KAFART 2023 Highlights Northern Nigeria's Cultural Resurgence Through Female Artists
Kaduna is at the centre of a cultural revival in Northern Nigeria. The city, rich in history and tradition, has long been known for the insecurity that has plagued the state. The city formerly never considered in conversations about Fashion and Art in Nigeria is now becoming a destination to witness and experience Fashion and Art from Northern Nigeria and Beyond.
One initiative making this possible is the Kaduna Fashion and Art Exhibition (Kafart). The Exhibition showcases work from Fashion Designers and Visual artists from Northern Nigeria and parts of West Africa like Mali and Senegal, whose culture is similar to the culture of Northern Nigerians, an intentional decision made by the exhibition's founder.
“I met with a couple of designers while I was in Dakar, and they used some element of clothing that I keep seeing in Northern Nigeria.” The founder tells Drummr Africa. The Exhibition was first held in 2019 and has since had four editions. Document women had previously spoken to Ganeeyah Sani, Kafart’s Founder and Creative Director, about her work which has filled the vacuum of art curation and exhibition in Northern Nigeria.
Following its fourth exhibition last year, themed “Into The Art of Making” Document Women spoke with some of the female visual artists and textile designers whose works were exhibited. Ganiyat Sani told Document Women that there was an intentional effort to select artworks that followed the theme and showcased female talent in Northern Nigeria. The event exhibited works from 27 artists, 12 artists out of the 27 being female artists.
On the first day of the exhibition, I met Sumayah Fallatah and her sister Salma At the residence for guests and Volunteers from outside Kaduna. Sumayah, a third-generation Saudi Arabian-Nigerian photographer and visual Artist spoke to me about her photographs that were exhibited.
“It’s called “Sai mun dawo 2”. It’s basically me exploring and trying to reconnect with my Nigerian Heritage because I’m very far away from it given the fact that we were born and raised in Saudi Arabia. In the work itself, I am connecting a few dots music, and language using Atampa fabric to do this. I've been collecting Atampa fabric for a few years now.”
I ask what story she’s trying to tell with the images and she tells me that she wants to tell a story of celebration and reconnection.
A few minutes to the opening ceremony. I spoke to Adenike, a student of Fine Arts specializing in Sculpture at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria close to the gallery and she described the medium of her artwork to me.
“It’s a mixed media work. I use fabric and metal nets to create the piece.”
Adenike’s pieces feature women in headties as she describes the artwork she mentions that they are meant to depict the headgear of Northern Nigerian women.
“Growing up I fancied the head ties and would sometimes try to replicate it. I've always found it very interesting and I tried to reproduce that in my work.”
Her work attempts to tell a different story from the stereotypes she heard as a child.
“The artwork represents preserving culture. Revealing the true story of the head ties besides the stories I heard about it as a child.”
While walking through the event venue I stumbled on Star Zahra, a textile artist, writer, and poet whose work I have followed since 2020 on Facebook. After exchanging greetings and talking about our online friendship. Zahra gives me an in-depth background on her work.
“I studied at Nike research centre for 2 years, where I learned about African Aesthetics. I've always been interested in Tie Dye because it has a long history in the North. I did my training on Batik and Tie Dye but I chose to do Tie Dye specifically.”
Zahra observes that not a lot of young people in the North take up tie dye and cites it as her motivation to create textiles with the medium.
She lists the names of the artworks displayed.
“One of them is daffodils. I've always liked that word. It's such a fancy word. I title my work afterwards by how they make me feel and when I saw the work I thought ‘This is so fancy I should name it Daffodils’ The other one is named Pathning Mist. I can't talk about the work without saying that with Tie Dye you Don't know what to expect. It didn't come out the way I expected it to it surprised me”
When asked what story her work tells. She answers that she never had one story for anything she creates.
“I never really write on one theme and that transfers to textiles that I make. It is a collection of all the things that make me and all the things that made me fall in love with art. I want to tell my story and what art means to me, art gave me access. I also want to tell the story of the Kofar matar women. I want to be that tie-dye artist who has a face. Those women are faceless. We Don't know these women but for 500 years their work has been worn in so many places around the world.”
The next day I ran into Zakiyya Abubakar. Earlier in the year, we spoke to Zakiyya about her work and some of her influences whom she was exhibiting next to at the event. I convinced her to speak to me about the textured mixed-media artworks on display.
“There are two works, one is untitled. The untitled one captures the struggles we go through in our daily lives; it simply tries to capture how we get up and overcome these challenges. The broken glass on it signifies the struggles while the copper colours by the side signify the successes”
Her second artwork, Kyawan Arewa, a 4-foot installation, holds Arewa motifs signifying the unity and culture of Northern Nigeria. She uses raffia placemats and acrylic paints to create the artwork.
Textile artists shine in this year's exhibition one of the most striking pieces is a batik made by Faith Shemfe a Master's Student of Industrial Design at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
‘I made three textiles for this year’s exhibition. It is a series named the Creator series in line with the theme of the exhibition. The first one is a man in the process of creating. The second captures the hazards that artists encounter. It's not just about the beauty with art and many of us don't see that. The third one represents my perspective on creation. I believe parents are creators in their own right and the art of making and I try to capture that. The image on the textile is a particular one I remember from my childhood. My mother would always want me to sit next to her while she did house chores.”
She tells me that she learnt a lot of skills from her mother and grandmother. The skills included weaving and she incorporated the skill using symbols.
“These square and triangular symbols represent weaving morals into the child," She goes on to explain more of the symbols. "If you look closely you can see these patterns of flowers and leaves and they represent blossoming and seeds. These circles here mean circles of life from one generation to the next. These footprints here mean leaving an impression. The X depicts the union and agreement of the father and mother to raise a child.”
Besides textiles, mixed media and collages were a common feature at the exhibition. Rahma Azeez’s colleges are among some of the artworks that left the audience trying to interpret the works.
Rahma is at the exhibition for the first time since 2019. She is exhibiting two collages one on social media and another on the Gobarau minaret in Katsina state, her Hometown.
“I had to turn my house into a dumpster, you had to see how much trash I created. I used so many old books and magazines. Cutting and pasting till I got what I wanted. It was more like recreating and recycling old magazines and books.” She narrates her creative process to me.
With “social media", she captures the world of social media in all its chaos and attempts to portray to the viewer what it is all about. With the other collage, she mentions that she wants the viewer to see the glory of the Gobarau minaret and its importance.
Ganiyat Sani commented on the female artists at this year's exhibition;
“We have quite a number of female artists this year, more female artists than we’ve ever had. Their works showed a great amount of skill, precision and innovation. It's mind-boggling to see the great work these young women can do despite all the challenges faced by young women in their careers. I particularly like the works from Faith Shemfe, Maryam Maigida and Rahma Azeez''