Ngozi Omeje: Connecting Deep
Ngozi-Omeje Ezema graduated from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2005, where she also obtained a Masters of Fine Arts degree in ceramics. Among other international projects, she was a resident artist in Sevshoon Art Centre, Seattle, USA, 2010 where she created the Think Tea, Think Cup art piece as a permanent installation at the centre. She has been selected for Saatchi START Art Fair 2018 and is also involved in the ongoing 60th Faenza Biennale Prize in Italy, 2018. Her Ceramic installation Imagine Jonah II was part of the First International Biennale in Central China and In My Garden there are Many Colours II –first West African art fair ART X, Lagos, 2016. She also participated in Le Pinceau De L’Integration in Senegal, during the Dakar Biennale, 2016. Ngozi Omeje currently lives and works in Nsukka where she is also a lecturer of ceramics at the University of Nigeria
The exhibition Connecting Deep showing at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos by contemporary Nigerian artist Ngozi Omeje can at best be described as a journey. A commemorative journey filled with memories of respect, love and an overwhelming sense of loss. A monument to and testament of a life lived and of lives survived.
The show which is the artist’s first solo exhibition – and her largest installation to date – has the artist engaged in an exploration of the clay medium in a distinct unconventional method of manipulation using pinching, tying and hanging to create almost life-size installations reminiscent of work by Ghanaian artists El Anatsui and Serge Attukwei Clottey in their maneuvering of materials.
Walking into the exhibition space, the viewer is instantly confronted with what must be hundreds of globular leaf shaped clay units suspended from a metal frame – arranged to form the image of an elephant. With strings at different lengths, one can’t help but marvel at the sheer size and weightiness conveyed by the installation. The exhibition featuring eight of these elephant shaped installations is created as a form of collective tribute to the artist’s late father and the ones he left behind. The elephant-shaped installation representing her father stands apart at one end of the room with the remaining seven installations (representing family members left behind including the artist) carefully spaced across the other end of the room alluding to the separation resulting from a transcendence to the other world.
The installation, presented as part of the 10th year anniversary celebration of the Centre for Contemporary Art, curated by its director Bisi Silva serves as an acknowledgement of the leading role of the father as relating to the artist’s immediate family and the society at large, which is ironic, considering the fact that the elephant community is a predominantly matriarchal one. The significance of the elephant to the exhibition though is drawn from its seemingly conflicting qualities; a reverence for its great, destructive strength, and an appreciation for its gentleness, a behaviour intrinsic to these great beasts. The exhibition may be considered as a metaphor of sorts, the duality of man, a vessel with the capacity for great good and great evil. Connecting Deep draws the viewers in, offering them insight into a life lived by a man who we may or may not have known yet to whom we feel a sense of attachment to and inevitably, loss.
The use of elephant motifs among the artist’s tribe (Igbo) dates as far back as the 10th century. Odu enyi (the elephant tusk) signifies greatness and is held by the rich and powerful men. Elephant symbolism has also been incorporated into names, titles, idioms and masquerades. Titles and names such as Enyi (Elephant), Eyimba (Elephant of the people), Nnabuenyi (Father is elephant), Ononaenyi (He who sits on an Elephant) among many others, are common among the Igbos[i]. This use of elephant metaphor is however not peculiar to the Igbo people. Among the Yoruba’s of western Nigeria, the sentence Erín wó àjànàkú sùn bí òkè (which literally translates as the elephant has fallen, the elephant has slept like a hill) is used to announce the death of a king or other important male figure in the society.
The artist through this exhibition invites the viewers to stand with her at a threshold—a temporal space inhabited by the survivors of a loved one—and join her in the commemorative rite of a preserving and a simultaneous letting go, represented by a participatory performance of taking the installation down one string at a time at the end of the exhibition. According to Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, the associate curator at the Centre for Contemporary Arts “with this engagement, the artist hopes to transfer the memories of her father to this audience as living storage devices. As the elephant stores memories for years, she hopes that by this act of sharing and deep connection with her audience, the collective memory of her father lives on”.
The exhibition runs until November 9, 2018.
[i] Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, “Ngozi Omeje: Connecting Deep”. 2018
August 21, 2019