Saturday, April 15, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - The Art of Nigerian Women: Chukwuemeka Bosah¹s Recent Gift

The Art of Nigerian Women: Chukwuemeka Bosah's Recent Gift

Toyin Falola

If you are thinking of buying one book this year or for the last time in your life, there is only one that you should really consider: The Art of Nigerian Women by Chukwuemeka Ben Bosah (BB).  BB is a role model, a man with talent and output worthy of celebration.

I can no longer remember how BB and I fell in love with one another, but our relationship became consolidated with his first book, A Celebration of Modern Nigerian Art: 101 Nigerian Artists which he released in 2010. Then he came to Austin when I hosted a conference in honor of dele jegede, the distinguished scholar and fine artist with an old Genesis beard that defines the territoriality of his body. By that time, BB had released Celebrating Chinua Achebe: Essays on His Life, Legacy and Works. I loved this book and decided to buy from him about 50 copies that I gave away to others. And then I discovered we shared a common interest in poetry—as it turns out, I am so small compared to him, too little to share the same reading space. Glimpses from his forthcoming The Lamentation of the Returnee will announce his uncommon talent. Just wait.

He has now done what will become definitive as the preeminent coffee table book on seventy five of our outstanding women artists, supported by brilliant essays from Frank Ugiomoh, Moyo Okediji, and Neelika Jayawardane, all in 355 pages of enriching and inspiring text and images. Other sound voices, presented under the matriarchal rubric of the "power of women," include those of Chiderah Aalisa Monde, Carol Boram Hays, Tobenna Okwuosa, Abiola Bolarinwa, Temitayo Ogunbiyi, Erica Garber, Minna Salami, Nkechi Abii, and Tushar Hathiramani. Clearly, a distinguished cast of artists and art historians reflecting on production and experiences, in addition to wonderful and delightful artist statements.

Moyo Okediji, one of the continent's best in semiotics, sets contents in context, combining images with poetry. His masterpiece contribution to the book merges genres to create compelling textual narratives. Moyo is a competent reader and decoder of images, adding an eclecticism of words to the eccentricity of creativity.

This is a beautiful book---hardy, sturdy, majestic. Its beauty is like that of an onion, from cover to cover—as you peel one skin, it reveals a layer of another set of beauty. Colorful, vibrant, brilliant. The emotive forces of images move me from laughter to happiness, but also eliciting some moments of sadness.

  Let me tease out just a handful of the many ideas that the images in the text convey. Those that provide a reconnaissance that take us back to the origins of our ideas, our identity, are particularly instructive. Women understand their own past, their own making, their own ambition, even the enemies they have. So, it is not a surprise that a number of images by the women artists indicate the siege in which we find ourselves, like the very oxymoron of citizenship in contested spaces. In other images, women speak truth to power, and in metaphors, of the release of their gender from marginality, revealing talents and enlightenments. Social alliances come through, from one image to another, permeated by cultural assumptions and logic. The women offer reflections about Nigeria, but also about their gender. As to be expected, there are strong voices on feminism and womanism. Yes, powerful words, images and reflections on innovations, revolutions, and inspirations are all embroidered into a tapestry that reveals collective efforts and individual achievements. The women artists take strong, powerful, purposeful strides defying anonymity—the bane of past historiography on women. The maidens are now in the open! No one is faceless and hidden any more. Erstwhile 'hidden figures' have established footholds in the expanding creative space, from the house to the art market place. The book has broken silences, and given us fresh perspectives on women artists in Nigeria. Clearly there are many more women artists to come to light; nonetheless the work is a bold contribution that future scholarship will expand. In the Art of Nigerian Women, BB presents:

i)               a diversity of ideas of talented artists;

ii)             passion, translated into forms;

iii)            distinctions between images and voices; and

iv)             the variety of forms of installation sculpture, painting, textiles, multimedia installations, and photography, among other stunning works that women artists produce.


Three gbosas for Bosah: gbosa!

Chukwu, Ben Bosah, many may not know that this is your passion;

Not the means to earning a living—gbosa!!

Emeka, an engineer smitten by the world of the arts and the humanities—


Toyin Falola
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin
104 Inner Campus Drive
Austin, TX 78712-0220
512 475 7224
512 475 7222 (fax)

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