The obsolete concept that women exist merely as the playthings of men has a long and depressing history, nowhere more than in denying women the various freedoms that men jealously guard for themselves.
We can get a sense of why misogyny exists if we know what it is and have a workable description of it.
Misogyny came into use in 2012. In gender social relations, it is more a multi-layered system of social control than the state of mind of a person. It is behaviour which manifests as acts of social control and dominance where the victims are female and the perpetrators are male. It usually manifests when a woman disagrees with a dominant man, even in casual conversations. Dominance and control are its twin aims. Social control and non-physical coercion are the common tools of choice.
Misogyny functions to guarantee the patriarchal social order. It does not require consent or assent; it does not take into consideration people’s assumptions, beliefs, values or theories. Misogyny is a life-style choice, a way of doing things. Misogyny is the violence that kicks in when patriarchal social relations are disrupted.
In a patriarchy the woman is never her own person. She always belongs to someone else, e.g. ‘the mother of…’, ‘the daughter of…’, ‘the wife of…’ etc, especially when it relates to a male figure. Sexism upholds misogyny in society. In patriarchy, there is an imbalance in the power relations between men and women. Some women may have power in-service but they are not autonomous. The woman conforms to patriarchal roles and expectations where she is seen to be endlessly giving, even to the extent of self-harm.
Women are the most gifted people in the world yet the least, the kindest but the cruellest, the cleverest but the stupidest, the most reliable but the most fickle, the most virtuous but the most immoral. Women drive us mad because they don’t always live up to our expectations.
The role of women in society is now more sophisticated. It seems as if, for all the freedoms this century has offered, society demands full payment in compensation. Single, stay-at-home moms are no longer acceptable. Non-professional women are frowned upon and termed lazy. The average woman is expected to be a perfect mother, an excellent wife, a caring and polite in-law, a successful professional, a good marketer and a PR expert. A slight flaw in any of these roles and the criticism comes pouring in. Society expects the modern woman to be a super-hero and will punish her mercilessly if she falls short. In short, women are set up to fail.
In many respects, mothers do indeed wield a strong influence on their child’s first impressions of the world. But she is a person with a history and with flaws, just like everyone else. The case is made worse if she is under age, a child herself with a child. So powerful are mothers – or their absence – that they are blamed when the child turns out bad. So powerful is this influence deemed that it requires a great deal of regulation and control (especially where it affects power and authority in royalty), so much so that it becomes punitive, including gender-targeted taboos and restrictions.
Misogyny has everything to do with alerting us to codes of practice that legitimize the systemic humiliation of women. Evidence of misogynistic acts is often invisible, ignored or covered up by both the powers that be and the victims. The problem with misogyny is that people don’t think it should be taken seriously. Men assume that women want to satisfy their own needs without thinking about what women want. Uninformed women are the ventriloquist’s dummies of patriarchy, being the mouthpiece or protagonist of the patriarchy which colludes in oppressing their own sisters. This is most evident in harmful cultural mores, notably FGM, gender–shaming, gender discrimination and harmful widowhood practices.
Men both love and hate women. Their love for women makes them vulnerable and dependent, which they hate. This explains the outrages perpetrated against female schoolchildren by Boko Haram, kidnapping and forcing them into marriage on the grounds that their only function in life is to be owned by them for their exclusive pleasure and discarded when they have done with them. Their then leader, Shekau, even labelled them ‘slaves’. But we don’t have to go that far. We see it in otherwise respectable men, including serving governors, who justify marrying fourteen-year-old girls on the grounds that they answer to the Koran and not the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which they had otherwise sworn to uphold. They rubbish the Child Rights Act, which forbids child marriage, and refuse to ratify it at the state level. But under-age marriage, FGM, harmful widowhood practices and forced marriages, along with gender-restrictive traditions, are all misogynistic in origin but legitimized by an unrelenting patriarchal social order. For the longest time, gender-based violence was ignored in Nigeria because the patriarchy, in whose hands the authority to change things rested, saw no need for change.
Sexual assault involves not only overriding the victim’s will but also mentally rewriting the victim’s experience. Each time we cover up the story or silence the victim or do something to protect the perpetrator, we legitimize misogyny. In extreme cases, it manifests as domestic violence, sexual assault and strangulation. Choking is a prelude to strangulation.
