The concept of self is one topic that will continue to awe and inspire the human race. How does one wear themselves?
Humans have skilfully perfected the art of masking their true selves as a way of survival, like in primitive times, constantly adapting to suit societal patterns and expectations. The false self becomes a shield of sorts, protecting the true self from vulnerabilities about how we are expected to look, what we are expected to say and who we are expected to be. We are constantly diminishing our true design of being for fear of criticism and persecution from the never-resting powers, who have made it a point of duty to police everyone into one miserable mould, forgetting we were all created differently and that there is beauty in diversity.
In Nigeria, we have recently experienced a revolution against unending stereotypes. A desperate clarion call to the end of classification based on a person's looks and possessions, actions that in themselves curb and attack the true expression of self and the freedom of being. How long could we have continued to cave into society’s yardstick for wrong or right? Why should wearing bright colours, tattoos, piercings, braided hair, fully grown beards or beautifully worn dreadlocks make people easy prey for law enforcement officers? Why should any of it matter, why should people become easy prey because of society’s construct of what is decent and what has a propensity to crime, why should that make you a target of oppression, when did a person’s look become the evidence of criminal conviction? In Now I Wear Myself, I am investigating stereotypes by examining the concepts of what should be to the reality of what is. I am challenging the narrative of self as a singular entity and embracing the duality of the expressions and manifestations of self. Thereby, I am creating an alternate reality of be-ing and of culture, one that is ignored but reflects what really is prevalent while stretching the notion of perception and acceptance.
In Now I Wear Myself, I reconstitute disparate cultural significations — Nsibidi inscriptions, Nok, Benin, Ife masks and sculptures, Dutch wax and lace fabrics into new imagistic forms of self-identification. I use them as adornments of the body, which is one’s self and the space in which one exists. This is a metaphor for cultural elements that might stay relevant. Colonisation has played a heavy role in the dissolving and diluting of Nigerian cultures and traditional practices, especially where it concerns traditional masks and sculptures—sacred things and elements now discarded and seemingly abandoned for fear or disgust of the association with being ‘fetish’ and ‘barbaric’. Despite the struggle to keep tradition pure, globalisation has created a mish mash of cultural identities; some things discarded, some things borrowed and transient and some other things here to stay.
Is this not who we are?
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the world has come to rely on the face mask to survive. Such a meagre thing but lives literally depend on its covering for survival. As a people, we constantly struggle with self, the idea of who we really are, the masking of personality, the fear of judgement and vulnerability. In a bid to find comfort outside ourselves, we MASK. We mask emotions, expressions, actions and reactions. We embrace what is not and mask what is. Layers and layers of being, buried under a mask with the intention to stay acceptable and approachable. We enjoy the benefits of masking, of being seen and yet unseen, settling for the illusion of acceptance. In ancient times, traditional masks, sculptures, writing and masquerades were sacred; some used for festivities, some to honour the dead, some to honour life, some to mourn, some to celebrate and others for the deity of royalty. Like we need the face mask to survive, a people's heritage is lost in nothingness if discarded. We need our cultural elements to thrive. They may not exist in the frames in which they once did within our conscious existence but they can be incorporated into our daily lives.
Is this not who we are?
What is self without being, what is being without history and what is history without culture? Don't be afraid to embrace the many facets of yourself. Wear them proudly as one would a badge of honour. DON'T SETTLE, DON'T DISGUISE. This is who you are after all and if there are curiosities as there always are in the face of difference, tell them NOW I WEAR MYSELF...