On Friday, Peju Alatise dropped teasers from a project she had been working on for more than two years on her Facebook page. The project, which she has kept hush-hush for the period of its creation, drove attention to her social media profiles and initiated fresh interest in her work.
In what is now a serendipitous event, on my way out of her studio in March 2015 after my first visit, she made a passing comment on the project to me. All she said was that this is something more than just the little girls with wings placed around her open compound and the workshop area. It was obvious that this project was exciting to her, as she spoke with a spark of light in her eyes and in a tone full of controlled delight. Back then, the winged creatures were just nude fibre sculptures and had not been given their intense character and black colours. There were also no black flying birds in sight. But, that was a year ago.
Here is what Peju Alatise shared on her Facebook when she dropped the teasers on Friday:
“I have written a book about Sim. Sim is a little Yoruba girl who lives in two alternate worlds. In one world she is a nine-year-old who is rented out as a domestic servant working in the city of Lagos. This is the reality of a fraction of girls under the age of 15years from rural areas of Nigeria. An overwhelming number of households in the cities rent young girls as servants and (ironically) nannies.
The other alternate world Sim lives in is the dream world where she can fly at will. A world with talking birds and butterflies, where shadows are friends. A moonlit world of escapism. Escapism from the thingification and sexualisation of little girls. Flying Girls is a body of work dedicated to girls in my country. A little safe place for them to be children.”
When we reached her through a phone call to know more about the Flying Girls project, her response was “I can not answer most of your questions now. The images and video I shared on Friday is only a small part of a bigger project coming out soon. There will be a major exhibition that will include a book launch and a short film on the Flying Girls. All of these will be announced when it is time.”
Below is an excerpt from the Flying Girls book also posted on her Facebook wall.
Omode meta nsere, three children playing, three girls.
They played a game called ‘what will you be when you grow up?’. They played while their mothers busied themselves talking about everything and nothing, sitting in a distance close enough to watch their girls. The first girl said she wanted to be a dancer. “Dancer?”, her mother was perplexed, “I will not have a wayward child, what has become of Fela’s dancers? You will be a doctor! You hear me? Doctor.”
The second girl said she wanted to be a singer. All the mothers laughed. “My dear, sweet child”, her mother said, “be realistic, you sound awful when you sing. You will be a lawyer with that voice of yours”.
“What about you?”, the third mother asked her daughter. “I want to be just like you.” She said hesitating, hoping it was the right answer. “Is she mocking us?” “Do you think you can do better than us?” “Do you think it is an easy job taking care of you and the rest of the family, cleaning the house and cooking every day?”
Omode meta nsere, it was the next day and their mothers were absent. The third girl said, “I’ll tell you a secret you must not tell.” They agreed. “I want to fly when I grow up.” “No, not a pilot. I will grow wings and fly. I dream it every day.” The three little girls liked this ambition best. “But we need to practice somehow. They don’t teach it in schools.”
Every time the little girls played together, they made their wings from little pieces of colourful fabrics and paper bags, like the labalaba. “When the wind blows we will ride on it.” But their mothers never let them test their wings.
“Some day when we grow up, we will find wind and we will be free to fly.”
They kept their wings.