HER STORY: Sisterhood That Transcends - REWA & DAGMAR VAN WEEGHEL

22 September - 23 November 2017

The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) is pleased to present an exhibition of works by the emerging Nigerian artist, REWA, and the highly regarded Netherlands-based, Africa-focused photographer, Dagmar Van Weeghel. The exhibition explores female identity. Women play many roles in our complex world - mother, sister, daughter, friend, lover - but there is a connection that all women share which binds them together. Through "Her Story", the current exhibition seeks to celebrate and uplift womanhood. Indeed, all women play a part in a "Sisterhood that Transcends."


REWA is a self-taught visual artist. From an early age, she was encouraged to experience and appreciate art. This developed into a desire to create her own works. Travelling widely, she now calls London, Lagos and Johannesburg home. Each of these cities has played a role in her artistic practise - fortifying her and emotionally challenging her life perspectives. REWA is drawn to the female form and creates captivating and alluring images of female beauty. Although at first glance, the temptation would be to call her work portraiture, REWA comments: "My spirit is neither moved by landscapes, nor by still-life or portraiture, but rather by what I refer to as "depicted sentience" through the celebration of the female form in bright, vivid colours."


The artworks featured in the exhibition are from REWA's new body of work titled: ONICHA ADO N'IDU (Naming Rites & Traditions of the Igbos of Nigeria). Through this series, REWA celebrates the women in her culture, paying homage to the relevance of "naming rites" and how they shape and create a path for the individual. Each piece tells a story - a story that we as onlookers can relate to. The objective is to help the viewer to identify a certain part of "her women" within themselves. REWA says it best: "My subject matter is WOMAN - I celebrate her in her many forms. I use traditional materials: ink, acrylic paints and brush on cartridge paper to capture an essence - making the paint assemble and the ink announce. I want my audience, whether male or female, to look at one of my women and be able to identify with her story and the meaning behind her name. I want her to represent a message, a memory, a story or a prayer for the viewer."


For Dagmar Van Weeghel, creating a narrative is an essential element of her photography. African women play a central role in her compositions. Major themes explored by Van Weeghel's works include identity and African womens' migration within the diaspora. She also delves deeply into the subjects of cultural assimilation, exotification, racism and sisterhood. Her portraits are beautiful and ethereal, the story behind them intriguing. Each work takes the viewer on a journey, exploring the women depicted in the stories they tell, captured through the eyes of the artist. The relationship between the women and Van Weeghel is symbiotic. A bond of sisterhood is formed - a union that transcends race and class, one that creates a "safe space" for stories to come forth and be shared. Van Weeghel says: "I tell stories that advocate for the strength of people, especially for women and girls. I seek to offer another perspective on the way people see the world, and each other, through the stories I tell visually." 


Within the exhibition, we feature three of Van Weeghel's recent series: Lapis Lazuli, Mombasa Blues and Yelema. The Lapis Lazuli series refers to this semi-precious gemstone's strength and lasting beauty and the significance of "lapis blue" as a symbol of royalty. The woman featured presents her story from the African American diaspora perspective - she desires to connect with her African roots. "Taking matters into her own hands, she evokes aesthetics of Yemeya, the West African cosmological deity often referred to as the goddess of the ocean, and with regal repose, attempts to reclaim what was lost."


Mombasa Blues is a part of an on-going series, "About Lish". The central character, Lish, recently relocated from Kenya and the series explores the subject of her "displacement". The portraits showcase the division of Lish's life between two continents and various emotional states of identity. 


Yelema is the Mandika word for "change" or "transformation", and, in this series, Van Weeghel pays tribute to the "sister bond." The themes of sisterhood, love, migration and identity are all readily explored in the captivating soft tonal images presented. "The images Van Weeghel creates are meta-narratives, mediating through the traumas of social history, in an attempt to bring awareness, and ultimately, social change."


Both artists are fully in tune with the women they present. Each of them has a strong identity within "Her Story", and we come to realise that we - the viewer - are also a part of this story.