Che is a title in the Makua and Yao tribes of Tanzania (and in Mozambique) that is prefixed to the name of a girl who has become a woman/gone through the adolescent ceremonies and rituals. Che is also the title of this series of paintings I have submitted. Painting these, I had just left home in a very dramatic way. The leaving felt symbolic of the freedom I was about to experience for the first time in my life - a freedom of being my own, myself, away from any man telling me who I am or who to be. See I, like many other women, grew up under the patriarchy. I was excited for what lay ahead of me but at the same time felt shame for 'leaving behind' the women in my life whom I loved. I felt as though I had to carry them with me somehow. Through these paintings, I get to show women and myself that we can truly be whatever we want to be, we can truly be ourselves as WOMAN. I got to leave and chase after my dream of pursuing my art as a career and here I am doing it. I need more women to see that it is possible. Breaking away from the patriarchy is also such a conscious effort we have to make to unlock our divinity. I was thinking of the women I know when I painted these. They are not here with me but I understand that everything I do is for their(our) emancipation.
by Janice Iche
Emo Iche, 2018
Da Heri, 2018
Aunty Ndaki is Looking Over Me, 2018
In conversation with Janice Iche pertaining to The Women That Raise Us
"...We must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves.” - Audre Lorde. Through experience, this concept has seemed to flow into our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others, potentially, creating barriers and preventing us from building, supporting, and lifting one another. how can we transcend this construct?
This quote weighs tremendously on me because I experienced first-hand within my own family, how destructive the division between women is. First of all for the women involved and everyone else around them. Until today, I have difficulty befriending or getting close to women because of this although I do recognize where the fault in my situation is. What I see is that the women I know are strong. They are beautiful, inside & out. I am half-Tanzanian and I can tell you that the women from my Tanzanian side are quite sensual. I mean, intact with their selves. They know themselves and they wear their selves very brightly, openly and proudly. They love who they are. But something changes when a man comes into the picture. All of a sudden, this peacock of a woman turns into a little millipede and curls up in the presence of a man. It is part of the culture I grew up in for women to aspire for marriage and security in a man. Security. This is a word that was left with me several times as the basis of a reason. The reason why a woman belittles herself. For security. I wonder how we have not been taught as women to be secure in ourselves. Only when we have found ourselves lost of all we are in a man and unable to recognize ourselves, do we start to see that something is wrong. For a woman to be with a man who tramples on her spirit, she truly has to have erased herself whole from within to make the space to occupy this man. Her voice of reasoning becomes his. A complete erosion of the self. How then can a woman be there for herself or anyone else when she has lost all that she is? For me, this is where the divide comes from. I believe women love each other because I know that I am her just as she is me.
The Women that Raise Us aims to exemplify the variations of women that raise and influence us, directly and indirectly, acknowledging every connection, whether ancestral or distant. Who are the women that have shaped you or raised you? Who are the women that continue to do so?
I am lucky to have been raised by many different women. My earliest memories would be with my late Aunt Ndaki. She taught me to be the woman that I am in my mannerisms, personality and character. She loved and accepted me as I was and taught me how to take care of my self as a girl should. She loved to actually. It was something about how she would tell me in hushed tones to make sure I washed my “chuchu” well, in between and on the sides of the lips and to only use my left hand haha. I still do it to today. She taught me to be me.
I have my beloved mother who taught me to be free with my body and my self. She did so by example, barely cared that people saw her naked because she loved to be naked. I didn’t understand it back then but now I am coming to learn the true freedom in loving and accepting the body you are in and the soul that you are.
I have my Aunt Esther who lived with us with my cousin, Eddie, for a majority of my life. She is always beautiful, always graceful. A true manifestation of resilience in a woman. I must acknowledge this kind of strength that women have because wow. It takes a lot to break a woman’s spirit and I have seen Aunty Esther wear her honour every day of her life despite all the hurdles she has faced. She has shown me that I can never give up. I must always keep going.
Do you consider "negative" and "positive" relationships and experiences with women as a contribution to your growth? Do you consider friends, inspirations, fallen relationships or even the everyday encounters as a contribution to your current self?
Of course! I believe that every single thing we experience or encounter is a contributor to the everyday shaping of our selves in every way. More specifically, all my relationships with other women have taught me compassion and empathy. I realize and understand that we were all thrown into the same system that diminishes us and we have all found different ways to cope with it. I cannot blame or fault another woman for making a choice different from mine since we are all trying to discover and prove our own worths to ourselves. No woman enjoys being lost. Nobody does.
In what ways can we, as a community, release the stereotypical negative perspectives and ideas of women of color and their roles? How can we transcend these constructs and deepen the interpersonal / intrapersonal relationships with women of color?
By fearlessness. We need to be fearless as women of colour in being ourselves and showing our true and most genuine selves to, most importantly, the people around us. Charity begins at home. Once the people around us learn who we truly are and accept us, there is going to be a massive shift in the entire world’s society. We have to accept ourselves first to be accepted by others. I do believe that all the change in the world begins with women loving all that they are and presenting themselves in exactly that way, no more compromises.
What are your thoughts on women of color being hyper-visible yet invisible in society and/or within their own communities?
It’s fucking annoying! That others keep taking and taking from us with no acknowledgment (at the very least) is leeching. But knowing us, we ain’t stopping! I don’t think people who take are ever satisfied so I let karma handle that stuff. There comes a shift in owning ourselves as women of colour though. Being oneself fearlessly is a great political statement on its own and can create a shift on this front.
How can we lift each other, while we still climb as individuals? How can this become an ongoing practice?
I have learned that by lifting myself up, I lift others too. Having a pure and genuine heart always radiates. If there is light shining from within you, others are going to catch it too. It’s just a matter of knowing who we are and what gifts from the universe belong to us and remembering that we do live in an abundant universe that is ever-giving. Remembering to care for the next woman just as you care for yourself because you are her just as she is you. Remembering that it is only love. Where there is love, everyone succeeds. I believe in this and it seems to be working for me.
Where were you mentally, physically, emotionally, when the piece was created?
I had just left home and had separated myself from my family for a while. These were the first paintings I created during that time. I was craving that feminine connection when I created the submitted piece. I missed the women in my life and what they brought into me, that I perhaps hadn’t realized until I was away from them. I missed their essence that was mine. I guess, I missed a part of my self.
Janice Iche is a performance and visual artist living and working in Nairobi, Kenya. Of Kenyan and Tanzanian ancestry, Iche was born and raised in Mombasa and credits her mixed heritage and coastal upbringing in her approach to making art.
Having moved to Nairobi to pursue a career in the arts, Iche draws on her own life experiences to create her work which centers on the objectification of women and their supposed role in the patriarchal society we live in.
"My art is about fearlessness in living, loving and being. Through my art, I get to practice living a life that is directed solely by my heart and my intuition. I test myself and my life theories and philosophies directly through myself. I want to find the answer to this question: can I truly live a life that is mine and be fulfilled by it?
More directly, my art addresses social issues we experience every day as human beings and more specifically, as women. It is a commentary on the kind of life I have lived and the kind of experiences I have had but most importantly, I use my art as a tool to point out all the things I believe need to be changed for us to live and be our best and for the universe and world we live in to thrive."