No title (Mother and Child). 1961. Oil on cardboard.

#045 No title (Mother and Child) von Demas Nwoko

1961. Oil on cardboard.

A woman holds a monkey like a child in front of a flaming red flat background with barren trees. The woman’s features are abstracted in a nod to Nok culture and Neue Sachlichkeit so typical for Nwoko.

The facial outline of the monkey’s profile nestles proportionally with her features, which creates a geometric space between them but also suggests an intimate bond. I am intrigued by Nwoko’s perplexing play with the human/ monkey analogy. Are they mother and child or is she projecting human qualities into the animal or is this a dark joke?

The colours of the painting and the naked trees suggest extreme heat, discomfort and allude to being barren, infertile or just without water. So there is a darkness to the work, which matches other early works, that are heavy with foreboding such as ‘Nigeria in 1959’ (1960) or ‘ White Fraternity’ (1960).

The painting is in stark contrast with the work from the same year, ‘Bathing Women’, which is lively and full of movement in front of a vivid floral background. Nwoko’s painting makes me very uneasy and, yet, there are so many thoughts that can be read into its unexplained juxtapositions that it stays in my mind. It is a very perplexing study of womanhood and if it is intended to be a ‘Mother and Child’ image, it is a tender and disturbing one at the same time.

Bea Gassman de Sousa. Founder / Director the Agency Gallery & Office for Contemporary Art Research Independent Curator and Researcher. July 2018.