Nneji, the fluid man and his peers
Male visual artists seem to be everywhere, but keen observers agree that women are beginning to take their rightful place in Nigeria’s contemporary art space. And so, from Adenrele Sonariwo’s Rele Gallery to Bisi Silva’s Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, not forgetting Peju Alatise, who alongside Jelili Atiku, Victor Eikhamenor, Qudus Onikeku and Sonariwo took Nigeria, for the first time, with it’s own Pavilion, to the Venice Bienniale. Alatise recently won the 2017 FNB Joburg Art Fair prize of South Africa. One can’t help presuming that they are questioning the impossible and breaking boundaries that gave birth to the book The Art of Nigerian Women by Ben Bosah Unegbu.
Then comes Anthonia Nneji, another game-changer, who shares her intuition and storytelling the best way she can. Nneji holds a degree in Creative Arts from the University of Lagos, majoring in painting and mentored, according to sources, under the tutelage of one of Nigeria’s best, Mr. Wallace Ejoh at Universal Studios of Art, Lagos. She is known for her legendary, bold strokes.
In a recent series of paintings, she chose to voice out her private pain. In the series, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the subject matter. One could never have imagined that beneath her beauty and talent, Nneji has been dealing with a monster over the years.
She said, “In this series, I speak of struggles with menstrual cycle, weight, insomnia, depression and the agony of discovering meaningful diagnosis in the collapsed Healthcare system in Nigeria. My work is therefore a powerful statement to the courage of a woman’s body, and the rather limited male gaze that constantly seeks to find erotic stimulations in the presentation of the female body, even when that body is yearning for control over its rights to define her own aesthetic parameters.”
Prior to the eye-opener, these paintings were perceived as beautiful and sexually provocative. It only takes a critical perusal to see the pains and tempered emotions. Nneji, therefore, conforms to the post-modernist idea of ideal beauty. By 1970, people were beginning to argue that because something is beautiful within the framework of the physical appearance doesn’t necessarily make it desirable, good or useful.
A major imbalance involving androgen, insulin and progesterone results in PCOS. Androgen is also known as the male hormone; insulin allows the body to absorb glucose into the cells for energy, while progesterone is vital in female reproduction. Hence the title of her piece, ‘Anthonia Nneji, the fluid man and his peers.’
Indeed, Nneji deserves applause for her unique art. She has managed, through her floor of thorns, to produce works that serve dual purposes – for art for art’s sake, as well as for art for life’s sake!
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