HER STORY: Sisterhood That Transcends
The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) is pleased to present HER STORY: Sisterhood That Transcends, a joint exhibition of recent works by emerging Nigerian artist, REWA, and the celebrated Netherlands-based, Africa-focused photographer, Dagmar Van Weeghel. The exhibition seeks to celebrate and uplift womanhood by exploring the female identity. Women play many roles in our complex world – mother, sister, daughter, friend, lover – but there is a connection that all women share which binds them together. Indeed, all women play a part in a “Sisterhood that Transcends.”
Self-taught visual artist REWA was encouraged from an early age to experience and appreciate art, which developed into a desire to create her own works. Travelling widely, she now calls London, Lagos and Johannesburg home. Each of these cities has played a role in her artistic practise – fortifying her and emotionally challenging her life perspectives. REWA is drawn to the female form and creates captivating and alluring images of female beauty. Although at first glance, the temptation would be to call her work portraiture, REWA comments: “My spirit is neither moved by landscapes, nor by still-life or portraiture, but rather by what I refer to as ‘depicted sentience’ through the celebration of the female form in bright, vivid colours.”
REWA’s new series Onicha ado n’idu (naming rites and traditions of the Igbos of Nigeria) featured here celebrates the women in her culture, paying homage to the relevance of “naming rites” and how they shape and create a path for the individual. Each piece tells a storythat the audience can easily relate to. The objective is to help viewers identify a certain part of “her women” within themselves. According to the artist, “My subject matter is woman. I celebrate her in her many forms. I use traditional materials; ink, acrylic paints and brush on cartridge paper to capture an essence— making the paint assemble and the ink announce. I want my audience, whether male or female, to look at one of my women and be able to identify with her story, as wel as the meaning behind her name. I want her to represent a message, a memory, a story or a prayer for the viewer.”
For Dagmar Van Weeghel, creating a narrative is an essential element of her photography. African women play a central role in her compositions. Major themes explored by Van Weeghel’s works include identity and African womens’ migration within the diaspora. She also delves deeply into the subjects of cultural assimilation, exotification, racism and sisterhood. Her portraits are beautiful and ethereal, the story behind them intriguing. Each work takes the viewer on a journey, exploring the women depicted in the stories they tell, captured through the eyes of the artist. The relationship between the women and Van Weeghel is symbiotic. A bond of sisterhood is formed— a union that transcends race and class, one that creates a “safe space” for stories to come forth and be shared. Van Weeghel says: “I tell stories that advocate for the strength of people, especially for women and girls. I seek to offer another perspective on the way people see the world, and each other, through the stories I tell visually.”
Here, three of Van Weeghel’s recent series are featured; ‘Lapis Lazuli’, ‘Mombasa Blues’ and ‘Yelema’. The ‘Lapis Lazuli’ series refers to this semi-precious gemstone’s strength and lasting beauty and the significance of “lapis blue” as a symbol of royalty. The woman featured presents her story from the African American diaspora perspective—she desires to connect with her African roots. “Taking matters into her own hands, she evokes aesthetics of Yemeya, the West African cosmological deity often referred to as the goddess of the ocean, and with regal repose, attempts to reclaim what was lost.”
Mombasa Blues is a part of an on-going series, “About Lish”. The central character, Lish, recently relocated from Kenya and the series explores the subject of her “displacement”. The portraits showcase the division of Lish’s life between two continents and various emotional states of identity.
Yelema is the Mandika word for “change” or “transformation”, and, in this series, Van Weeghel pays tribute to the “sister bond.” The themes of sisterhood, love, migration and identity are all readily explored in the captivating soft tonal images presented. “The images Van Weeghel creates are meta-narratives, mediating through the traumas of social history, in an attempt to bring awareness, and ultimately, social change.”
Both artists are fully in tune with the women they present. Each of them has a strong identity within Her Story, and we come to realise the viewers are also a part of this story.
September 15, 2021
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