I grew up in a castle, not a damsel but distress followed me
I wore prayers I didn’t understand
like an armoury keeping demons away
A demon I realized was you
He said a sinner was one who knew his sins
So I elevated my head, I stood righteous
Ten decades of praying beads I didn’t understand...
— Chidinma Nnoli.
Rele Gallery Lagos is pleased to present To Wander Untamed, the first solo exhibition of contemporary Nigerian artist, Chidinma Nnoli. Taking the viewer on a journey through shifting realities and constantly evolving experiences, the exhibition dialogues with the idea of freedom and what it means to exist outside of imposed constraints and judgment. Drawing from familial experiences of growing up in a strict Catholic home, she presents intimate reflections on repression and emotional trauma especially within familial and religious contexts as well as ongoing meditations on the negotiation of self beyond socio-religious restraints.
Working predominantly in oil and acrylic, Nnoli’s emotive figurative paintings characterised by thick layers of paint, solemn melancholic figures, lush flora and Romanesque-style arches present intimate, ethereal and multi-layered scenes, creating what the artist refers to as ‘a coming of age series that tells the story of my transition into adulthood’. A story transversing feelings of pain, fear and loneliness in the search for joy, laughter and liberty. Exploring the power of emotional relationships in the making and re-making of identity, Nnoli takes the viewer on a journey through the real and imagined, the personal and fictional, creating alternate worlds in which women are free to negotiate their realities outside of restrictive social and religious structures designed in service to a predominantly male experience. To Wander Untamed juxtaposes the internal with the external presenting them as metaphors in the body’s journey between spaces. A journey from rigid structures, forced composure and victorian columns to the possibilities of an alternate landscape. The artist explains it as ‘a journey towards liberation and discovering oneself and identity.” A journey of freedom and community.
Nnoli’s engagement with architecture in the form of brooding doorways and arched windows — which sometimes frame her figures —not only serve as a physical representation of the familial space, but also as a reference to religion, particularly Catholicism and how it is continuously used a tool of suppression in modern society. Referencing symbols and imagery drawn from Christianity, her work holds up a mirror to a deeply religious, patriarchal and prejudiced society seemingly bent on the abuse and continued oppression of women. Nnoli’s work also takes us further, to scenes of companionship and support referencing her own personal experiences of finding solace and liberation in a community of women with shared experiences. To Wander Untamed explores the idea of a communality from shared values, a communality that allows for new and diverse imaginings of self and an exploration of the unknown.