29th January–14th March 2009
The Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos is pleased to present the works of Nigerian artist Lucy Azubuike and South African photographer, Zanele Muholi in the exhibition “Like A Virgin…”. The works highlights women’s experiences, identities, their bodies and sexuality, in a manner yet to be explored in contemporary Nigerian art.
Since 1999, Azubuike has created a large, ongoing body of work of her menstruation cycle. These simple images of menstrual blood serve as a diary, a book of visual narratives containing insights into personal reflections and experiences such as love, hope, disappointment and friendship. In another series, Azubuike focuses on photographing trees. She moves from the autobiographical and the personal to the public and focuses on the way in which culture, tradition and religion, the embodiments of patriarchal society impact negatively on women. These manifest as outdated, oppressive and discriminatory acts such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), widowhood rites, girl/child marriages. Azubuike says “women enforce it on their own women, they think it is culture, they accept it even though they don’t like it.”
Zanele Muholi’s conceptual strategies are similar to Azubuike; however the physicality of the black female body is brought to the fore in her work. Indignant about being spoken for, about the portrayal of and attitude towards black lesbians, especially in the townships, over the past four years her work has set out to document the lives of ‘her’ people and ‘her’ community. The ensuing results are images as intimate as they are confrontational, provocative and transgressive. Muholi shows us the multidimensional aspects of black lesbian life and how they negotiate their private lives and the public space. In public the most virulent being the violence perpetrated again their person, one in which the rape of black lesbians by black men is seen as a curative process. This rape, this violence, this attempt to spill blood is metaphorically captured in the body of work “Period”. Using the symbolic power of menstrual blood, she highlights not only a process of violence and pain but also of renewal and rebirth. Muholi remains defiant, asserting that “stereotypes about the sexuality of black women need to be challenged by African women themselves. My photographs provide the radical aesthetic for women to speak.”
The idea of “Like A Virgin…” came before the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos became a reality in 2007. It was the appropriate catalyst in a context in which few, if any platforms exist for artistic practice that strays from the conventional and the conservative. This is such a project, not because it presents groundbreaking or cutting edge art, as artists have dealt with the issues of womanhood, the body and sexuality and made provocative works for over thirty years. However, within the embryonic Nigerian art context scene, it is precisely that – groundbreaking and provocative. In an intransigent patriarchal society in which sexism is prevalent and in which homophobia is legalised, few if any artists have presented complex, provocative works on the body and sexuality the way Azubuike and Muholi are doing. Two young African women working on the continent, pushing boundaries, confronting taboos and challenging stereotypes, in essence expressing themselves and their lives in a way few of their predecessors have done before.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with texts by Bisi Silva and Christine Eyene.
Curator: Bisi Silva. Curatorial Assistant: Hansi Momodu. Like A Virgin… is supported by the Prince Claus Fund and the Commonwealth Foundation.