Ndidi Emefiele’s Gaze
A contorted childlike figure serves as the focal point of this piece by Ndidikanma “Ndidi” Emefiele, a young mixed-media artist from Nigeria. Emefiele shows the girl in vivid color, enjoying a summer day by the pool, her toys strewn about and a glass of pink lemonade beside her. We have intruded on her free play, and our eyes cannot help but be drawn to the glare of her eyes. Emefiele has created a bright image of girlhood with her use of color, a collage of materials based on aesthetic contradictions: dark colors vs. bright colors, rigid lines vs. curved lines.
The girl’s smooth, dark form is surrounded by the distorted background of pool water, and her figure rests upon a rigid, geometric foreground, which gives her figure dimensionality and further draws the eye’s attention. Her dark skin is juxtaposed by the bright colors adorning her figure, as well as of the foreground and background. The curvature of her head, buttocks and thighs contrast with and run perpendicular to the rigid angles formed by her arms and legs. The contortion of her figure is a method of protecting her body from our gaze, as well as an assertion of her autonomy. The “ori,” enlarged head, of the female figure creates the sense of an enhanced being, drawing our eye to her mind via the shape of her body, and emphasizes the soul over the physical body. This female figure watches you watching her, and the “to-be-looked-at-ness” of the female form comes to operate as the female gaze.
Emefiele has described her art as a form of protest against a society that punishes women and girls for their femininity, which can be seen in the absence of men in her work. Womanhood and girlhood are glorified, particularly in the intense stares of her female subjects. As we have caught this young girl deep in her imagination we are subjected to the female gaze, and left to wonder how long are girls allowed to be just children, before they are sexualized, and/or have their freedom, innocence, or imagination stripped from their being?