“IVIE” Work in progress
2015 to date
My first solo exhibition Hairvolution, set the direction for this series. As I examined the void caused by the absence of my grandmother and its resultant implications through that body of work, I became curios about voids created by the absence of women in similar situations. During one of my trips to Benin city in Edo state, to see my parents I escorted my mother to visit a long distant cousin of hers who happened to be a priestess. She had a title and position that required we pay homage by kneeling to greet her. After that visit I started to think about whether more positions or “spaces” like that existed in Benin city specifically for women. I was quick to be reminded by my mother of the “Iyoba” title and that is where the series began.
“Iyoba” in the Bini language means “mother of the king”. In hierarchy she is the highest ranking chief in Benin city. Basically she is the second most powerful person after the Oba himself. History states that the title of Iyoba first came about in the early 16th century during the reign of Oba Esigie who was believed to have ruled between 1504 and 1550. This title was created as a form of gratitude by Oba Esigie to his mother for the support she gave to him. She is believed to be a warrior who fought and helped her son ascend the throne of the Benin kingdom and protect his reign. This story emphasizes the power of women as mothers and wives. It is also from this title the famous FESTAC mask originated.
After her death, Oba Esigie commissioned a bronze head which is placed on the ancestral altars dedicated to the iyoba, a practice which is still done today. With these sculptures, the queen mother is usually depicted with bead regalia like a high ranking chief. It is this bead regalia that have become my reference in the Ivie series, hence the title Ivie which means beads. I employ it as symbolic representation of authority and power that women have. Sadly the position of “Iyoba” is still empty with no one to occupy it and may remain so for many years to come.