By Prisca Sam-Duru
Observing Ngozi Schommers’ body of work at her ongoing exhibition, reminds one of the late iconic photographer, Pa JD Okhai Ojeikere. Their similarity stems from fact that Pa Ojeikere was renowned for promoting African women hair styles which mostly centered on pre-modernisation era, and Schommers’, as evident in “The Way We Mask”, holding at the National Museum, Lagos, is also all about women’s hair.
There is a major difference however, which apart from the former being a master photographer while the later, a visual artist, is that Schommers juxtaposes pre-colonial hairstyles with those of modern day, while at the same time, examining issues around identity and culture. In addition, she interrogates the ideals of beauty which she opined, are far removed from representations constructed in the present day.
It’s easy for viewers to conclude that the artist may have been inspired or influenced by works of Pa Ojeikere but Schommers was quick to correct that though she has encountered the late Iconic photographer’s works, they never inspired or influenced “The Way We Mask.
“I’ve always wanted to do something on hair but the narrative came during a programme in Germany. During that very programme, I had the opportunity to discuss the representation of Africans during the colonial times as well as the idea of collecting arts the way the museum collected works. Thereafter, I did a piece in which I used women in my narrative. I like to use women a lot because I feel like women have always been neglected in the narrative of Africa. The discussions I had with the women that were portrayed in the programme in Germany, actually inspired me to do this solo exhibition.” She Explained.
The Nigerian-German artist, whose second solo exhibition curated by Wura-Natasha Ogunji features new large scale works created with perforated paper, confetti, sequin, watercolour, ink, charcoal, acrylic, and fibre, which runs till 14th November, 2019, also displays an installation comprising of fifty-eight drawings.
As an artist based in Germany and Ghana, Schommers who began professional art in 2011, noted that her work focuses on subjects of identity, equality, memory, culture, migration and colonialism. She uses the body and the experiences of the female gender, archival materials and memories of her childhood, in tackling these subjects.
“Hair says a whole lot about women,”, the Yaba College of Technology trained artist began explaining why she chose this aspect of the women’s body. “I look at forms from the styles, I see structures and buildings, architecture, earth and nature, and these are things that become so important to me.”
“I’ve always wanted to do a hair narrative. As someone that grew up in Enugu and moved to Lagos, my hair connection is different as someone that was born in Germany or anywhere in Europe, be it South African or African-American. So, the narrative is connected to race issues and with each race comes a different narrative. I searched for how to discuss it in the context that speaks to me, and I found the connection by looking at pre-colonial Igbo hair styles. Considering that such archival materials were not properly documented, it was difficult to find them. Then I remembered seeing Agboho muo, a maiden masquerade in Enugu, that was around the 80s. I felt the masquerade took reference from women it was seeing at that time. Later I saw older images of agboho muo. In that, I was seeing architecture, building, beauty, lines, water, nature, and I thought to myself that there would be women who actually adorned their hairs that way.
Then I started doing drawings from that. And what I did was to draw in fragments, the images that I found. Also, I got images from my mom from the 70s. She was wearing the high raised wigs which were also different from the pre-colonial times. So I kind of used all those different times till today, to create the drawings. In a nutshell, I picked hairstyles from past to present.” It is no wonder that she found striking similarities between then and now.
For the artist, this is a time travelling exhibition through hair, and according to her, “It took me two years to research and finish this work.” While studying the hair styles in the 80s, the thread and their names; ‘Okoso’, ‘kpafinga’, ‘Isam’ (periwinkle), etc, Schommers began making sculptural pieces of the actual hairstyles. These gave rise to questions such as, “Can we transform these styles into wigs and have people buy them? Everything you see in this exhibition is truly self portrait. I see them as a portrait of myself.”
Schommers who had her first solo exhibition in 2016, shows much progress in the ongoing exhibition as her style is fascinating and appears unique. On this she explained that “When I started working in the perforate style, I’ve always had my works completely covered but I’ve gotten to the point where my dots have evolved and I can incorporate whatever I want in the dots as well as leave out anything. It’s a way of including the audience in my works as it gives them space to continue the narrative.”