Breaking the ‘mould’

As a working mother of two young children, navigating career opportunities while attempting to maximise motherhood is a big challenge. The fundamental inequality that women face both politically and economically has made the re-entry into the work force uncommon. Hardly able to “do it all”, women of talent have often have to pause careers to shift priorities.

A 21st century feminism should work to extend the human rights, political freedoms, economic opportunities globally; normalise valuing care that women provide, as two full time jobs while in competition with me that usually have one. A 21st century feminism should work to focus on creating conditions in which, regardless of gender, everyone have equal access to basic and secondary human needs and control, including agency.

Many of Nigeria’s indigenous crafts go back centuries to the pre-colonial era, preserving a rich cultural heritage. Many, such as pottery, weaving etc., involve women or are controlled exclusively by them; a signal of women’s everlasting importance to societal welfare and the creative economy.

Dada Pottery Centre, a home to some of my kinswomen, for instance, lies in the heart of Ilorin, Kwara State. Occupying approximately one acre of land, it is one of Nigeria’s 37 cultural wonders—and little known beyond the immediate community. The centre, named after the community, is one of the oldest, biggest and most indigenous craft industries in the country. The centre is managed by over a hundred women who work full-time all year, passing on their painstaking craft from one generation to the next. The stories of these women and mine will be told through my unique perspective as a young woman and a contemporary visual artist. It is a compelling and inspirational modern-day story, a gem hidden in plain sight. 

The project is first a dialogue with the history in our future. Then it is an exploration and celebration of the cultural ingenuity of the Nigerian woman. Finally, it is an interrogation of the questions of inequality and inclusion that plague our society today. Principally an exhibition and subsequently a documentary, it will also include several digital spin-offs, including how-tos, deep dives, interviews, highlight videos for social media as a long term projects.

Creating the Portraits

I am both fascinated and terrified by the human form. I will explain.

My early fascination with art in school led to an important creation at home: a human bust sculpted out of clay. Ordinarily a thing of joy to a child, my clay bust earned me a sharp rebuke from my father, after which he smashed it to smithereens. As Muslims, my father explained, we are not to mould man’s image; that is a creation reserved for God.

That experience is fundamental to my art. I remain fascinated by the human form—the face, in particular. The challenge before me as an artist then became to find ways to assuage my desire without falling foul of my faith, which, as anyone who has interacted with my work can tell, is an integral part of my life. I have recruited light to my cause and bent it to my purpose.

These works, as well as future ones, will distill the attributes of being human—physical attributes as well as the emotions conveyed by them—to its essence. The results will be enigmas. All they become before your eyes is what you bring to them.

And just like Ilorin from which I hail, all the streams of my being converge into my enigmas. I am light and shade, Yoruba and Fulani. I am Muslim, woman, daughter and mother. I fill many containers. I am desire. I also am hesitance.

As I tinker with Ajami script; studying the origins of various scripts and utilising yoruba communication markings, I present before you an artist honing her tongue.

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