The purpose of this exercise is to bring to the fore what we do, what we might do and what we don’t notice we are doing in both private and public that legitimize misogyny. If you somehow feel the need to check the gender of the author of this article it is a sure indication that you are susceptible to, or complacent about, misogyny.
These are the ideas that inspired the body of works on display at this exhibition. I would like to give credit to Kate Manne, author of Down Girl: The logic of misogyny, and Adam Phillips the author of ‘Unforgiven’, published in London Review of Books, for giving me a clearer understanding of the topic.
The works in this exhibition were produced in Swansea in the UK as part of a residency programme sponsored by the Marion Donalda Fund for Visual Artists in partnership with Yemaja Gallery.
As portrayed in the painting ‘Against all Odds’, a woman is shown holding a baby’s hand while clutching the tip of the moon and riding through the sun. It is a visual representation of women’s tenacity for success in the face of life’s challenges, a scenario commonly found amongst Nigerian women.
In the painting, ‘Triumph over Misogyny’, a maiden masquerade in full body attire, inscribed with African ethnic motifs and a mask head gear, is caught in mid-step as she dances. This lone dancer represents the many small victories individual women achieve as they consciously and collectively engage with the challenges of misogyny.
While we applaud the achievements by women’s advocacy groups, many Nigerian women are still calling for help from a higher authority to deliver Nigeria from the hands of those who desire her destruction. The praying women series, which is from the collection ‘Praying for Nigeria’ honours the efforts and faith of Nigeria’s praying women.
The ‘Brides in Waiting’ and the ‘Looking Ahead’ series were prompted by the incessant portrayal of African women and children as the face of poverty in the international media. The plethora of humanitarian organisations using photographs of the suffering African woman and child to solicit for donations has now become ubiquitous. No doubt African women and children represent a good percentage of the Earth’s poorest people but this is far from the whole story. As an African, I decided to do something about it; I decided to portray African women and children at their best and where better than at a wedding. I created this series believing that in the near future African countries will have achieved lasting peace, and with it the growth and development that will result in many more women and children looking as gorgeous as I have portrayed them – and not just at weddings.
Juliet Ezenwa Maja Pearce, also known as Juliet Ezenwa (and nick named Painter by close friends and associates), was born in Benin City on July 30, 1968 to Mr and Mrs Patrick and Veronica Nze. She was first introduced to art forms by her grandmother, a reputable traditional body decorator using uli, the art and style adopted and made popular by the Nsukka School.
In 1969 (because of the Nigerian civil war) her family moved to their home town, Ashaka, a small fishing village and trading outpost of the United Africa Company. They remained there until 1973, three years after the war ended. Being the child of two working parents, she was always in the care of her grandmother. For want of how to keep the child occupied, she allowed her to paint a portion of the mud walls while she herself worked on the major walls. It was during these years that the young Juliet developed her interest in art.
After primary education, Juliet attended the Federal Government Girls’ College in Benin City, from where she gained admission into Bendel State University (now Delta State University), Abraka. Under the tutelage of Prof. Osa D. Egonwa, she acquired her distinct use of dark earth colours usually favoured by students of the uli movement.
In 1988, Sam Ovraiti, then a lecturer at the neighbouring Auchi Polytechnic, visited Abraka, during which time he met Juliet and immediately saw her passion for painting. After graduating in 1990, she went to Auchi to work with Ovraiti as his apprentice and artist-assistant, understudying his use of brilliant colours (which was synonymous with the Auchi School). In 1992, she teamed up with her close friend, Julie Ekhomu, to start the Tropical Arts and Craft Gallery.
At the gallery, she received firsthand experience in the art business, specifically art marketing, while also functioning as the in–house artist. The job itself was quite restrictive as it did not allow her much time for the creative process or for effectively participating in group exhibitions. However, she was able to keep producing works and had her first solo exhibition in 1993 at the IBB Golf Club in Abuja. In 1994, she left the Tropical Arts and Crafts Gallery and became Sam Ovraiti’s personal assistant. This position accorded her the much-needed space and time to practice her art. She remained in this position until 1999, in the course of which she held two consecutive solo exhibitions: Faces (1996) and Memories (1997). It was during this time that she also started the Nigeria Independence Day exhibitions. In 1998, she attempted to organise the first Abuja Fine Arts Bazaar, which was held at the Abuja Council for Arts and Culture.
