Reconstructing the body : the textile forms of Peju Alatise and Grace Ndiritu
Nigerian sculptor Peju Alatise and British/Kenyan video artist Grace Ndiritu create works centered on the female form. In these works the artists turn to flesh, their own and representations of, in order to expose prevailing notions of the black female body. Peju Alatise’s mixed-media sculpture, 9 Year Old Bride (2010), depicts the hollow bodies of seven small female figures created from fabric and frozen in motion by resin and white paint. Ndiritu’s video paintings, Still Life: Lying Down Textiles (2007)and Still Life: White Textiles (2005-2007) similarly employs cloths as means of covering and creating the body. In Still Life: Lying Down Textiles, Ndiritu reclines on the floor amongst a rich array of fabrics. Completely covered by cloth, except for her right arm, Ndiritu breathes heavily and twitches for entirety of the five-minute film. In her second film, Still Life: White Textiles, Ndiritu manipulates a large piece of fabric between her bare legs and arms which hints at, but never grants nudity.
This thesis argues that both Alatise and Ndiritu incorporate wax-printed fabrics to conceal/reveal and construct/deconstruct the female form. Both artists do so as means of destabilizing dominant essentialized notions of black womanhood rooted in colonial visual practices. The paper draws similarities between Alatise and Ndiritu’s works to colonial photographic practices and historical figures of curiosity, such as Sara Baartman, which both inform contemporary understandings of the black female body. Rather than simply repeat—and therefore perpetuate—Western imagined qualities of deviant sexualities and sexual availability, this thesis asserts that Alatise and Ndiritu allude to and ultimately undermine these notions through a careful control of nudity. The last section of the thesis distinguishes the artistic practices of Ndiritu and Alatise from artists working in similar mediums. Though artists like Yinka Shonibare and Lalla Essaydi incorporate textiles into their works, Ndiritu and Alatise are unique for their use of textiles as extensions of the body rather than simply coverings for the figure. Lastly, the thesis argues that Alatise and Ndiritu straddle both Orientalist and Occidentalist understandings of African culture, incorporating elements of both, seemingly inverse, theories into their artistic practices.