Tuesday, June 2, 2015
When something Dies…
I started the Ivie series last year when I got an opportunity to participate in a very elaborate and important cultural exhibition in the ancient city of Benin city Nigeria, which happens to be where I am from (both my parent are from Benin). So you can understand my excitement to be a part of this exhibition. Coincidentally, my twin sister was having her traditional wedding ceremony on the same day in Benin at our family home, so I couldn’t be at the opening of the exhibition.
My Installation in Benin city, Igun street (home of bronze casting) Each measure 28x35.5cm
I did include a short synopsis on my work which you can find here on its website but I think it is important for me to expand on the project here on my blog. It got me thinking recently and the project still continues to grow in my studio.
A few weeks ago, there was an incident here in Lagos about a kidnapping of 3 children by a nanny that was hired online story here. People went wild on social media about the irresponsibility of the parents but more specifically they blamed the mother, which is the case most times when it comes to children, the woman takes the blame. So I have been thinking, did she deserve the backlash she got from Nigerians at that time?
How does Ivie relate to this…
Ivie means “beads” in the bini language and it is a symbolic and very important ornament both in the palace and among the people of Benin and even with many other cultures across Nigeria. Today one can rarely find real coral beads, because plastics have begun to replace them, but this isn’t my point, but rather to show the huge interest in beads especially by brides, as it is a compulsory necessity for almost every traditional wedding bride, whether it is real or fake.
But my story begins from the palace…
Everyone knows the FESTAC 77 mask
This pendant is representative of “Iyoba”, meaning queen mother or the mother of the king. The story goes that Queen Idia the only woman believed to have gone to war in ancient Benin had helped her son Oba Esigie defend his throne and kingdom and as a form of gratitude, he created the second most important and powerful title in the Benin Kingdom the “Iyoba of Benin”. She is the only one after the Oba that has her own palace, and her own attending chiefs. She is basically the second most important person in Benin city. To this day Iyoba Idia is still remembered especially because of the popularity of the pendant above and yes the title still exists today and is still is just as important and as powerful.
Just before this project I had met a woman priest through my mum (we didn’t go for sacrifice oo, she is a family friend to my mum), I was pretty shocked to see her as women don’t usually occupy such positions. She had her house and guards and her own throne and you must kneel to greet her.
Benin is not exactly a city where women are confirmed with such power and voice hence my later interest in the Iyoba title. The history of Benin is visible in its arts and it is quite obvious that women are absent in the sculptures of Benin not until the Iyoba title came about, then we started to see carvings of different queen mothers from different decades or centuries. Although at present the position has been empty and it may remain so even after a new king ascends the throne after the present king; long story! (I can address that another time).
Back to the Kidnapped kids…
Do women really belong at home? Iyoba Idia played this role too well hence her title. Should women work? What is the role of women in the 21st century?
In this Ivie project, the beads are symbolic of the title of “Woman”, there is an absence or void left within the beads. It is a question, or an interest, a search for who will fill this title or position and how?
As we are confirmed with this title of “Woman”, what is our role? What are our duties as daughters, mothers, wives, aunties, grandmothers etc.
It’s a curiosity, I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer. The 21st century life is different and it may be unfair to compare Iyoba Idia with a 21st century woman but a woman is a woman and the genes remain.
My thoughts… Don’t judge!
I like to think I’m old school and I am also Christian, so I PERSONALLY feel that (especially) when children are involved, a woman has an obligation and duty as a parent and as a mother to take care of her family and besides it’s in our DNA to care and nurture and raise a child or children. Too many women have abandoned their “Woman” title, seeking other things and other titles. Priorities have become misplaced. As mothers, I think a child should be a priority and it isn’t an impossible task to work and raise a child. Our mothers did it, at least mine did. She worked but she was home as well, never grew up with a nanny and my mum had 11 of us. Yes 11!! Oba Esigie’s mother too, she was a warrior!
I have friends who do it and I know others who have made their families their priority and forsaken the white collar job. Are they wrong to do that? No.
Its a choice we must all make as women, but we must be aware of the consequences of our choices and be ready to face them.
As I make these markings with my pen that look like hair, I am imagining how I can fill this title as “Woman” and considering how much of it am I occupying at the moment.
The Ivie series will continue to pose such questions about the 21st century woman in Africa.