Ceramics as a Psychological Tool
Ngozi Omeje was born in Nsukka on June 14, 1979 and earned her Bachelors of Art in 2005 and Masters of Fine Art in 2009 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she currently lectures in the Ceramics Department. In addition to teaching, she has an active studio practice and her installations have earned her awards in competitions like the National Art Competition, Lagos in 2015 where she won ‘Outstanding Concept’. In 2014, she emerged ‘Overall Winner’ of the Life in My City Art Competition in Enugu. Ezenma was an artist-in-residence in 2010 at Sevshoon Art Center, Seattle, United States. She received much praise for her installation work – In My Garden There are Many Colours, which was a focal point at exhibited at the Art X Lagos fair in 2016. She is currently working on a new project where she seeks to interpret the Parable of the Sower.
Please tell us about yourself.
My parents are skillful and talented; my father majored in metal construction while my mother runs a tailoring establishment. Growing up, I played with fabric scraps often hammering pieces of cloth together with stones to create in my mind then, a kind of ‘artwork’. I also tried moulding a lizard from sand mixed with water but when it dried and I lifted it up, it disintegrated to my utter dismay. My father informed me that there is a different type of sand called clay used for modeling, so I patiently waited to get hold of some since there were no deposits around my vicinity. These experiences ignited my deep interest in ceramics and the visual arts. Encouraged by my older sister, I chose to study art in a tertiary institution.
After I gained admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study fine and applied arts in 2000 and was finally introduced to the long awaited clay in the second semester of my first year! The cooling nature, calming effects, and malleability were extremely luring and I needed to work with a medium I could touch and I feel, as well as express myself through. I found these qualities in clay so I decided to specialize in ceramics. In 2004, I was introduced to ceramics by Ozioma Onuzulike in a course ‘Exploration of Indigenous African Ceramic Ideas, Forms and Materials.’ Ever since, exploring ceramics has become my mainstay; installing clay with found materials where necessary to accentuate my statements.
Were you influenced or inspired by late Ladi Kwali?
Ladi Kwali was a great potter but she was not my muse.
What was your experience at the Sevshoon Art Centre as an artist-in-residence?
The experience was like a flash, a four-week residency to realize a ceramic installation, Think Tea, Think Cup, of 7 x 7 x 7 feet in dimension. I learned to work under pressure and meet the target.
How has your experience been as a lecturer and a woman practicing in a male dominated field?
Challenged by the responsibilities attached to my status, I suddenly realized that I have become a multi-functional gadget in continuous operation to achieve great professional heights in this field.
What inspired the In My Garden There Are Many Colours installation piece, how long did it take you from start to finish, how did you source the materials and does each hold any significance?
The impediments caused by my challenges as a female artist have reduced the ratio of creative imageries in my mind versus available time of production, to a minute level. Thus, the colours in the garden are those creative imageries. I tried to discuss womanhood as a garden of dreams and hopes, which are most times unattained because they were squashed or nipped in the bud due to our other responsibilities. Consequently, the mind becomes a fertile place for utopian dreams that may one day become real. So let me say it is like a placebo effect in the interim.
The production processes of the artwork lasted for 7 weeks. The clay was sourced from departmental deposits, as well as from debris I dug up from pits and boreholes. However, the repurposed plastic slippers were ‘salvages’ from the environment. Metaphorically, suspending plastic bathroom slippers as imprints discusses the evidence of human activities through time and the frailty of life. Cleaning the footwear was like cleaning anonymous underwear and setting it on a pedestal. I also used transparent nylon thread, metal and marine rope.
Your works are characterized by mostly non-figurative and semi abstract forms. Is this deliberate?
I am inspired by the ambiguity of life upon which the semi-abstract forms were impinged. The illusion and uncertainty of existence are the ideas behind my artworks.
Which ceramists or cultures inspire you locally and internationally? Do you have any affinity for Chinese pottery?
Ozioma Onuzulike’s experimental approach to ceramics and Cornelia Parker, a British sculptor’s suspended works, inspire me immeasurably. Regarding affinity to Chinese pottery, I would say yes but to a certain level because of the common material – clay but I adore the liberal attitude that I imbibed from my mentor.
You participated in the recently concluded first Central China International Ceramics Biennale, Henan Museum, China. What was your experience?
It was an honour to participate in an inaugural biennale, which took 3 years to prepare. I was overjoyed to be among 42 ceramic artists from 20 countries showing over 500 works. Interestingly, ancient ceramic art is said to have originated in the Henan Province where the biennale took place. Porcelain ware was produced in the kilns of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The theme was Cont(r)act Earth, discussing ecology through ceramics. My work Imagine Jonah engages our contact with earth or the ecosystem. Exhibiting alongside renowned and international ceramic artists was an awesome experience! I am growing but still have much to learn.
Detail: Imagine Jonah
As a recipient of several awards, have they impacted on your professional life?
Yes, they have. They have been tools of encouragement, pushing me further in the art scene.
What advice do you have for upcoming female ceramists?
As El Anatsui said, “A great work of art will either take your time, money or energy but most times, it takes all.”
Image credits: Ngozi Omeje
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