In 2000, she left Sam Ovraiti Services and became a full-time independent studio artist. As such, she had more time for her personal and professional development and so began her partnering with NGO groups. Her passion for a better society drew her close to Project Alert and Echoes of Women in Africa, both of which sought to deal with domestic violence and youth development. In 2001, she partnered with the Rivers State Ministry for Youth and Social Development to run economic empowerment workshops for youths, which used art to advocate social change. This subsequently gave birth to a series of solo exhibitions between 2001 and 2005, notably The Maiden Dance, Lost Innocence, Moonlight Rhapsody, and Reflections, along with a number of group shows.
Juliet was initially known for her sober watercolour paintings of landscapes and women. She participated in Tom Lynch’s Water Colour Rescue Workshop, and her landscape painting, Straying Goats, is published in his book, Great Watercolour Rescues. Her works have also featured in Jess Castellote’s Contemporary Nigerian Art in Nigerian Private Collections; other works have been used as book illustrations, notably Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays and A Mask Dancing, both by Adewale Maja Pearce. She recently compiled the book, Issues in Contemporary Nigerian Art 2000-2010.
Since 2007, she has been a regular participant at the annual harmattan workshop run by the Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation and subsequently became a facilitator at the print-making section in 2012. She has since delved into experimental print-making to the extent that many of her more recent works apply printmaking methods, most notably in the Migrations solo exhibition.
Juliet is reputed to be a very hard working artist and a reliable facilitator. Since 2014, she has been involved in the Creative Young Minds art workshop, which takes place at her studio for primary and secondary school students.
Juliet has long been outspoken about human rights issues especially as it affects the girl-child and women. She is an executive member of Echoes of Women in Africa, and has been described as a child rights and gender activist. She is a regular participant at the UN-sponsored art exhibition on female genital mutilation.
Juliet is a member of Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria, the Society of Nigerian Artists, the Female Artists Association of Nigeria, Business and Professional Women International, and The Art Gallery Owners’ Association of Nigeria (organisers of Art-Expo Nigeria).
Speaking of her relationship to her art, Juliet has this to say, ‘My art comes from a very happy place. I am as happy as a sand girl when I am creating art. Whenever I encounter challenges relating to both life and art, I simply take my lemons and make lemonade.’
Juliet’s works have featured in the following art auctions:
Nov. 2008 Art Auction (Modern & Contemporary)
Art House Contemporary Lagos.
The Civic Centre, Lagos
April 2009 Art Auction,
Art House Contemporary Lagos
at the Civic Centre, Lagos
November 2012 Modern and Contemporary Art Auction, . Art House Contemporary Lagos
Oct. 15 2015 Africa Now: Contemporary Africa Art
Nov. 2015 Art House Contemporary
Modern and contemporary
May. 2016 Affordable Art auction
Art House Contemporary
Nov. 2017 Art House Contemporary
Modern and contemporary
March. 2018 Art House Contemporary
Affordable Art Auction
Nov. 2018 Art House Contemporary
Modern and contemporary
Feb. 2019 Affordable Art auction
Art House Contemporary
May. 2019 Affordable Art auction
Art House Contemporary
March 1992 Exhibition of Prints & Paintings with Williboard Haas
German Cultural Centre, Lagos
Sponsor: Goethe Institute
Nov. 1993 Recent Paintings of Ezenwa: solo exhibition,IBB Golf Club,
Sponsor: Debanner Investment
Sept. 1995 Nigerian Contemporary Art Exhibition
Nigerian Copyright Commission and World Intellectual
Property Organization (an arm of UN), Geneva, Switzerland
May 1996 Faces, solo exhibition of paintings
Sponsors: Mrs. Josset Alpha, and ACSA Nig. Ltd & Sun Art,
Russian Cultural Centre, Lagos
April 1997 Memories, solo exhibition, Rockview Hotel, Abuja