Whilst 2020 has been a challenging year for the global art market at large, with art fairs from Art Basel to 1:54 either being canceled, postponed or held virtually due to the scourge that is the coronavirus pandemic, 2021 promises to be one of opportunity, renewal and revival. For evidence of this return to greener pastures, look no further than our 2020 vernissage alumna, REWA, who has kicked off the year strongly with a group exhibition in Los Angeles with Band of Vices, and a much-anticipated upcoming duo exhibition, EMANCIPATION, in Barcelona with Out of Africa Gallery.
There’s an unmistakable air of confidence and self-assuredness that radiates from the eyes of the muses that REWA masterfully captures on her canvases. Their gazes both invite you in like an old friend, yet still intimidating enough to keep you at bay, in the knowledge that the viewer is not entirely worthy of their presence.
Regality is the phrase best used to describe REWA’s work. Not in the gaudy sense that imposes its will or shines so brightly one is forced to turn away. But in the quiet, subdued manner that commands respect and holds your attention effortlessly.
REWA’s bold figurative portraits are, by all accounts, an extension of the artist herself. A melting pot of varying influences, cultures and experiences that have shaped and melded a person who is as comfortable haggling the price of lace fabric in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Onitsha market as they are blitzing through the high-end boutiques of London and Paris.
Born and raised between Nigeria and England, REWA’s hybrid upbringing greatly informs her work, and indeed perfectly depicts the sensation that is the modern Afropolitan woman. Forward-thinking, progressive, uninhibited and self-aware, yet still rooted, albeit loosely, in the expectations, duty and responsibility that tradition and ancient customs dictate.
In REWA’s case, that tradition and ancient custom is that of the Igbo people of South-East Nigeria, who are often described as Nigeria’s most industrious and enterprising, as well as their most independent of thought and practice. The ancient value system and custom of the Igbo people and their fierce independence is evidenced in the themes REWA unpacks in her portraits, seen through a contemporary lens. Essential themes such as the importance of coming of age, engagement, marriage and playing one’s part in their community and Igbo society at large are fundamental to REWA, and seamlessly blend the old with the modern; adapted, but never compromised to suit the times.
What sets REWA apart from most contemporary artists today is that she transcends the title of artist, and is all but in name, a historian and chronicler of the evolution of her ethnic group, nation and continent in real time. Through her work, we witness first-hand the assertion and confidence of women; their ability to code switch, and dip effortlessly between the West and the African continent whilst retaining their essence, and above all else, the liberty of having options, not being restricted by the confines of patriarchy and perpetually subject to the male gaze as art history is all too often guilty.
Beyond being aesthetically captivating, REWA’s work is intellectually stimulating, thought-provoking and educational. Although working through the medium of acrylic paints, it is well within reason and justified to liken the importance of her practice to that of fellow compatriots and creative greats, Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozie Ndichie, whose work, like REWA’s, shines an illuminating spotlight on both past and contemporary Nigerian society, its inhabitants and their worldview.
REWA’s iconic pieces will be on show at the EMANCIPATION duo exhibition from February 6 to March 14.
Out of Africa Gallery
Carrer Nou 1 - 08870 Sitges, Barcelona - Spain
By: Raphael K. Dapaah, Art Contributer.