By Nii B. Andrews.
In the not too distant past certain places in Africa had a tradition of “fattening up” a bride prior to her wedding in order to demonstrate her well being, affluence and comfort.
Changing standards of aesthetics and other important factors have led to a waning of this tradition.
No longer is heaviness or corpulence unanimously associated with wealth and wellbeing.
“Orobo” (which in Yoruba means being fat in a sensual way), has lost ground to the paper thin waifs (“lepa” in Yoruba) seen on the runways, Hollywood screens and social media.
It is this controversy and or ambivalence with respect to body image that the Nigerian artist Uthman Wahaab explores in his latest work.
Yes, in the Western canon, prior work has been done by Ruben and others depicting fleshy female nudes.
But Wahaab goes further by showing through his nuanced paintings a resplendent corpulence- an exaggerated rotundness punctuated by phenomenal luxury and wellbeing; elegant high end furniture, jewelry, well manicured hands and feet together with other trappings of modernity such as smartphones.
As one art critic opined, “this sense of quietude that flavors the works should not be interpreted as a portrayal of laziness; but rather, with luxury and beauty.”
Wahaab’s figures characteristically do not have facial features; the heads are shrunken and almost expunged; there is no gaze to engage the viewer.
All the focus is on the massive bodies.
Wahaab, an artist, (trained at the Yaba College of Art and based in Lagos) who actively practises his religion, invites us to examine whether uniform or homogenous traditions, conventions, standards and perspectives should or ought to persist in time and place and to what effect.
He confronts us with the possibility of our individual and collective “willful disregard for complex subjectivities.”
Wahaab’s drawings of his “Orobo” women are made from conte, ink, pastel and graphite on paper.