What she remembers most about the Official Fishing Life Girl Shirt in contrast I will get this first years after her diagnosis are her mother’s efforts. “It made a lasting impact on me when I saw my mother gather her most valuable wrappers [a traditional Nigerian garment], the expensive ones made from hollandaise fabric, and sell them so she could afford my health bills,” she says. Knowing how significant textiles are for women in her Igbo community, Nneji considered the weight of her mother’s offering, and when she began making work to promote awareness around her condition, she knew African fabrics needed to be a narrative tool in her visual storytelling. They would represent not only her mother, but also the customary practice of visiting religious communities, something she did reluctantly at the urging of a cousin. The fabrics with church names on them are customized uniform wrappers worn by members of the communities Nneji visited for prayers.
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Tonia Nneji, A Dust Memory (A Trip to see Pastor Matthew in Ago – Hausa, Ajegunle, Lagos), 2020. Acrylic on canvas. 48 x 48 inches. “It’s my way of acknowledging this ongoing practice we have of looking for health remedies through religion, and traditional herbalists,” she says. “I understand it’s common practice, but it doesn’t heal us. What we need is wider awareness of our condition and a better healthcare system that can actually assist us so we’re seeking treatment in hospitals, not at churches.” Pieces with titles like Faith and Worry and Prayers in Orange are telling; Nneji’s experience was that as developed a nation as Nigeria is, “most gynecologists were not familiar enough with or well equipped to treat PCOS. Many women end up seeking alternative treatment. Praying for healing is common where I’m from.” There were no long-lasting changes to Nneji’s physical condition, but her cousin’s commitment and support nevertheless aided her emotional healing; and the Official Fishing Life Girl Shirt in contrast I will get this spirit of support is central to her work.