Walking into the large hall that sunny afternoon, the first thought in my head was, “O boy! This is huge!”
That was followed quickly by intense laughter that rumbled from deep in my tummy and finally escaped my mouth. Folks around me stopped to stare. Why is she laughing? They must have thought.
The hall with spanking and high white walls both intimidated and captivated anyone that walked in. It would take another five minutes to get over the size of the room and finally see the works.
For the opening of Tiwani Contemporary Lagos, Joy Labinjo’s presented series is a collection of large scale nude self-portraits capturing a range of poses that are resolutely frank and unapologetic. The figures seem to be saying – “Fuck you! Keep staring from down below while I tower above you with my pussy in your face.”
The exhibition statement attempts to put the works in context by noting that Labinjo’s works unfold “an interest in the significance of the nude in the history of visual art and contemporary public practices of sending nude digital imagery for example to lovers. These large scale works translate images that Labinjo took using her phone.”
In the series, Labinjo affirms an acceptance of self that contrasts sharply from performative nudity. She divorces nudity from capiltalist notions of/eurocentic standards of sexiness and sexuality. She portrays the defiance that women in Nigeria and other African communities are known to show in the face of social and political injustice.
Numerous accounts survive from the past of women using their nakedness as an instrument of revolt against unfair tax systems and unjust laws during colonial rule. In more contemporary times, Bring Back Our Girls, Kaduna killings, EndSars present instances where Nigerian women have threatened and used naked protest as a tool of collective action.
As such, Labinjo’s work presents the body as a political agent and platform. By portraying herself in the nude, she invites the viewer to consider the artist’s position, and the cultural weight that often bears down upon the body.
Hung well above the ground, the human size figures seem to be staring down at its viewers. Rather than being watched, they seemed to be doing the watching. Instead of being scrutinized, they seemed to be staring, judging and condemning the viewer and sometimes, totally ignoring and snubbing. Rather than feel shame in their nakedness, the figures are defiant and scornful.
Continuing the statement posits that “by portraying herself nude, she invites the viewer to consider the artist’s position, and the cultural loads that cover the body. Labinjo obscures reference to place, time, and social affiliation and prioritizes her self-perspective, removing much of the representational content that took precedence in earlier work. These works imitate a personal relationship between Labinjo and her body and present a point through which the artist is able to build associations that inform her interpretations of her surroundings and crucially, her own body.”
“Full Ground” is the first display of Joy Labinjo’s works in Lagos and is on till May 7, 2022.