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Unmasked: Daring exploration into women’s mindscapes

By Prisca Sam-Duru

For three years running, SMO Contemporary Arts has engaged the public on matters concerning women, through an art exhibition tagged, Standing Out.

Standing Out usually comes during the Women’s History Month and has in no small way celebrated the sterling achievements and contributions of women across the globe.

Hosted by the Wheatbaker Hotel, this year’s edition titled Unmasked focuses on a rare subject which sheds light on women’s mental health. It’s disheartening to know that so many women go through depression yet the society expects them to function normally.

Unmasked features the powerful and energized artwork of seven phenomenal  female artists with strong links to Lagos but come from different parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, the Gambia, India, and the United States. The artists are, Nengi Omuku, Djakou Kassi Nathalie, Somi Nwandu, Nyancho NwaNri, Koromone Koroye, Reha Shishodia and Queen Nwaneri.

Supported by Louis Guntrum and the Wheatbaker, Unmasked runs from March 11th to May 4th, 2018. The exhibition explores women’s mental health through 35 paintings, photographs, digital art, ceramic sculptures, poetry and spoken word performance and a large multi-media string installation.

While previous editions of Standing Out focused on some highly publicized women’s issues such as lack of access to education, gender-based violence, and the need for economic equality, this year’s explores the complex world of women’s mental health which clearly impacts their ability to fight for recognition and equality.

The artists examine diverse women’s emotional mindscapes and question what lies behind the mask vis-a-vis how women should break down societal constructs on what it is and what it takes to be a woman in a male dominated society. How do women explore and present their true multi-layered selves, and inspire others to demand for justice, break through glass ceilings, avoid society’s obsession with perfection, tear down walls of shame and guilt, and rip off these stifling emotional masks.

And according to the World Health Organisation, over 7 million Nigerians suffer from depression and 4.8 million Nigerians (2.7% of the population) suffer from anxiety disorders. Worldwide, just 3% of total government spending is for mental health.

The UNMASKED exhibition is the brainchild of two emerging curators, Nneoma Ilogu and Moni Oloke, who are both health professionals and have been focusing on art through their work at SMO Contemporary Art.

“We believe that art is an important tool for advocacy and change in society,” the two curators explained during the press preview. “We choose artists who have a strong message and presence, and could help to publicize the need for society to focus on the mental wellbeing of women.”

The exhibition explores complex questions of identity, breaking down stereotypes, and dealing with societal pressures in the congested, over-populated mega-city of Lagos.

During the press preview, young Koromone Koroye threw the floor open with an amazing spoken word performance which spoke volume of some ugly experiences she went through as a woman and how she devised means of getting the resultant mask off her face and forge ahead. Other artists followed suit, with works such as, ‘Chaos’, ‘What Should I Wear Today’, ‘The Outsider’, ‘Splay’, Trap, etc., encouraging women to learn to live for themselves and not how society wants them to live.

The Wheatbaker’s long standing art curator, Founder and Artistic Director of SMO Contemporary Art, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, described Unmasked as a “Bold and honest expose of what goes on within women’s mindscapes through the intricate and emotionally charged work of these phenomenal artists.”


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