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  • Dami Afam Ade-Odiachi

I am not a goddess... Unless I say I am exhibition by Sabo Art Gallery shows women as themselves.



I am not a goddess… Unless I say I am, was an exhibition put together by the Sabo Art Advisory, to celebrate Women’s History Month. The physical exhibition was at the Amar Singh gallery, in Lagos and closed on the 28th of March, but it’s still available virtually (HERE)

It featured 11 artists, Anne Adams, Bunmi Agusto, Fadekemi Ogunsanya, Layo Bright, Manyaku Mashilo, Nola Ayoola, Osaru Obaseki, Peju Alatise, Shannon Bono, Tobi Alexandra Falade, and Yagazie Emezi. All of them are women, and all the work is of women. “Women through the eyes of women” they call it. The subjects depicted in the art shown are women of different ages, races, ethnicities, religions, physical appearances, and socio-economic classes; diverse.



The exhibition explores the diverse nature of humanity as it pertains to women. Women seem to suffer from what I can only call hyperactive romanticisation. They’re put on pedestals, like objects, like idols, like goddesses. I am not a goddess… Unless I say I am challenges this.

In the literature created to support the exhibition, they write, “While well-intentioned and oftentimes empowering, this deification of women extracts us from the context of reality, thus robbing us of the autonomy needed to truly explore the spectrum of our identities. Women have flaws and are real people who should be valued for their individual identities and their self-proclaimed narratives. It is up to society to listen to women, appreciate us for who we are and not project idealised versions of womanhood unto us.”

It is a thing I am aware of, but not necessarily conversant with. In these matters, I yield to those who’ve lived the experience. However, I do know what it is to be put in a box. To be stripped of who you are and given titles you never asked for, titles you do not deserve. We are all human, we are all capable of great highs and great lows, fantastic goodness, and brilliant evil. However, only men are given full license by society to be all they are, their best selves, and their worst selves. God help the woman who is not good, who is not kind, who doesn’t walk the shifting tightrope of perfection. Society abhors such a thing.

Recently, the Nigerian singer Seyi Shay, was roasted on social media for comments she made on Nigerian Idol, a music competition show, modelled after the now infamous American Idol. She said that a man would never make any money by being a singer. The outrage, from all genders, was quick and brutal. However, for those familiar with the format of idol, her comments were barely an insult. Simon Cowell once said to a contestant, “There is as much chance of you being a pop star or a rock star as me flying to the moon tomorrow morning for breakfast. It’s never going to happen.” And to another, “If you had lived 2,000 years ago and sung like that, I think they would have stoned you.” And to a third, “You will never, ever, ever be a singer.” He said all those things without incident. If he came on television today, and repeated them, we’d listen with a wry smile. This is just one example of this.


The only way to change this, I think, is to challenge it again and again. To be ourselves, so that people learn there’s more than one way to be a person; that boxes are boxes and people are people; that people cannot only be one thing. Like Mahatma Ghandi, who said, “be the change you want to see in the world,” and is greatly respected and honoured as a freedom fighter, but was also, as it turns out, a raging racist.

The exhibition was well curated. Many of the pieces shown are exceptional. There were two pieces I found particularly interesting.

Smoke by Shannon Bono has followed me since I saw it. It makes me think of Nigeria. It's so toxic that many would like nothing better than to escape into chemical oblivion. On my way to work in the mornings, between 8 and 9 I see many like this. Mouth glued to a sachet of liquor, the smell of weed drifting lazily through the air. It wasn't always like that.



And there's this one by Tobi Alexandra Falade. It's called In a Future State She Is herself now and then. I think it's such a clever bit of work. It captures the essence of the subject through time. She's both young and old, innocent and experienced, but the performance of being herself remains.


It was a successful exhibition. What is art but food for thought?


Happy Days,

Afam

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