In keeping with my self-labelling of Igbo Vernacular Art, the women that comprise NWA AGBO: Adolescence are anchored to a particular land, and are situated in a location and a history: the Onitsha people of Igboland.
In Igboland, there is a seasonality of women’s power and authority, specific phases during a woman’s lifespan can be identified in which female power is either immaterial or elevated. Thus, an Igbo woman’s life can be said to be divided into the following four seasons: the Nwata (childhood) season, the Nwa Agbo (adolescence) season, the Okenye (adult) season and finally, the Agadi (autumnal) season. Traditionally, it is only when a woman enters the Agadi season that she becomes an elder or is given the revered title of “honorary man” and she receives all the rights and reputations that are accorded to that station.
In focusing on the Nwa Agbo: Adolescence season, the vivid and commanding representations of these young women, on both the allusive and interpretative planes, merit equal attention, since both aim to overturn the misogynistic placement of woman in the patriarchal Igbo culture. The women of Nwa Agbo: Adolescence do not need the title of “honorary man” to be seen or heard. They are formidable in their various manifestations of EKE, the sacred python of Igboland, as EZE NWANYI, queen of all women, as JI, the yam tuber, the celebrated king of all crops in Igboland.
There is an Igbo maxim which states, “Mma nwanyi bu akwa; mma nwoke bu ego”. This translates to “the beauty of a woman is in her attire; the beauty of a man is in his money.” It is time we expand our thinking to cultivate the roles of women in society beyond the commonly defined and restrictive parameters of physical and superficial attributes. It is time we accepted that in putting the restrictions of seasonality and gender bias aside, one and all are JI.