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Celebrating top women in the arts


Today, March 8, 2021, the world is commemorating the International Women’s Day 2021, a day set aside to celebrate the women folks for their contributions to the development of the society, as well as, to create further awareness on their challenges, rights and inclusion in leadership positions globally.

This year’s celebration is on the theme: ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.’ In line with the theme Achim Steiner, administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), noted that, “This year’s International Women’s Day is like no other. As countries and communities start to slowly recover from a devastating pandemic, we have the chance to finally end the exclusion and marginalization of women and girls.

“But to do that, we need immediate action. Women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the pivotal decisions being made right now as countries respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic – choices that will affect the wellbeing of people and the planet for generations to come”.

However, we are celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day by spotlighting top Nigerian women in the arts.

Below are some of the amazons in no particular order:

Nike Davies-Okundaye

No doubt, Nike Davies-Okundaye is a household name in the African arts landscape. She is one of the internationally acclaimed female artists from Nigeria, who has made astounding strides in textile, visual arts and mixed media painting in the global arts scene. An Amazon in her own right, Nike is the woman behind the Nike Art Empire with galleries, art shops and training centres across Nigeria and the world.

There is hardly any important museum in the world that does not have Madam Nike’s work. She is an artist of many parts – she drums, directs plays, dances, paints, and trains young adults to do all of the listed things.

In 2019, she celebrated her 50 years of promoting and exhibiting traditional and contemporary African art across the world. She is not relenting in her passion for art, African heritage and culture, hence worthy mention in this year’s International Women’s Day celebration.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Born on September 15, 1977, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, writer of short stories, and nonfiction. She considers herself a feminist and is committed to the wellbeing of the female folks across the world with her writings.

“I think of myself as a storyteller, but I would not mind at all if someone were to think of me as a feminist writer… I’m very feminist in the way I look at the world, and that world view must somehow be part of my work”, she said in an interview.

Adichie is on the list because of her blossoming writing career.

She published a collection of poems in 1997 (Decisions) and a play (For Love of Biafra) in 1998. She was shortlisted in 2002 for the Caine Prize for her short story “You in America” and her story “That Harmattan Morning” was selected as a joint winner of the 2002 BBC World Service Short Story Awards. In 2003, she won the O. Henry Award for “The American Embassy”, and the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize 2002/2003 (PEN Center Award). Her stories were also published in Zoetrope: All-Story, and Topic Magazine.

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Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), received wide critical acclaim; it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (2005).

Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), named after the flag of the shortlived nation of Biafra, received the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. In 2014, Half of a Yellow Sun was adapted into a film of the same title directed by Biyi Bandele, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton.

She published The Thing Around Your Neck in 2009. In 2010 she was listed among the authors of The New Yorker′s “20 Under 40” Fiction Issue. Adichie’s story “Ceiling” was included in the 2011 edition of The Best American Short Stories.

Her third novel, Americanah (2013), was selected by The New York Times as one of “The 10 Best Books of 2013”. In April 2014, she was named as one of 39 writers aged under 40 in the Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club project Africa39, celebrating Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital 2014. In 2015, she was co-curator of the PEN World Voices Festival.

In March 2017, Americanah won the “One Book, One New York” programme. In April 2017, Adichie was elected into the 237th class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the highest honours for intellectuals in the United States, as one of 228 new members to be inducted on October 7, 2017.

Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, published in March 2017, had its origins in a letter Adichie wrote to a friend who had asked for advice about how to raise her daughter as a feminist.

Bolanle Austen-Peters

She is the daughter of Chief Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. While many thought she would continue in the family craft, she followed arts; her passion. Today, the lawyer turned artist, theatre guru and art entrepreneur is a voice to reckon with in the Nigerian art scene.

In 2003, she founded Terra Kulture, the Nigerian arts, education and cultural organisation. She created the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP) in 2013. Through BAP, she furthered her passion for theater production with stellar plays such as SARO the Musical, which received a number of accolades and reviews from the BBC and Sky news. Since then, BAP has produced five additional commissioned plays. In December 2014 and April 2015 BAP Productions produced SARO the Musical at the Muson Centre involving music, drama and dance. Austen-Peters further produced a Broadway-style musical production titled Wakaa The Musical from December 30, 2015 to January3, 2016 at the Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos.

