This exhibition features Njorowe, which was carved by Makonde men, conceptualized by Nkiru Nzegwu, and designed with Uli by Chinwe Uwatse, a top contemporary Nigerian female artist.

January 1 – March 31, 2008

TRANSBeautified Makonde Belly (2007), Uli Design, Chinwe UwatseCONTINENTAL DIALOGUE: ULI MEETS NJOROWE

Carvers: Makonde Men

Conceptualized: Nkiru Nzegwu

Uli Designer: Chinwe Uwatse

The Makonde njorowe, a body plate with breasts, protruding navel and a bulging belly, often referred to as belly mask, represented a young, pregnant woman. It was part of the costume of a male dancer whose face was concealed behind a female mask. In his performance with a male mask figure, he moved sluggishly, mimed sexual intercourse with his partner, and demonstrated the burdens of pregnancy and giving birth.

The Makonde societies of southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique were traditionally matrilineal. This means that husbands had to move to the villages of their wives and the offspring of couples belonged to the mothers.  Women play an important role in mythology as well as in religion and art, and are the dominant theme of the belly masks. According to Makonde oral history, the first man wandered around outside the bush, sculpted a female figure out of wood, and then fell asleep. When he awoke, the statue had become a real woman who gave birth to many children and, after her death became the venerated ancestress of the Makonde.

The body masks celebrate the return of young men to the village after they have been initiated into adult life. The men who wear them cover their faces with a mask of a feminine face. They represent pregnant women. The feminine mask dances with great composure, while a masculine mask dramatizes the pains of childbirth. An orchestra of drummers accompanies the dances.

In this exhibition, Nigerian artist Chinwe Uwatse, utilizes uli designs of Nigeria to mark the njorowe in an act of continental dialogue. Uli is a cosmetic dye and the art form and designs were developed and practiced by Igbo women of Nigeria. Its extensive repertoire of designs were executed on the body, wall, pottery, and woven cloth. Fine ideographic patterns were "written" (ide uli) on the body, turning the latter into a canvas that took advantage of the monochromatic brown hues of women's skin and the contours of their body.

In this dialogue, Uwatse speaks through the njorowe to Makonde women about the powers of creativity and the divine, life-giving powers that women possess. Although the body plate is worn by men, the uli designs that Uwatse inscribes on the sculptures amplify the act of Makonde men in affirming the act of divine creation that pregnancy represents.

Chinwe Uwatse is one of Nigeria's most prominent female artist. Her medium of choice is water color.

Related Programming

Beautified Makonde Belly (2007), Uli Design, Chinwe UwatseMeet the Artist  - Dr. Nkiru Nzegwu

Day:  Friday, December 21, 2007
Time:  6pm - 8pm
Where:  Africa House
Address: 50 Washington Avenue, Endicott, NY, 13760

Reminiscing is the first exhibition at the newly renovated Africa House in Endicott. The exhibition features the work of Dr. Nkiru Nzegwu, an Emmy award winning producer, philosopher, art historian and artist. The exhibition will include a lecture and Q&A. This event is free and open to the public.