“You May Enter” this safe space with Tonia Nneji – Chidinma Okere
In a popularity contest between the male and female body, the female body will win. Yet, in a battle of which form is most shrouded in mystery, she would win again.
She is ever being painted by the lovestruck painter and being sung about by the jilted singer. She is both the symbol of justice and of seduction. The female body is also a symbol of chastity and secrecy and of the sacred and the profane.
So much ink has been spilled in explaining the anatomy of a woman especially how it relates to her as a sexual being. Her essence is marked by how much sexual pleasure she can receive and more importantly can give. And even these pale in comparison to how much her worth is tied to how productive her loins are. If she’s going to be giving pleasure she better also be making children out of it.
One thing that is not so talked about is The Anatomical make up that makes the female body not just sexual but ‘productive’.
In order to be “productive” women all around the world have periods yet many girls are out of school because of it. The menstrual cycle and other workings of the body that make up a woman are hush hush topics in society, even amongst people of the female gender. Women issues are limited to what the textbook says it should be and any deviation from the norm is seen as going against what is otherwise considered sacred and worthy of mystery.
One artist who is bucking the trend when it comes to stirring conversations around the female body is Tonia Nneji. The 27 year old artist from Imo state who holds a BA in Visual Arts from the University of Lagos was part of Rele’s 2018 Young Contemporaries and has become one of the young artists to look out for.
For her first Solo Exhibition, Nneji has a body of work entitled, You May Enter. It is an invite into her world as a person living with PCOS – many nights of pain, endless visits to the pharmacy, a million and one suggestions for ‘spiritual solutions’ and quite recently, fibroid.
PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome is “a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges”.
Talking about her work recently with friends, someone asked: why do we need to know? What does painting about pain achieve? Nneji already answers this. “I want women to know that they are not alone….”
You May Enter explores issues of vulnerability and safe spaces. In moments of pain and sadness, everyone needs a place of safety and comfort. Safe places are not only houses and soft mattresses. Sometimes it is the feel of being embraced in a hug or wrapping yourself in your mama’s old abada.
As if in defiance, Nneji makes use of bright colours to tell her story of long periods, excruciating discomfort and living on pain killers. For her, these bright colours are her way of talking about sadness without being sad. To see it, witness it yet not embody it every time you have to talk about it.
By sharing her experience through her works, Nneji hopes to engineer a more wholistic conversation on the female body and the things that plague her.
Conversations that encompass the beauty, pains and struggles of women without placing expectations on how to be a woman.
You May Enter is open at Rele Gallery till the 29th of November, 2020. You really should go see it and step into the safe space created by Ms. Nneji.