Elisia Nghidishange has worked with clay, wire, cloth, dye, fire, paint and metal to create a new body of work. “The Insight of Intrusive Women” is made up of many discrete pieces – masks hang on the walls while life-size human figures stand together and occupy space. The works are large and boldly formed. At the recent exhibition opening celebrating these works, Isabel Katjavivi said; “Elisia has created a beautiful space… that forces the audience to walk in between and among the community of women she has created. She is reminding us to become a part of the community, to support one another.”
Like much feminist art, Nghidishange’s works function as both a challenge to the status quo and a personal statement of her experience. Gendered discrimination and violence is a daily reality for most Namibians and Nghidishange’s works are a powerful comment of this.
Nghidishange’s work up to this point has mostly been figurative and these sculptures continue that trend. Each piece depicts a person; an individual in a crowd. Nghidishange says; “I tried to create a community. When you are viewing the exhibition, you must feel that community, be in that community and then find your position”. This exhibition grew out of Nghidishange’s personal and shared experience of seeing women marginalised and silenced in society.
The persistent reinforcement of gender-norms and roles has led Nghidishange to think of herself as intrusive. In an article for The Namibian Martha Mukaiwa reflects on this; “Nghidishange uses her art as a tool to convey the insights and the commentary of the intrusive woman – a woman who disturbs, annoys and causes discomfort amid the patriarchal status quo and who will stand up and speak out.” (Martha Mukaiwa, 2020)
What does it mean to be intrusive- to exist as an affront to society? Nghidishange’s figures are not posed for the enjoyment of the viewer, or set to work in a stereotypical depiction of African women labouring at a domestic task. Instead they stand still, small child-sized figures and adults alike. They are not exactly waiting so much as thinking, contemplating, ruminating over their shared situation, the impossibility of being both free and discreet. The red fabric mouths are woven tightly closed, the colour highlighting both the potential and necessity of speech.
Mouths are important to Nghidishange. In the process of making her masks she has stuffed mouths shut only to burn them open again. The performative potential of fire as both destroyer and liberator emerges in this process. The remnants of fire remind us of the intimacy that exists between the artist and her artworks. In the making process each one is cradled and bound, painted, woven and eventually burnt. What emerges from the crucible of the studio are Nghidishange’s Intrusive Women.
These works along with others can be viewed here.