Eze Nwanyi (Queen of Women)
Eze, Nwanyi (Queen of Women) is an Igbo mask representing a wealthy and well respected woman—the embodiment of the ultimate feminine ideals of strength, wisdom, beauty, stature and dignity. This series is a part of a personal exploration of what it means to be an black woman in modern day society.
Most people have seen the video of the little girl who, faced with a variety of dolls in a range of skin tones, chooses the lightest one as the most beautiful and the darkest as the ‘bad’ one. Throughout my childhood, I found it hard to find beauty in any aspect of my appearance as features like mine (dark skin, broad nose, big lips) were not often represented in a “positive manner” –I never saw them in fashion magazines, in movies, etc. I remember one instance where my friend’s mother, upon seeing my mother and I for the first time, exclaimed “elles sont très belles pour des noires” (they’re very pretty for blacks). A beautiful black woman was something rare and unique.
On the other hand, when my looks were commented on by others my age, it was to ask why I didn’t look like the “black girls in the music videos” (this actually happened in the 6th grade). Even then, there was a constant pressure to dress more provocatively than my peers and to act more scandalously. The implications of what I’m trying to say are more or less obvious in day to day life – the black woman is one with the potential for enormous sex appeal, but does not have the same pure beauty as her white counterpart. In other words, there is a certain exotification/objectification of the black woman, wherein her beauty is viewed in mostly sexual terms, whereas that of her counterpart is classic and of more esthetic value.
This series is really about me trying to fix the biased and normalized view of beauty that had been forced upon me by the media, by magazines and by social interactions (if others find meaning in the series, then that’s a bonus). From a woman who has been proven as less attractive by recognized academics (http://bit.ly/jS1xSK), or who is regularly turned into an object of lust, I wanted to create a work of art. I wanted to take the black woman, strip her down to nothing and reclaim her image –take an image of her that could easily be made into something overtly sexual, and instead portray it as pure art, and thus let the black woman become beauty incarnate.
At the same time, I wanted to highlight the innate elegance of the African woman. There is a vast richness within African cultures that often goes ignored as we tend to focus more on the negative aspects. I turned to my own heritage, and found inspiration within it. The Eze Nwanyi mask as well as the titles of the pieces are all of Igbo origin, and highlight a royal representation of women.
Beautiful, dignified, bold –this is my vision of the black woman, this is the African queen.
The pieces are partly based off of photographs by Herve Haddad and Julia Noni.