BAP Productions’ Wakaa the Musical was the first Nigerian musical to be staged in London’s West End, playing at Shaw Theatre from July 21-25, 2016. She produced Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, which premiered in December 2017.

Beyond world class theatrical performances, she produced 93 Days, a feature film on the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria, which premiered on September 13, 2016 in Lagos.

One of her remarkable feats was on March 26, 2017, when she opened Terra Kulture Arena, the first purpose built private theater in Nigeria, which she conceived and built.

Austen-Peters worked as a Consultant to the Ford Foundation Lagos and helped raise millions of dollars for the Museum through Arts and Business Council.

Sandra Mbanefo Obiago

Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, a social activist, art collector, and filmmaker. She runs SMO Contemporary Art, which specialises in showcasing contemporary art in non-traditional exhibition spaces, focusing on established and emerging artists based in Africa and the Diaspora.

SMO holds cutting edge art exhibitions, which showcase masters and exciting new talent expressing their creativity through art, performance, film and new media.

SMO is experienced in organizing symposia, conferences, training and events, which provide a platform for the creative industry to inspire and strengthen humanity’s aspiration for the good society.

Peju Alatise

Peju Alatise is a household name in contemporary African art. The foremost Nigerian female artist, who holds a degree in Architecture, is a mixed-medium artist, poet and published writer whose interdisciplinary work has garnered attention on the global art stage.

She is known for her large-scale, sculptural works tackling contemporary themes most recurring of which is gender and its associated politics. With her works, Alatise transcends barriers and questions the status quo in her country and Africa at large. Her guts is commendable and obvious with the passion she addresses social, political and gender-related issues as her primary subject matter, through artistic work that also captures the joys and pain of womanhood in modern-life-African traditions.

Alatise is a 2016 fellow at the Smithsonian Institute of African Art. She has participated in several international solo exhibitions and her works are in private and institutional collections around the world.

Horses, one of her works, and a triptych piece of artwork, sold for over £30,000 at Bonhams, the foremost British art auction house in London, a few years ago.

At 2014 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, her work was generally adjudged to be the standout piece created in response to the kidnapping of 234 Chibok girls. It featured a series of panels of anonymous Nigerian girls using the Ankara fabric. It was titled, ‘Missing’.

Again, she was among the three Nigerian artists, who helped the country to rewrite her story at the Venice Biennale’s 57th edition in Venice, Italy, which Nigeria participated for the first time since the 122 years history of the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, also known as the Olympics of the art world.

At the exhibition, Alatise mirrored the future with her installation tagged, ’Flying Girls. The installation was eight life-sized sculptures of girls with wings and birds in mid-flight.

As well, the Nigerian female artist was announced as the 2017 recipient of the highly coveted FNB Art Prize at the 10th installment of the FNB JoburgArtFair.

TY Bello

Toyin Sokefun-Bello, better known as TY Bello, is one of Nigeria’s most recognized artists. She came to public attention in the early 2000s as a member of the music group Kush. Beyond music, she has also built a reputation as one of Nigeria’s foremost photographers and is a member of the talented photography collective Depth of Field.

Her evocative portraits never fail to rouse strong emotions and have made her one of the most applauded and keenly sought after portrait photographers in the country. Indeed she has the unique distinction of having photographed three sitting Nigerian presidents.

TY Bello organizes an annual photography exhibition to raise funds for orphans in Nigeria. She is also the director of Link-a-child, an NGO dedicated to proliferating information on orphanages in Nigeria and seeking sponsorship on their behalf. In July 2011, TY Bello was honored by the non-profit Communication For Change organization in a five-part documentary film series titled RedHot.

Mercy Johnson

Since 2004 when she played the role of Jane in the movie, The Maid, Mercy Johnson has become a household name in the Nigerian movie industry and winning thousands of fans across Africa.

Her performance in that movie paved the way for her into getting more roles in movies such as Hustlers, Baby Oku in America, War in the Palace, and many more. In 2009, she won an award for Best Supporting Actress at the 2009 African Movie Award ceremony, and then Best Actress award at the 2013 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards for her role in the comedy movie Dumebi the Dirty Girl. In December 2011, she was listed as Google’s most searched Nigerian celebrity, a position she also held in 2012. From April 1, 2017 till date, she has been the senior special assistant (SSA) to the Kogi State governor on Entertainment, Arts and Culture.

She has featured in over 100 movies, most of which in leading roles, nominated in over 17 awards and has won over seven of them.

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