“Chudy, God has revealed to me that you are lost and I am making you my prayer project from now, we must bring you back to God,” she said to me at 6 am on a phone call after seeing the pictures from my ”Blossom” Project.
There is a major taboo on the subject of nudity in the hyper-conservative religious society that is Nigeria. A taboo that holds many artists back from exploring this area of creative expression and making truly beautiful art. We call this closed-minded aversion to the exposure of skin “home training”.
Apparently, the amount of skin heaven permits in a work of art is limited to the face, arms – from elbow to fingers, and feet. Show any more skin and your house in heaven will be sold to the highest bidder (speaking of which I need to find someone to squat with when I get to heaven. I promise to be a good housemate).
Digging into the roots of this issue reveals a more sinister problem: the over-sexualisation of the human body. It seems to boggle the minds of many that the naked human body can be seen as anything but a sexual object – to be revealed only when it’s time to have sex and the exposure of which is a signal that it’s time to have sex.
A recurring comment I got after I started making nude images was “so, you were in the room with the girls and after they got naked you didn’t sleep with them???”. *Deep sigh*. It seems like the naked human body, to the average religious superman, is kryptonite and exposure to it will weaken his defences and make him “sin”. No offence but if all it takes to break down your self-control is exposure to a naked person, the problem isn’t with the naked person, the problem is with you. One can’t help but wonder, how did we manage to have a functional society when we as Africans roamed the earth without maxi skirts and turtle-necks?
Many church-folk are ardent antagonists to the idea of nudity as a form of artistic expression. I find that odd especially because the bible isn’t as conservative as they are. Examine the bible purely as a literary work and you will see that Songs of Solomon is erotica through and through.
“Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle… How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden! You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth… Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields… There I will give you my love (7:1,2, 6-12).
Being a good Christian Nigerian photographer, if I were to depict scripture in imagery, would you mind if I illustrate this? Or would it be a little too ungodly for you?
What is particularly sad is our “home training” keeps many Nigerian artists from appreciating one of nature’s finest work: the human body! For thousands of years, artists have been enthralled by the beauty of the well kept human form and have been inspired to create timeless pieces of art: Michelangelo created the “Statue of David” and “the Creation of Adam”; Francisco Goya painted “The Nude Maja” and Alexandros of Antioch made “Venus de Milo”.
Good news is there are some Nigerian photographers who, from time to time, go against the taboo and make truly gorgeous works of art. People like Obi Somto, Kelechi Amadi Obi and Dara Banjo to name a few. (There are so many more out there, so please feel free to tell me your favourite one.)
Will this article, as an argument for the inclusion of the beauty of the human body in the expression of Nigerian creativity, change the minds of staunch antagonists? Not at all! My only hope is that it will encourage an artist to let go of his or her inhibitions and create beautiful work even if it means showing a little more skin than people are used to seeing.