The art in the woman
Let me start by acknowledging the overwhelming responses I received with my maiden article in these series ‘Art – A Place beyond Reality’ (also published in this medium).
The sentiments expressed were all humbling as well as gratifying. Some were downright critical, while others were adulatory. But all resonated with me, as it showed me that the article also resonated with its target audience – albeit in different ways. The ultimate purpose with that article therefore was well achieved.
So, to each reader as well as respondent, I say thank you very much. You give me the energy to push forward.
The month of March is always a very busy one for the female gender and the organisations and institutions that represent and advocate for their interests. March 2022 is no exception and the International Women’s Day celebration with the theme ‘Break the Bias’, is supposed to highlight the need for society as a whole to dismantle the barriers – be they cultural or institutional – that continue to hold back the woman and girl-child from achieving her true potential and subsequently preventing her from expressing her unique human essence and playing her role in the family, the community and the nation. The day is usually an occasion to affirm the basic humanity, humaneness and dignity of the female person, whatever her age, ethnic, national or racial background or creed may be.
A little bit of background here:
The International Women’s Day (IWD), which is a global holiday, is celebrated every year on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political and socio-economic accomplishments of women. It is also a focal point in the Women’s Rights Movement as it helps focus the world’s attention on issues such as
gender equality and the campaign against violence and abuse against women.
Although the idea was first driven by the universal female suffrage movement that began in New Zealand, the International Women’s Day in its present form originated from the labour movements in North America and Europe in the early 20th century. Some accounts of the history of the IWD have it that it was the fallout of a ‘Women’s Day’ programme organised by the Socialist Party of America in New York on February 28, 1909. This initiative inspired the German delegates at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference to propose an annual ‘Special Women’s Day.’ The following year, however, saw the first demonstrations and commemorations of the International Women’s Day across Europe. After women gained suffrage (i.e. the right to vote and be voted for) in the defunct Soviet Russia in 1917, at the beginning of the so-called ‘February Revolution’, IWD was made a national holiday in that country and on every March 8 up till the late 1960s, a celebration of some sorts occurred until it was formally adopted by the global feminist movement. It finally became a mainstream global holiday when it was adopted by the United Nations in 1977.
The celebration of the IWD differs from one country to another. In several countries, it is a national holiday, while in others, it is observed with local activities geared towards calling attention to more inclusion of women in all areas of the society especially key and strategic positions. At the level of the UN, it is observed in connection with a particular issue, campaign or theme pertaining to the rights of women. In some countries however the IWD still reflects its political origins, as it is marked by protests and calls for radical change.
Nigeria’s 2022 celebrations for instance was marked by a countrywide protest over the rejected gender bill by both its Senate and the House of Representatives. This amplifies the origins of the IWD.
In view of the multiplicity of challenges confronting the global community at this time, the 2022 celebration of the Day is also being used as an occasion to recognise the contributions women have made towards addressing and resolving a variety of issues of general (not just feminist) concern, such as climate change and it’s mitigation and responses in a bid to build a sustainable environmental future for all.
But how do we as women ‘lead the charge’ in achieving the inclusion that ultimately we seek. In my view, it is first by affirming one another a lot more. The traditional notion that women are self serving and strive to disempower other women is actually a narrative that is not correct. Women have always been
sister keepers and when a woman traditionally is in need, it is other women that lift her and not the men. In the workplace today, it is more women that will support and seek the empowerment of the other first before a man. Certainly as with the male gender, there will exist petty rivalry and targeted envious sentiments, but by and large as much as men would support each other, women also deliberately seek out and support as well as protect their own. But definitely an increase in these supports and affirmations should be the ultimate approach for a holistic empowerment for women by women and this will culminate in the overwhelming inclusion of women in all areas of influence in the society.
We ‘Break the Bias’ when we refuse to be defined by negative sentiments and non affirmative actions. We break the bias when we stand tall together supporting and lifting one another and creating a base, a foundation for younger women to stand on to grow into their own. We Break the Bias as one!
Daily personal affirmations are also important for the woman. I for one have learned to affirm myself daily. I like the sentiment expressed by the American singer and soul sister, India Arie, in one of her famous songs:
‘I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations, no; I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.’
I am particularly blessed to have had great mentors, most of them men. Most mentors will not affirm but every woman needs a mentor and also someone to affirm her. I got a lot of mentoring from the great man I married, Dr Newton Chuka Jibunoh. However affirmations from people came much later in my life and I owe a lot of gratitude to people like Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, Professor Emerita of Emory University , a Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology , Chair of the Board of the Johnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute and a one time director of the Smithsonian Institution African Art Museum in Washington, DC. USA, who saw in me a great quality which she tapped into to help the Institute facilitate the return of the Alonge photographic collection to Nigeria. She affirms me not just as her Chief from Nigeria, but have shown me that even with her incredible achievements in life that I also have so much she could still learn from.
