Tonia Nneji says “You May Enter” at Rele

Rele art gallery presents “You May Enter” a solo exhibition by contemporary Nigerian artist Tonia Nneji from 2pm on November 1, 2020.

“You May Enter” is the first solo exhibition by the 2016 graduate of Visual Arts from the University of Lagos.  Known for her use of bold colours and intricate patterns…Her recent paintings show women’s bodies in various stages of movement draped with colourful, intricately detailed swathes of print fabric. This preoccupation with body forms and textile material navigates cultural and social meanings of fabric in contemporary African societies while exploring the protective qualities of clothing. She notes, “I use drapery as a tool of hiding, to represent protection, a safe place”.

The gallery invitation describes the exhibition and works on display as an invitation “into a world of trauma and healing, isolation and companionship, creating a space for dialogue and solidarity. With this exhibition, Nneji seems to ask, ‘What does pain look like? How do we initiate a process of healing? And how do we continue to amplify conversations that center women’s voices and issues?”

The exhibition catalogue goes ahead to note that the body of work on exhibition “serves as a continuation of the artist’s ongoing engagement with pain, trauma and women’s bodies. Drawing from personal experiences dealing with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – a medical condition that causes an imbalance of reproductive hormones among women of reproductive age – and most recently, Fibroids; Nneji’s work is both an invitation and permission to confront a tradition of silence and shame. Spanning paintings, installations and sound, the exhibition offers new meditations on form and composition, creating a multi-layered, immersive environment for intimate dialogue and reflective thought.

In “You May Enter”, Nneji’s brightly coloured canvases subvert traditional notions of pain and trauma as muted, grayed-out melancholic scenes, mirroring her belief that ‘sadness does not have to be in black and white or grey and brown’. She presents her female subjects in varying poses of vulnerability. From figures curled up in foetal positions to figures nestled gently in the arms of another; the artist explores the positions that the body assumes in its negotiation of pain and the importance of safe spaces and support systems as catalysts for healing. Nneji’s contemporary take on the body in her use of curvilinear monochromatic shapes in delineating form situates the melancholic against a backdrop of colourful backgrounds and brightly coloured swathes of fabric.

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