This topic seems to turn 180 degrees after my week of shooting the lepa-shandy, stiletto strutting models of the Arise Magazine Fashion Week at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos. In retrospect, I met (and snapped) some fat ladies on the red carpet leading to the hall. Full-bodied and fat women have been my preferred Muse for as long as I can remember. I guess this ‘hook’ caught me in my secondary school days in Federal Government College Okigwe as one of the two students who studied Art up to the senior secondary level.
I must put some perspective to the story, and go back down memory lane some more. Growing up, I was this lanky child clinging to his teacher mother’s skirt to school in Shell Camp Primary School, Owerri, and to every other place. I was dark-skinned with glistening ivory teeth, inquisitive Oliver Twist eyes, curled long eyelashes and soft soprano voice. The voice in particular, has remained a source of some mild irritation as it hasn’t grown brittle and gruff-macho with age. Once, towards Christmas, I got invited to do a radio show with Nonye Osi, then broadcaster at the IBC (now Heartland FM, Owerri). She called our Nitel landline and asked speak with Tony. Our house help Philomena wasn’t sure who she meant (then we were two named Tony in the house- I and Uncle Tony. Uncle Tony, Mother’s elder brother, and my godfather had just relocated to Nigeria from the US and was staying with us temporarily). Philo gave me the phone, and when I answered Auntie Nonye, she thought I was a girl, and addressed me accordingly. She later put me on her radio-show to chat on-air.
Desire as A Woman, 29″x29″, mixed media painting, 02-2012
I still answer calls and the caller would address me as ‘ma’. I soon got this notion that ‘slim’ doesn’t fully connect with ‘female’; and facial looks also do not exclusively add up to define ‘woman’. As far back as in secondary school, I recall the Mother and Child sculpture assignment that I and Ugochukwu Uwadi submitted to our Art Teacher, Mr Okorodudu, at Okigwe. Our women were full-busted, fat laps and carrying babies.
The maternal notion of an accurate definition of a woman stayed with me ever since, and reared up again recently in the dominantly red, acrylic painting I discussed in an earlier blog titled A Pregnant Woman. I appreciate the fatness that supports and sustains life (figuratively), restive strength, and dormant energy. I have been a great fan of Willem De Koenig’s Women series; Riviera’s women; the energy and supple form of Brancusi’s futuristic women; Salvador Dali and Picasso’s wholesome women; Van Gogh’s full- bodied women- all very familiar figures on the African landscape that seemed to have been pushed to the countryside in the western world, or become monumental objects of scorn in the modern aesthetic.
I made series of paintings in January of fat, pot-bellied women that overwhelm the canvas; like they seem to fill up the space in real life. Creating a montage of magazine cuttings and other papers picked from my environment, I got to work putting flesh to them. They are women because they are busty, they are women because they may actually be pregnant with child (both phenomena that do not occur normally with men) the fleshy woman I painted seems to be pegged down to her space by nails in the same way that hunters stretch out meat to dry in fire.
The fat woman becomes Victim, whose circumstance only leads to more indulgence. My idea of Beauty, feminine beauty revolves around the full-bodied female types whose bodies tell stories of where they have been, where they are heading, who they are, in underlined headlines. The slim, flat-chested models from the Fashion show seem like fleeting shadows in contrast to the commanding presence of fat women. The designers summarised the predicament facing slim women-that of maintaining a malnourished, weak look, with rags hanging on the helpless exposed flesh that barely covers collarbones or chest. It is easier for the designers to sell Beauty at fabulous prices, working with half yard of fabric. My fat women allow women to evolve into who they have been made to become; without feeling remorse, left out, or less beautiful. After all, African Beauty goes beyond physiological considerations (forget the Beauty Pageants where we seem to be trying to keep up with the Others). The image of the malnourished Female in Africa lives in places like Ethiopia or Sudan. We know what to do for these types. I speak like an Igbo man about fat women. Maybe you agree with me, on a point or two. Maybe you don’t.The mixed media paintings ’Stuck to This Skin’, and ‘Desire as A Woman’,‘Portrait of a Pregnant Woman(pictured in an earlier blogare up for sale now. Do contact me directly via firstname.lastname@example.org; or mobile line- +2348033460545 for details. Shipping is also available for international buyers.