Presenting new work by contemporary Nigerian artist Tonia Nneji, You May Enter - her first solo exhibition – is a continuation of her 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.
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; she explores these positions that the body assumes in its negotiation of pain and the importance of safe spaces and support systems as catalysts for healing.
Her use of vibrant fabrics draped around the figures both reference her exploration of draperies as a ‘tool of hiding and protection’ as well their socioeconomic and religious peculiarities in contemporary Nigerian society. The fabrics are also significant in the chronicling of her frustration through various modes of treatment, from modern health facilities to more unorthodox, religious alternatives.
Exploring significant moments through her journey, You May Enter is 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 do we continue to amplify conversations that center women’s voices and issues?”