This essay is about visual art, and not about women per se. Incidentally, you can hardly talk about visual art without talking about women; because the “Shape of a Woman,” which is the title of one of my essays, is the most living and provocative of all visual arts. Every great art is provocative. They evoke both tender and wild emotions. In fact, what separates a great art from the rest is its level of provocation. Society calls it provocative (indecent) dressing, and often associates it with women. However, the so-called indecency in dressing is actually a woman exhibiting her art: the most visual of all arts, and the most human? The woman is arguably the most appreciated creation in visual art history. There are more beauty contests for women than for men. More love stories are told for women; and more love songs are sang for them. Women rule the runway and the red carpet. “Who run the world? Girls!” sings Beyoncé.

Indeed, girls run the world. The beholder is always taken to be a man, while beauty is taken to be a woman. So when Jesus was teaching the multitudes about adultery, He specifically addressed beholders. In other words, He addressed men, saying, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” {Matthew 5:28} as if women are not also capable of looking. What would they look at? What is more attractive and more pleasant to the eyes than their beautiful body? They are the beauty to behold; the sight that every eye wants to look upon.

The shape of a woman provokes every man without exception; starting from Adam, who saw Eve and said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” {Genesis 2:23} That’s possibly the first ever appreciation of art by a human being. Adam might have been wowed by Eve’s shape, which made him talk about bones and flesh. Even if it was her face he saw, the hair gives shape to the face. The hair forms the face. If you paint a portrait without the hairline, even if it is completely cut, the face won’t take shape. In short, these three things come together to configure the physique of a woman: the hair, the breasts, and the hips, leaving some women more provocatively configured than others. Each of these three contributes to the beauty of that perfect work of art called Woman. No wonder St. Paul says, “Does not even nature itself teach you that…if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her.” {1 Corinthians 11:14–15}

Nature teaches art. She teaches it most eloquently in the body of a human being, especially in that of a woman, to the extent that only in it could she provide a help meet for Adam in the Garden. In their natural form, Adam and Eve wore no clothes. And it was in that form that Adam beheld Eve in all her evening glory. If you want to appreciate art, then stay close to nature. If you have ever seen and appreciated a beautiful landscape, or the sexy body of a beautiful lady, whether pictured or painted, that is Nature teaching you art, provoking you with the concord mingling of heaven and earth, and everything in-between; evoking in you emotions both tender and wild.

Nature provoked American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to write one of the most powerful essays in history, simply titled “Nature.” In it he said, “A work of art is an abstract or epitome of the world. It is the result or expression of nature, in miniature. For, although the works of nature are innumerable and all different, the result or the expression of them all is similar and single. Nature is a sea of forms radically alike and even unique. A leaf, a sunbeam, a landscape, the ocean, make an analogous impression on the mind. What is common to them all, ― that perfectness and harmony, is beauty.” The same Nature also provoked William Wordsworth into his famous “lines composed a few miles above TINTERN ABBEY.” Reciting some of the lines:

“…Oh! Yet a little while

May I behold in thee what I was once,

My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,

Knowing that Nature never did betray

The heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege

Through all the years of this our life, to lead

From joy to joy: for she can so inform

The mind that is within us, so impress

With quietness and beauty, and so feed

With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,

Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,

Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all

The dreary intercourse of daily life,

Shall e’er prevail against us…”

It is still Nature that imbues the art photographer with the spirit of adventure and provokes him into entering the jungle with a camera to capture the landscape, and wild plants and animals. Nature, which teaches the greatest artists, which teaches the greatest essayists, the greatest poets, and the greatest painters, teaches this photographer that the long dreadlocks of the woman in the picture above, Nnedi, is a glory to her and a beauty to behold. It is “A THING OF BEAUTY;” and a joy for ever. John Keats:

“Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

We associate Nature more with the jungle than with the garden. Why? The garden is a place of serene and silent beauty. It is clothed with mowed grasses. The locks of her flowered head are pruned and packed. The garden is like a woman in a beauty salon, where she is tamed, tended and touched. An eye is always kept on the garden. But the jungle is like an unclothed woman in her waywardness. She is untamed, untended, and untouched, with bushy beards and left to her whims. In the garden, you whisper and coo; you’re tender, mild and calm. But in the jungle, you hike and howl and roar; you’re untamed, wild and adventurous. You literally grow wings and fly, because the beast in you has been unleashed. The jungle unlocks your power and passion. That is provocation. And that is what Nature does with art, and exactly what it has done with the above picture of ‘Nnedi in Dreads.’

When you see something and quietly pass by, it means you’re not provoked; because if you’re provoked, you would stop, take a close look, and even take action if possible. The sight of the man stripped and beaten by thieves evoked strong emotions in the Good Samaritan, similar to the one a man would feel on beholding the beautiful body of a naked woman in the Garden. So he stopped, took a close look and took action. That gory sight, tragic as it might have been, is a beautiful work of art. In short, it was an elegy. So the Good Samaritan recited and appreciated that elegiac beauty by collecting the man as an art collector would collect an artwork. He picked the man as a lover would pick his beloved, and paid for him. Similarly, the sight of that picture of ‘Nnedi in Dreads’ evoked strong emotions in me, the type that the Good Samaritan felt, and I stopped to take a close look. I couldn’t quietly pass by. From taking a close look, I downloaded and saved it, I collected it, and it inspired this essay. I will most likely frame it for display in my gallery as a precious part of my soulful collection; for in my eyes, it is a beautiful artwork; a great art photograph. That’s how provoked I am.

You can only behold the beauty that provokes you. If an artwork does not provoke you, you will not patronize it. That’s why the producers of music and films, and the publishers of novels, churn out provocative titles; they churn out titles that are filled with women clothed with nothing but their natural beauty. And those erotic titles sell. In short, provocation sells. Who is not enthralled by the sex scene of a film? Which man doesn’t enjoy the twerking of female dancers on stage? Is there a man who doesn’t enjoy watching the hips of a woman, or who wouldn’t look twice when the nipples are suddenly exposed? A woman in her natural body; what is more provocative? No wonder Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, invested enough time and talent in her novel, Americanah, talking about natural hair. “She gently combed her hair, dense, soft and tightly coiled, until it framed her head like a halo;” which is ‘a glory to her,’ as St. Paul said earlier. A woman in her natural beauty is very provocative. Many men know that already, but not many women. Anyway, you only patronize and collect an art that provokes you. This picture provoked me into writing this essay. It is therefore a great art photograph. And I patronize and appreciate it with all my heart.