One of the strongest feminist voices to emerge from Africa in the past 50 years, Everlyn Nicodemus (b. 1954, Tanzania) is an artist, writer and curator. Her works centres on trauma and the role art can play in healing, while her research focus on re-writing the history of Modern African Art. Nicodemus has spent the past 40 years in a moving diaspora, living in Sweden, France, Denmark, Belgium and now Edinburgh, Scotland.
Nicodemus travelled to each city to interview local women and asked the same question of the women she met: ‘what is it to you to be a woman?’.
Born in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania in 1954, Nicodemus’ ongoing contribution to the study of modern and contemporary art, as well as the intersection of art and trauma, cannot be overstated or underestimated. She subsequently co-edited the influential book Modern Art in Africa, Asia and Latin America: An Introduction to Global Modernism, which was published in 2012. Her experience of racism first occurred after moving to Sweden in the early 1970s, where she encountered the notion of the “other.” This prompted her to study cultural anthropology at Stockholm University and this early training laid the groundwork for an extraordinary artistic practice that combines a breathtaking formal sensibility together with an obsessive exploration of postcolonial theory, Feminism and Black radical thought. On a return trip to Tanzania in the late 1970s, Nicodemus met a community of aid workers who came together as a group to draw and paint. These meetings triggered a transformative response in Nicodemus, kickstarting her artistic practice and leading to a solo exhibition at the National Museum, Dar es Salaam in 1980. Nicodemus continued to cultivate her artistic practice in Sweden and in 1983 received an invitation from the Skive Art Museum, Denmark to exhibit her work. This invitation developed into her series Woman in the World, a three-year exhibition project held in three locations: Skive, Denmark (1984); Dar el Salaam, Tanzania (1985); and Calcutta, India (1986). Nicodemus travelled to each city to interview local women and asked the same question of the women she met: ‘what is it to you to be a woman?’. Meeting in community centres (Skive) and slums and local outlying villages (Dar es Salaam and Calcutta), the women entered into intimate conversations with the artist as she invited spontaneous reflections and testimonies. Sharing traumas and experiences, from domestic violence to arranged marriage, to forced labour and dowry practice, these open, intercultural dialogues were translated into a series of 65 paintings and poems unique to each city and community of women. Visually the paintings evoke the work of Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas or the abstract dreamlike style of Bob Thompson but Nicodemus’ distinctive approach to art making, which grappled with different social and cultural settings across the globe, went further, relating to and indeed anticipating the socially engaged practices that have emerged since the 1990s.