#AfricaMonth: Nigerian Artist REWA on Her Correlation Between Lagos, London & Jhb

The ‘radical unfragmented nature’ of her subject matter allows Nigerian visual artist, REWA all the right to freely embrace female shape and form. London, Lagos, and Johannesburg – the three cities she recognizes as home play a great ascendancy in her art venture. The mix of societal, racial, and cultural dynamics experienced in each city assists REWA in presenting these intricacies through color expression, ink lines, and emotion that waver over her artworks. 

Always doodling or sketching as a younger REWA, she recalls journeying into her artistic style back in 2016 while living in Johannesburg at the time.  

“I’ve always had a relationship with art. Growing up, my father encouraged my creative drive and his expansive art collection from West Africa provided further impetus for my development.”

We sat down with her as she tells us about her relationship with the three cities and furthermore on her taste for art.

You draw inspiration from three cities you call home. Lagos, London, and Johannesburg. Tell us about your connection to Johannesburg and also about the work you’ve done while there?

I moved to Johannesburg in 2015 when I worked for Old Mutual. Even after I relocated to Lagos, subsequent positions always took me back to South Africa – at my most frequent, I was there almost every fortnight (and sneaking beef and salmon steaks from The Butcher’s Grill back into Lagos). I love the country, it is incredibly beautiful and South African people are so warm and friendly. The body of work I created there was called The Pantheon and it was a 12-part piece celebrating the various female deities in West Africa. I created this because, at the time, I was having some challenges with a particularly devious boss and needed some sort of catharsis. As cliché as it might sound, I derived some sort of subconscious strength from those goddesses that I created. South Africa will always have a special place in my heart as the birthplace of REWA.

With that said, how do you converge the connection you have between these three cities and use this in your art?

The connection between the three cities was most characterized with the subsequent collection I created called The Travellers. This body of work was a triptych representation of my form, moving through the societal, racial and cultural boundaries that were part and parcel of my experience living across these three cities. The impacts of these boundaries was represented by colours, the various energies that these bring whilst the ink lines of demarcation representing the earth’s topography and the divide across continents. In this way, I hoped to convey to the viewer, the energies and emotions of The Travellers.

We see how you present the female form through multicolored accents. Please describe your design aesthetic. 

My preferred medium of acrylic paint on canvas provides the immediacy to express my most personal experiences; it is a versatile medium that supports rapid layering and provides near infinite possibilities for colour expression, which is key to the creation of my pieces. I choose to reject traditional techniques of art imitating nature because I find it limiting. The patterns on my subjects do not bind me to any one texture, colour or space. The radically fragmented nature of my subjects, their variegated skin, allows me to experiment with colour and mood, which then cements the underlying narrative behind each piece. The multifaceted colour palettes enables me to present complex, multiple views of each form and to show all possible viewpoints of each subject at once.

You come from an Igbo cultural background. How does this play its role within your art-making?

I label my work ‘Igbo Vernacular Art’ because I believe I have created an original body of work that exists outside formal academic or Western dialogue. At risk of sounding pedestrian, my art is drawn from life itself and deeply anchored in the place and culture from which it was derived. Igbo Vernacular Art concerns itself with an expressive aesthetic that is more commonly associated with Contemporary Art; form, composition and narrative. Vernacular dialects are anchored to a particular land, in the same way, my art features a vocabulary that is built on a strong sense of place and is situated in a location and a history – that of the Igbo people of Nigeria.

Any memorable or favorite pieces out of your many series of work?

Ahhh I really can’t say. Every time I am done with a painting, I’ll tell my husband “this one is my absolute favourite of all my paintings – I can never part with it. Ever. Like, never ever!”. A few weeks later, once I complete another painting, I’ll show him and say the exact same thing! I have a brain like a goldfish clearly…

Is there anything currently in the pipeline that you’re working on? 

Yes, a new body of work called Umu Ada. The ideology of Umu Ada was created by tradition during the pre-colonial era where women were held sacred and they participated in collective decision making on political, legal and social issues. Long before the colonial masters arrived in Africa, during and after colonialism, women had been a vital cog within the Igbo society. Their involvement and representation in this process was primarily done through the Umu Ada .The Umu Ada are defined as the powerful daughters in Igbo culture. Umu Ada means native daughters of a common male ancestors or “daughters of the soil’. Umu Ada is also collective term for all first daughters.

My proposed exhibition will highlight and acknowledge the various roles that the Umu Ada play in the political, economic, religious and social life of the societies within which they operate despite their limited access to resources and paternalistic domination. 

I am very excited by this collection as it is challenging me on a number of levels. Needless to say – watch this space!

All images supplied.

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