Arts & Design

Exploring Gender Roles, Expectations in Crows Come At Dawn


One of the wonders of the just concluded Lagos Fringe was the maiden solo exhibition by the 16-year old Ikepo Soyinka. In it, the young artist expressed her thoughts on societal expectations of a woman and how this is changing in contemporary time.


A recent graduate of Greenspring School, Anthony Village was visibly excited to be exhibiting for the first time outside school. For her, starting off a career in arts was partly purpose-driven and experimental. With a knack for theatre and literature, Soyinka hopes to paint more and be more confident in her deconstructing views on societal expectations. She is passionate about arts and devotes time to creating pieces that resonate with her experiences and those of others. For this Fringe show, it was all work since September when her application to exhibit was approved by the organisers. Initially set out to be a showcase of 10 paintings, she paraded 13 works at the show while hinting at an unfinished piece that laid somewhere in her father’s car just some metres away from the exhibition hall inside Kongi’s Harvest, Freedom Park Lagos.


The week-long show was mostly well-received by the Lagos audience some of whom are friends, associates and other festival buffs.


“At Greenspring, we did a lot of trial and error and I would consider myself a self-taught artist,” Soyinka began, while her father was within earshot. “We got a lot of assignments in art but we weren’t taught how to execute them. That worked for me because I love to do my own practice outside of school.”


Practice for Soyinka meant working with different materials, new and repurposed. She watched several videos online and read widely as well. Confident that she could put her ideas into paintings, she allowed the brushstrokes to convey the subtle messages targeted at deconstructing gender roles. At this show titled “Crows Come at Dawn,” Soyinka teased the viewer with loads of motifs and visual metaphors.


“I love to use a lot of extended visual metaphors and how to connect this from one work to another,” she revealed while walking around the works. Initially, many found it hard to associate her young self with the bold works. Still, she forged ahead with doggedness and actually sold some pieces in her school show.


Soyinka, while recounting her personal journey into painting, said that venturing into arts was meant to be a great distraction from the pressure of academics. 


“I like using multiple mediums in my work,” she continued. “This has gouache, pastel, charcoal. This is titled ‘A Leap of Chaos.’ This piece is supposed to explore the experience of being a woman: showing the conflict of the good and the bad. This was the first piece I did in early September and it took a long time to finish mostly because of this watermelon. It turned out well. This is the start of some of the visual motifs you’d see in some of the other works.


In the piece titled, “I am Not What I am,” the young artist tells the story of someone who is trying really hard to fit herself into a gender role. 


With crow feathers, watermelon and charcoal as motifs in the series, Soyinka makes distinct marks on her paintings with a very controlled grip on oil.


“Oil was not used when I was in school. But then I tried it. I use the mediums as a form of representation and visual metaphors. For instance, gouache is a very free medium and people consider it as a compromise between oil and water colour. I use it a lot because I can mess with it more. Oil is a very old, traditional medium which illustrates the old order of gender expectations. 


“Crow feathers for me represent judgement and the lingering effect of it. Even if society says no one is forcing you into this role, there is still a lingering effect of it. We do not have to fit into the cultural expectations of your gender.”


The smallest piece at the show titled, “I was a Garden But I bore No Fruits,” is made of repurposed materials from her birthday cake etchings. The work seems to allude to the role of reproduction which the society vested in a woman and the pressure to feel out of place due to lack of biological children.


A piece like Oyinbo II is not for sale, but it was meant to advance her research and practice.


“It is about how people view me and  how I view gender. They say I have a very westernised view- hence the title.”


Soyinka hopes to paint more and be more confident in her deconstructing views on societal expectations.


-Written by Yinka Olatunbosun. First published in THISDAY Newspapers

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