Reclaiming the Female Body in Bisola Bada’s “i am a body of water” – Akumbu Uche

What is it about the sight of a woman’s naked body that evokes shame and disgust?

Recently, artworks by Laetitia Ky, who has made the feminine body her primary subject, have gone viral on Nigerian social media spaces with the Ivorian artist’s unapologetic nude portraits and their unflinching depictions of menstruation and childbirth eliciting censure and derision from Nigerian netizens over thoughtful reflections on the social commentary so immediately obvious to a more culturally literate audience. My advice to the obtuse: less doom scrolling, more in-depth reading.

A good place to start would be Bisola Bada’s i am a body of water (Konya Shamsrumi, 2023). Like Ky’s artwork, the poems in Bada’s slim collection are trained on women’s bodies and the absence of the vocabulary of shame is immediately noticeable. Take for instance, these lines in dissimilar bodies:

i do not care

how you learnt

to despise

your body

insofar as you do

not try to

teach me to

be at war

with mine.


Why should I

carry the same cross

as you when

we were created

in different bodies?

An extension of the poems specifically written for young girls in Unashamed, her 2020 debut poetry pamphlet, these couplets in girl as you grow connote an older woman matter-of-factly informing a young girl on the corporeal changes that await her in puberty:

gardens will sprout

in the angle of your body


some days, you will fountain blood

between your thighs


your hips will

grow into a bracket.

This frank delivery harks back to the wisdom of our mothers and aunts and sisters of yesteryears, evoking nostalgia for an era way before plastic-fantastic mediated ideals of beauty and femininity permeated the collective consciousness and necessitated making politics and ideologies out of accepting and loving one’s self, much like how the narrator in not a doll is compelled to reclaim the “keys to [her] body” from society’s control and judgement.

With their emphasis on bodily autonomy and self-love, it is not difficult to visualise Bada’s poems as textual accompaniments to Ky’s provocative art and vice versa.

In an Instagram post made on the 18th of May, 2021, a bare-armed and bare-legged Ky models an untitled portrait of a woman’s naked torso and thighs against her body, the dual pink backgrounds of both painting and photograph merging to create the illusion that the artist and the art are one and the same.

In the caption, she explains how the painting’s representation of elongated or ‘saggy’ breasts is a counter reaction to disrespectful and ignorant body-shaming comments often made by men hyper fixated on narrow ideals of beauty. This is a positionality Bada shares in autumn, a poem that could be placed side-by-side with Ky’s untitled portrait. Although autumn appears to be directed at an erstwhile lover who now finds her once youthful body since changed by the realities of hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy, childbirth, and ageing, one imagines the poem’s narrator gazing appreciatively at a mirror reflection of her naked form, moments before she makes the bold proclamation:

when i speak of my body

i speak of the fullness of fat &

stretch marks of my belly

There are other poems in i am a body of water; poems that speak on love, desire, and defiance, however these aforementioned poems are the brightest jewels in Bada’s box of ten. If there is fault to be found with Bada’s sophomore publication, it is that ten poems are too short for a poetry collection, but therein lies their purpose after all, Konya Shamsrumi’s digital gazelle series are specifically designed as an appetiser rather than a full-course meal. In leaving the reader hungry for more of the poet’s servings, this one has definitely done its job.


**Akumbu Uche is a Nigerian writer. Her book reviews have been published by Geek Afrique and Open Letters Review while her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Brittle Paper, Engaging Borders Africa, Ibua Journal, and Nowhere Magazine, among others. She curates a list of opportunities for African creatives and culture workers at Adiba Creatives. Follow her on twitter @xoakumbu

Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up-to-date