In her poetic work Chidinma Nnoli draws on her experience in a patriarchal, catholic home. It felt “very suffocating, and I existed in an environment of fear and anxiety that made me uncomfortable relaxing,” says the 22-year-old Nigerian artist. She channels these memories into her acrylic and oil-based artworks, which are ethereal and subversive at the same time, with a clear focus on somber, non-smiling women and their hazy surroundings, which are painted in pastel colors.
Subtle commentary on a variety of cultural topics permeates Nnoli’s paintings, including the specifics of food culture, impossible standards of beauty, and how many widespread societal beliefs affect mental health. In some pieces, these themes become evident in the women’s facial expressions, gestures, and vintage clothing. High necklines or collars, lace details and puffy sleeves cover her body in a way that evokes traditional values such as innocence and modesty in works such as “A Poetry of Rejected Feelings / Things (III)”. Other paintings, such as “None of these clocks work (I)”, focus on a motif wearing a corset that twists women’s bodies into the idealized hourglass.
Whether alone or as a couple, the figures are reserved, solemn and at home under pastose backgrounds. The calm, humble scenes are full of indistinguishable works of art, bouquets of flowers or plants, and couches, common domestic elements that allow Nnoli to filter out an implicit tension. The women, she says, exist in “rooms that are supposed to be safe, but toxic and somehow can’t get out… I try to create a safe environment with flowers, a space that is almost dreamlike, a utopia in which you can can heal, even if it just happens in their heads (until) they find their own safe space. “
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