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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Like A Virgin… Lucy Azubuike & Zanele Muholi

A look back at the 'Like a Virgin' exhibition held at the Centre for Contemporary Art Lagos.

We have just closed an exciting but very controversial photographic exhibition at my art gallery called 'Like a Virgin'. The exhibition featured work by two (African) female artists; Lucy Azubuike & Zanele Muholi. 'Like a Virgin' was curated around the theme of gender issues, in relation to women on the continent and sexuality.

At first glimpse of the images I must say I was shocked, many of them had been constructed in such a way as to incite some sort of strong emotional reaction, however after the initial getting use to I found the images very powerful and true to the issues being discussed. Zanele Muholi's depiction of the female body was contrary to the images I was use to seeing, the romantic or eroticized woman. The images captured real women taking a bath or relaxing with partners(other women). Muholi's work however was received with mixed reviews and not for the quality of the images but for the subject she raised. Reading through the visitors book one comment read 'Now sin is art' a newspaper article described lesbianism as a strange(pg version) act. Hmmm!!??!!

Lucy Azubuike is an artists who works with mixed media. She showed two photographic series, the first using trees to depict the female body and the sub themes of Female Genetic Mutilation (FGM), widowhood rites and girl/child marriages. The second entitled the 'Menstruation cycle' consisted of a series of images of blood stained tissues made by the artists natural cycle. I have too say I was not too shocked by these images, I found the red on the white background very powerful! The artists described the images as a personal diary, which served as a visual narratives containing insights into personal reflections and experiences such as love, hope, disappointment and friendship.
Again (and perhaps more so) her work faced mixed reviews. Openly I heard visitors outraged by the menstrual cycle series with one critic saying 'isn't it unhygienic' *I had to laugh at this point*

The exhibition made me question where we the arts professionals where in terms of accepting and reviewing contemporary issues like those raised within this exhibition.
How far had contemporary Africa come when critically examining modern work and could it be done without culture or religion? Personally I don't think anything can be done outside of the two, at least in Nigeria.

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