Body Talk: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the work of Six African Women Artists – WIELS

On 13 February 2014 at 6:30pm, the exhibition Body Talk: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of Six African Women Artists will open at WIELS in Brussels, featuring work by artists Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Marcia Kure, Miriam Syowia Kyambi, Valérie Oka, Tracey Rose, and Billie Zangewa.

This exhibition addresses issues of feminism, sexuality and the body, as they play themselves out in the work of a generation of women artists from Africa active since the late 1990s. Bringing together artists from different parts of the continent, this group exhibition strives to define and articulate notions of feminism and sexuality in the work of women artists whose body (their own or that of others) serves as a tool, a representation or a field of investigation. In their work, the body manifests itself, whether sequentially or simultaneously, as a model, support, subject or object.


Zoulikha Bouabdellah (b. 1977 in Moscow, Russia. Lives in Casablanca)
Marcia Kure (b. 1970 in Kano, Nigeria. Lives in Princeton, NJ)
Miriam Syowia Kyambi (b. 1979 in Nairobi, Kenya. Lives in Nairobi)
Valérie Oka (b. 1967 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Lives in Abidjan)
Tracey Rose (b. 1974 in Durban, South Africa. Lives in Durban)
Billie Zangewa (b. 1973 in Blantyre, Malawi. Lives in Johannesburg)

Curator: Koyo Kouoh, assisted by Eva Barois De Caevel (R AW Material Company, Dakar)
Coordinating Curator: Caroline Dumalin (WIELS)
In coproduction with R AW Material Company, Dakar, FRAC Lorraine, Metz, and Lunds Konsthall, Lund
With the support of Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte and Institut français

In ‘The Body Politic: Differences, Gender, Sexuality’ (in Contemporary African Art Since 1980) Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu evoke the gathering of Igbo Women in 1929 in the city of Aba, in Nigeria. This gathering, where women used their naked bodies to protest the tax policies of the British colonial administration, stands as a powerful picture of the meaningful use of the body by Nigerian women. The event in Aba is remembered as one of the first historical occurrences of a modern Nigerian women’s movement, and also an example of the critique of colonial power. Manifesting the naked female body is a practice deeply ingrained in traditional African cultures as a means to expel injustice. A notable instance happened in 1819 in Nder, a small village in the north of Senegal, whose history is marked by the tragedy of the self immolation of a group of women who preferred to kill themselves and their children rather than fall prey to the Arab and Moorish slave traders. The critical resonance of a specifically African – and black – feminism, together with the spread of artistic practices to international networks, have given shape to the development of a black feminist art. Stemming from the continent and the Diaspora, this black feminist art depicts bodies that continue a tradition of activism and freedom of expression. Body Talk: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body presents a combination of newly commissioned and existing works dealing with the issues raised by such exposed bodies.

What is an African female black body? Is it the supreme object of patriarchal sacrifice? Is it the sacred, stained body, transgressing the boundaries of race and gender in the way it stages and embodies history? Is it all of the above?

Let us recall that this body-vehicle is inscribed in a feminism whose originary history can be traced to Egypt in 1923, to the formation of the Egyptian Feminist Union, the first African feminist movement, led by Huda Sha’rawi. In the early 1980s, some people preferred to speak of Womanism, rather than Feminism, considering it ‘a more inclusive feminism’ defended by African-American author Alice Walker. This preference for Womanism over Feminism among some black women deserves to be mentioned: it stems from the marginalization of women of colour in the most prevalent forms of feminism, and from the fact that African women and those of African descent have been disappointed by white radical feminism, which they see as often oblivious to the realities of black women. This lack of cohesion – and the quest for it – is what can be found in the work of the artists shown here.

The works by the six participating artists can be seen as so many ways of reexploring, reintegrating and reincarnating the body; and the media of contemporary art – performance, photography, video, film, installation – are so many means to achieve that end. The works reference historical and political figures, they recreate modern personas and reanimate past and present bodies. This is the case with the recurring, and haunting, presence of Sarah Baartman, known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’ or ‘Black Venus’, an exposed and violated body-object that has become a fixture in the discussion of black body politics. Each of the participating artists is particular in the way she materially positions the body – her own or an abstracted form of it – in a story, and in its rereading as a singular space within an increasingly uniform world. It is this unity of purpose in the diversity and subjectivity of forms and answers that Body Talk aims to uncover.

Koyo Kouoh

Complementary Programme:

Saturday 13 February, 6:30 – 8:30pm
Performances by Valérie Oka and guests, including Philip Aguirre y Otegui, Rachida Aziz, Sammy Baloji, Matthias De Groof, Olga Dengo, Assita Kanko, Bleri Lleshi, Ayoko Mensah, Toma Muteba Luntumbue, Otobong Nkanga and Anne Tonglet

 Saturday 14 February, 11:00am – 1:00pm
Round table discussion with the artists of Body Talk, moderated by curator Koyo Kouoh

 Wednesday 4 March, 7:00om
Lecture by assistant curator Eva Barois De Caevel

 Wednesday 1 April, 7:00pm
Artist talk by Otobong Nkanga about the role of the body in her artistic practice

 Wednesday 22 April, 7:00pm
Conversations in the framework of the exhibition Odyssées Africaines at Le Brass, curated by Marie Ann Yemsi and supported by Fondation Louis Vuitton

 Saturday 25 April, 11:00am – 1:00pm
Symposium with Frieda Ekotto, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Koyo Kouoh and Eva Barois De Caevel, accompanied by the launch of the exhibition publication

WIELS – Avenue Van Volxem 354, Bruxelles
14 February 2015 – 3 May 2015