My in-law and friend Professor Jude Nwoga, a professor in the science department affiliated with the St. Augustine University Florida USA , affirmed me in such an amazing way that ultimately shaped my thinking in relation to exactly how to own the woman I have become. Jude and I had deep conversations on world issues and concerns relating to his worldview and mine and he was clearly baffled by me and was anxious to find out what my academic background was as he claimed I was quite knowledgeable in a myriad of disciplines. That was when I created this response that I am like a pot of soup simmering on the fire, strewn with the best ingredients in the world.The soup has been cooking for a while and occasionally someone comes along and stirs it this way or the other, and by so doing deepens the flavor in a way that further enhances the delicious intensity of the dish – some add more ingredients to the soup and a few remove to make the dish even more exquisite, but the pot remains on the fire bubbling and cooking and it’s work is still not done. In other words, I am still extremely vibrant in my views on life allowing inputs from people to shape and reshape my worldview and perspectives on all issues as they become relevant. I have not retired nor am I retiring as I get older but remain active and focused on any role that I find myself in.
I have used these two people to showcase that we all need people in our lives to affirm us, especially as women. I have found that as I become older, I have also become a bit bolder. I live everyday now as a special day – always keeping an eye out for whatever surprises each day will bring. I have not put my life on hold, waiting for something outside of myself to happen but have consciously aimed at ‘Breaking any Bias’ I encounter as I travel , living and loving my journey.
And I’m not alone. I believe a lot of women can relate to this even when they have not fully realised their innate power or come into their full actualisations.
But then again, maybe I have this self-awareness because I am an artist? Of course most artists are self-aware to a greater or lesser extent (art being such a solitary and introspective profession). But I also happen to be female and so I guess I tend to approach the business of art and life with the sensitivities and sensibilities peculiar to my feminine gender. This is a trait I am proud to share with my sisters in the art profession, from veterans such as Chief Nike Okundaye (the Founder/CEO of Nike Gallery); Simi Ogunsanya of Mydrim gallery, Clara Ugbodaga; Colette Omogbai; Ndidi Dike; Late Afi Ekong;Theresa Luck-Akinwale; Peju Layiwola; Peju Alatise; Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo; Fatimah Tuggar; Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce; and the curator Bisi Silva, to promising and exciting young artists such as the experimental multimedia artist, Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu ( Yadi), who was featured on the CNN programme, African Voices in late 2021, and who also took part in the 2021 exhibition at the World Trade Centre Ministers’ Summit.
Yadi often creates environments across dimensions which bring together a combination of the abstract elements, textures and materials that interact
with each other. Yadi in her work understands inclusion as well as Bias Breaking albeit within the Art sector.
These inspiring women, veterans and the younger generation have blazed and are blazing new trails in creative expression, oftentimes breaking through glass ceilings as well as all kinds of biases and paving the way for successive generations of female artists and other creatives.
I celebrate them all.
But beyond the studio and the glitz and glamour of exhibitions and galleries, womanhood is an art form all by itself.
Even in the performance of purely functional duties in the home, on the farm, in the office or the factory (and even in President Buhari’s ‘other room’) the woman displays a mixture of dexterity, resilience and fortitude that has a creative resonance about it.
That makes the Woman an Artist in more ways than one.
In 2011, the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to three women – Eileen Johnson-Sirleaf (who was then President of Liberia); Dr. Leymah Gbowee (a Liberian scholar and activist); and Tawakkol Karman (a Yemeni journalist and human-rights activist). The Nobel Committee cited the inspirational manner in which the trio deployed a combination of motherly instinct and creative activism, driven by an active conscience and compassion for the victims of conflict and other vulnerable persons in ending the conflicts in their respective countries – the Liberian civil war and the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
That was just one major recognition of the crucial roles women have played over the centuries in the promotion of a culture of peace, security and harmony in the family, the community and the nation. Conditions without which no enterprise, creative or otherwise, can thrive.
Above all, the woman in her physical, emotional and psychological make-up is a veritable work of art. It is no wonder that so many male artists down the ages have found in the female form such a potent form of inspiration for their work.
‘So amazing how this world was made’ marveled the Jamaican/American singer Shaggy in his iconic song, Strength of a Woman. ‘I wonder if God is a woman.’ he sings…
Indeed, woman is the highest manifestation of Beauty and Grace in the entire universe. At her best she is the very epitome of God’s personality, His love and mercy. Woman is His crowning glory as well as an eloquent demonstration of His infinite creative powers.
In the end, the artistic personality of the woman is expressed not just in her beauty and grace, but in the gifts she also brings to the table. Her nurturing role in the family and society as well as the timeless legacy she bestows to affirm her basic humane role as Matriarch.
Chief (Mrs.) Elizabeth Ifeyinwa Jibunoh holds a Master’s degree in Museums and Gallery Management from The City University London, United Kingdom, as well as a degree in Floral Artistry from Boerma Institute International in the Netherlands. An art consultant since the early 1980s, Chief Elizabeth is the founding director of Didi Museum, the foremost private museum in Nigeria. She is a seasoned international curator with an eye for the sublime, who has worked with the Smithsonian Museum of African Art to facilitate the repatriation of the Alonge Photographic Artworks back to their ancestral home in Benin City, Nigeria.
An avid art enthusiast with an eclectic taste, she enjoys mentoring rising artists – a role Mrs Elizabeth. Jibunoh enjoys as much as her role as a wife, mother and grandmother. She Is also a wellness Coach, an etiquette enthusiast and an entrepreneur who deals in high end leather goods.