Silent Rebel Peju Alatise | 30 Days Unchained: Day 4 Sunday 13 January, 2013

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30 Days Unchained/#30unchained | Day: 4 – 1/13/13 | Inspiration: Peju Alatise Describing the inspiration for her painting, “Orange Scarf-First,” Nigerian artist Peju Alatise tells Live Unchained: “The orange scarf was my experience at the age of 16 [on the prayer grounds]. One of the attendants was going to stop me from entering the prayer […]

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30 Days Unchained/#30unchained | Day: 4 – 1/13/13 | Inspiration: Peju Alatise

Peju Alatise

Describing the inspiration for her painting, “Orange Scarf-First,” Nigerian artist Peju Alatise tells Live Unchained: “The orange scarf was my experience at the age of 16 [on the prayer grounds]. One of the attendants was going to stop me from entering the prayer grounds for wearing a brightly colored scarf… I was given a warning and a book; The book had details of punishments in hell for women who did not live accordingly. It was my first internal dispute with the god of a religion that would bear a grudge against a minor…” Speaking with painter, sculptor and writer, Peju Alatise, I respected her sense of self-trust at an early age, especially concerning, religious beliefs that even adults are often too afraid to question. It may sound illogical, but I do think you can be both young and wise. Peju made me realize the best advice I could give my younger self would probably be to trust myself more and to not be afraid to rebel against common beliefs – even if it’s not through words but through art, what Peju calls: “silent rebellion.”

Challenge (Find, Create or Remix an image that answers the question): What advice would you give to your younger self?

Share your image(s) on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and be sure to tag @liveunchained and use the hashtag #30unchained so we can shout you out! Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to keep up with the latest #30unchained news.

Live Unchained: I’d like to talk about the creative process and inspiration for the pieces I’ve selected…

LU: Orange Scarf-First — I like the look of her looking and I wonder why she’s gazing up; I wonder, was she challenged to or was she invited to…

Orange Scarf-First by Peju Alatise

Peju Alatise: The orange scarf was my experience at the age of 16. I had gone to the prayer grounds with my parents and I wore this orange scarf to cover my hair and shoulders. One of the attendants was going to stop me from entering the prayer grounds for wearing a brightly colored scarf. I was told I was a distraction and God preferred me to be in black, grey, brown or dark blue. I was given a warning and a book; The book had details of punishments in hell for women who did not live accordingly.

It was my first internal dispute with the god of a religion that would bear a grudge against a minor for wearing an orange scarf to his prayer grounds. I have done several paintings with the title “Orange Scarf.” It is a silent rebellion for me that the art permits.

  • LU: Just One Night — Well, I like what I see as the irony of it. The title is “Just One Night,” but from the look of the characters, it feels like more than that. It made me wonder, even when we think we do, do we ever have “Just One Night,” with someone? Also, the woman seems to be in a position of power and confidence, it is the man who looks vulnerable in this piece. She is the one enveloped in the bold colors and his are cooler.

PA: “Just One Night” is an illustration of an affair I had in the past. It was never meant to be more than that–so I thought. Once I was over my inhibitions of getting intimate with this person, I allowed myself to feel every emotion in the experience we had.

Well, he was not supposed to be with me at all, having a lot on his mind–I guess that is why he has the troubled look on his face. “Just One Night” is a story of an illicit affair.

  • LU: What the f***!–I was drawn to this because of the imagery and the title. I liked that it showed her “what the fuck!” moment not as outward rage, but internal.

PA: “What the f**k!” is in three parts. It is the same woman painted in three zoom in ranges. It is the story of an introspective journey. If I had the opportunity to see my entire journey and experiences in this lifetime before living it, this would be my reaction. And when I look back on all that I have seen, said and done thus far, this would still be my reaction–it would be a story very familiar to thousands of other women.

LU: Of your novel, Orita Meta, chronicling the interwoven journeys of three women, you’ve said: “The greatest challenge they face is being African women.” What would you say are the most pressing challenges facing African women?

PA: Within my continent, I think the most pressing challenge will be that of “The Right to Choose.” The right to choose your life, to choose education, to choose health, to choose love, to choose her governmental representatives, to choose who and when to marry, to choose how many children she wants, financial independence, self-improvement, faith, what to wear…and, I could go on. The right to choose is the first step to consciousness/awareness. The right to choose is the path to accountability for with every choice there is a consequence of responsibility. Free will is exercised by making choices.

I must say that I live in a part of Nigeria where a girl can become an architect, doctor or engineer–and, for this, I am forever thankful. But, there is still an unhealthy relationship between men and women, where a boy child is more valuable than a girl child. The role of a man is an oppressive dominance in most aspects.

In general, in a world where inequality of the races and ethnicities is tolerated, the darker the skin the more difficult your journey of acceptance will be, the more challenges you face. The disparity does not end with the skin color alone. There is discrimination amongst black people where the closer you are to the origin of Africa the less consideration you get.

LU: How did African women, in general, come to be so central in your art?

PA: Africa is a continent with so many issues derailing its progress in development. There is civil war, corruption in government, poor health care systems, apartheid, famine, poor management of resources–the list is near endless. Amongst the issues seen as least pressing are feminism and equal rights for women.

But, it has not always been this way, not in all tribes and ethnic groups. I belong to the Yoruba tribe from the western part of Nigeria. The precolonial traditions held back then held a noble place for the woman. The economic and trading power was her’s alone as men were prohibited from the market place. You had to respect the one that spent the money on behalf of the household–she was the caregiver in her community and traditional education was her forte.

All that changed with the western ideas of monogamy, the influence of foreign religions and the home-economics education. Vanity has replaced nobility. The caring for one another is replaced with suspicion. There is a disheartening loss of self-identity and the confusion of which gods to please. I wish I knew how it all went wrong because I only know that it is wrong.

I am of the opinion that if given the right choices, the woman can completely change her environment to a better one. The desperate need for change and improvement make me value my womanhood, knowing that “who and what I am” is critical for this change.

LU: What does living unchained mean to you?

PA: Living unchained means “the freedom to be me,” as I live an unchained existence.

There are people chained by their own thoughts! I am thankful that my thoughts are to me a tool to work with, so is my body. I am fully aware of myself and I accept me most times. But, with freedom comes a responsibility; I am learning to live a balanced life.

This interview is excerpted from a full feature with the artist. View the original article here.

30 Days Unchained/#30unchained is an interactive creative countdown to the Live Unchained Anniversary Celebration. Everyday for 30 days, we’ll share some of our most popular interviews with Live Unchained featured artists. They include women creatives of various disciplines from across the African diaspora. Her creative journey will be the inspiration for your challenge. To participate simply respond to the challenge question with images (not words). Share it on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest and be sure to tag @liveunchained so we can shout you out – it’s that simple. Learn more about 30 Days Unchained, including rules and prizes here. Get your daily challenge from Thursday, January 10th through the day of the big bash on Friday, February 8th at www.liveunchained.com.

Written by Kathryn Buford

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