celebrates women for simply nature, challenging the notion that women have to be strong. She said, “Lace serves as a metaphor for the delicate, beauty, and complexity of the women.”

On the same note, Olumide’s absorbing three-dimensional installation responds to the language, gestures, tones and micro-aggressions towards women in a misogynistic society. Through her sculptural medium of ‘fabric drawing,’ she envisions a world where women can be “the very best versions of themselves”, without being oppressed, restricted, or compromised by irrational and systematically regressive ideals.

Her work contextualises the storytelling and projection of her personal histories and experiences in wedges of experimental autobiographical exercises.

Commenting on the choice of younger artists for the exhibition, Affinity Art Gallery Manager, Moni Aisida, said it was not a deliberate thing as the gallery has a mission on female and emerging artists and typically emerging artist are younger, but this exhibition shows that the younger artists have something to say and we need to listen.

“I also think the younger artist are more hesitant to speak their minds. The society might question their experiences but I think the accumulated experiences of our ancestors and people that have come before us is passed down from generations, the lessons and trauma we inherit make part of our experiences too,” she said.