Very often, art replicates what’s happening in society and when it comes to nude art in Nigeria, this replication is reflected in the subtlety of what is created.
Strip, an exhibition of a collection of nudes showing at rele art gallery in Onikan, Lagos came to a close on Sunday, June 7 with a conversation on nudity in art. Writer Toni Kan; Isaac Emokpae , whose work is in the collection and Ayodeji Rotinwa, writer and co-curator of the collection sat on a panel moderated by Wana Udobang.
The abundance of female nudes in the collection was a major talking point as the conversation revolved around why there was more female nude art being created. Toni Kan traced the history how nude art evolved from mainly male subjects to the female form coming in as a symbol of fertility to finally to what obtains today: a prevalence of female subjects.
Nude art depicting male subjects is often considered homoerotic, and Ayodeji pointed out that artists have a connection to their work, and attraction might come into play, unless the artist has an agenda and given our society, such art might in a way be seen as the artists outing himself.
Of the seven artists exhibiting, six were male, a fact pointed out by someone in the audience as she talked about the idea of objectivity; from the perspective that there were mainly female nudes because the artists were mostly male. The idea of whether there would be more male nudes if there were more female artists was discussed Wana posited that only women can truly tell their stories. Isaac, however said that as a male artist, he isn’t necessarily thinking of a woman as an object when he’s working on a project; it wasn’t objectification so much as nature: attraction to the female form is like air, you don’t shut it off and it reflects in your work.
Back to the idea of the subtlety expressed in most of the collection, the Nigerian society is conservative when it comes to matters of nudity and sex and as such, whether the nude is of a male or female subject doesn’t make much difference as the reception is mostly the same. Nigerian collectors in many cases will not buy a nude from Nigerian artist; something Isaac said is changing as a new generation of art collectors are coming up.
The line between porn and nude art is the difference between nudity and nakedness. Where in one case it could be an empowerment and education, in another it could be used t shame: a woman who undresses her husband’s mistress in public vs women in history who protested bared breasted or completely nude. According to Toni Kan, it has always been that way, even before colonisation: we didn’t wear clothes but we weren’t naked either.
Strip closed on an interesting note as it provoked ‘keen engagement, sought to deconstruct myths and truths of power, shame, freedom, beauty and more.’
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