For our debut exhibition in our new Los Angeles space, Rele Gallery is pleased to present Orita Meta- Crossroads a group exhibition featuring works from three contemporary Nigerian artists – Marcellina Akpojotor, Tonia Nneji and Chidinma Nnoli. Referencing the book Orita Meta – loosely translated as ‘a junction where three roads meet’ – by established Nigerian artist Peju Alastise, the exhibition explores the dialogue on gender and femininity between three exciting women artists working in Nigeria today.
While there have been recent strides to recognise and center the voices and contributions of women in contemporary artistic practice, there still exists a large gender imbalance in artistic representation and visibility from contemporary Nigeria. As such, it is important to illustrate both locally and internationally how women artists have taken ownership of their own narratives both in their thematic focus and stylistic treatment of form pushing beyond the reductive, unidirectional and often eroticised representations of women in contemporary Nigerian art.
The works these artists have created are all inspired by events that they have encountered and experienced as women in Nigeria. The works featured in this exhibition highlight issues such as purity culture, sexual autonomy, safe spaces and intimate dialogue as well as critical reflections on identity and trauma. A particularly striking quality of the works shown is the way they all explore the idea of femininity in completely varying methods, from their stylistic treatment of the female form in their work to their diverse engagement with contemporary issues which include the journey to female empowerment in contemporary society as well as the ways in which hegemonic, patriarchal power structures contribute to the constant marginalisation of women’s voices and experiences.
Employing collaging and traditional painting techniques, Marcellina Akpojotor produces richly textured and layered work with compelling visual imagery exploring femininity, personal and societal identity and issues surrounding women empowerment in contemporary society. Presenting work from her 'Conversation' series, Marcellina Akpojotor explores the importance of intimate, layered and continuous dialogue as a tool for driving change and interrogating existing narratives especially around issues on gender equality and women empowerment.
Working across several mediums including fabric, acrylic and charcoal, she creates intimate scenes populated with dynamic figures in various positions of repose engaged in communal discourse. With this series, Akpojotor points to a need for constant, critical conversations in shaping and mapping out new futures of gender equality and empowerment devoid of patriachial oppression and marginalisation.
Known for her use of bold colours and intricate patterns, Tonia Nneji explores the relationship between trauma and the female body. Drawing from her experience dealing with personal health conditions, she confronts a culture of suppression and silence on issues around women’s physical and mental health, bodily autonomy and sexual harassment in a bid to create safe spaces where conversations can be held freely. Taking her ongoing engagement with pain, trauma and women’s bodies as a starting point, Tonia Nneji's presented works explores the importance of safe spaces and support systems in navigating through difficult situations. Exploring the act of listening as a form of support and solidarity, she presents relaxed, familial scenes of companionship and silent contemplation.
Chidinma Nnoli's presented series 'A Poetry of Discarded Feelings' explores the idea of purity culture and the role it plays in restraining and policing the sexual autonomy of women in contemporary society. Referencing personal experiences of blackmail and being shamed for sexual freedom, Nnoli situates her figures in contrast with each other, the hidden against the visible, the covert against the overt an allusion to the ways women have often had to stifle their sexuality and put up a facade of purity especially in Nigerian societies. Drawing from a culture that places women on a pedestal of innocence and swiftly punishes them when this image isn't maintained, this body of work challenges harmful and objectifying views around sexuality and the female body. It aims to highlight and subvert the stigma and oppression which contributes to the suppression of the female agency in traditional and modern societies.
Exploring symbols and imagery from Catholicism — a religion the artist was born into — the series also shows how Western religion has become the biggest perpetrator of purity culture and the resulting stigma surrounding the politics of sexuality.
While they all centralise female figures in their work, both Akpojotor and Nnoli reference familial experiences and relationships and the ways they reinforce or challenge gender stereotypes while Nneji’s work dialogues with pain, medical trauma and the women’s bodies amidst a tradition of collective silence on women’s health. Orita Meta- Crossroads aims to challenge stereotypes, psychology as well as the cultural conditioning of women’s identity and the culture of silence that allows them to remain repressed and vulnerable in society.
The three artists are all women who have undergone the Rele Arts foundations Young Contemporaries program and subsequently gone on to be represented by the gallery both locally and internationally.