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Women’s mental health unmasked in Lagos exhibition

They are seven different artists from different backgrounds. But despite their different upbringing, they said they are unified under an umbrella. The septet said they…

They are seven different artists from different backgrounds. But despite their different upbringing, they said they are unified under an umbrella. The septet said they have as the focal point of their artistry: creativities that elevate the place of women in contemporary society.

Since March 11, up until May 4, 2018, the septet, comprising Nengi Omuku, Djakou Kassi Nathalie, Somi Nwandu, Nyancho NwaNri, Koromone Koroye, Reha Shishodia and Queen Nwaneri have their works ranging from paintings to photographs, digital art and ceramic sculptures, poetry and spoken word performance and a large multi-media string installation on the exhibition floor of the Wheatbaker hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos.

Organisers said the participating artists are the third set of the all-female Standing Out exhibition titled, UNMASKED which is being supported by the Louis Guntrum, and the Wheatbaker.

“UNMASKED presents the powerful and energized artwork of seven female artists who have strong links to Lagos but come from different parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, the Gambia, India, and the United States. The exhibition explores women’s mental health through 35 different works,” Sandra Obiago, the curator and founder, SMO Contemporary Art said.

According to the curator, this current exhibition departs a little from the highly publicized women’s issues such as lack of access to education, gender based violence, and the need for economic equality, to delve in to the complex world of women’s mental health, which clearly impact their ability to fight for recognition and equality.

Obiago could not have been less apt. Queen Nwaneri for instance said her works are products of her family upbringing where her father gave premium to his only male child. 

“But I understand that such way of life as exemplified by my father was an impression that deserved to be corrected. Thus, through my works, I do project the inner strengths that go beyond what could be seen on the face-value,” she said.

Reha Shishodia, an Indian artist having her first exhibition in Lagos also shared Nwaneri’s conviction. To her, the enigmatic roles of women, are those that have been there from time immemorial and not only should they be equally treated but be made the face of the society. 

“With the use of different alphabets, I have been studious and painstaking to communicate the outstanding roles that women play both at home, work places and the society at large. They do not deserve to be undermined but be treated equally,” she said.

For Cameroonian Djakou Kassi Nathalie, her six ceramic works are self-explanatory of the tremendous stress underwhich the women in contemporary African society find themselves. She said her works encapsulated the false image the society has created for women to live in. “Despite all the stress they go through, they still want to hide their pains. Their agony are thus subdued under false artificial cosmetic the society had often expected them to put on. They are not natural. Neither are they real. But they don’t want to be treated as outcasts either. They want to live up to that false expectation, the stereotypical world. They only play along in their pains,” Nathalie said. 

Nyancho NwaNri on her part said though she has put in two works, her societal message conveyors are films and photography. “My focus is on women who are standing out inspite of all the challenges they have to contend with. While the issues of discriminations are not what should be swept under the carpets, I must say their achievements often drive me crazy,” NwaNri said.

But unlike others, Koromone Koroye of Bayelsa State origin said her spoken words artistry are what she has armed herself with as the exhibition progressed. According to her, she has sent in three poems to the organizers and she would be performing them. Each, she noted, specifically addressed the two sides of the stories on the male and female dichotomy. 

“I don’t just feel comfortable hearing just a side of the story. Anytime we say women are discriminated against, I think we should take time out to enquire from men what goes on in their minds and I can bet that you are most going to have startling revelations. So for me, I am using my poetic works to present the two sides of the stories many may not care to know,” Koroye said.

Obiago explained that UNMASKED exhibition is the brainchild of two emerging curators, NneomaIlogu and Moni Oloke, who are both health professionals and have been focusing on art through their work at SMO Contemporary Art.

“We believe that art is an important tool for advocacy and change in society,” the two 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.”

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