|Nnenna Okore, Echi Di Ime (The Unkinown), 2011. Clay and burlap, 36 x 36 x 2 inches.|
Sometimes an artist’s use of materials is in itself political, as in the case of Nnenna Okore. Born in Australia and raised in Nsukka, a town in southwestern Nigeria, she explores a range of artistic materials and influences, creating installations and sculptures made of clay and found as well as handmade paper. Her striking forms emphasize the art-making process and craftsmanship, while her reuse of materials subtly pits extravagant wealth (and waste) against creative adaptation of available materials by the less fortunate.
After studying painting at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, Okore pursued advanced studies in sculpture at the University of Iowa. Over the past decade, she has had a number of solo exhibitions in Nigeria, at the October Gallery in London, and at a variety of university galleries across the United States. Her works have also appeared in a wide range of group exhibitions, including the 2006 Dakar Biennale in Senegal, the Joburg Art Fair in South Africa, and the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil in 2010, as well as a variety of art spaces in France, India, Mexico, and Taiwan.
Robert Preece: After living in the U.S. for 10 years now, how do you see your work changing? Do any of your pieces reveal a bi-national identity through the selection of materials or forms?
Nnenna Okore: That’s a very good question. Before I moved to the U.S., my artistic approach and concepts were grounded in a cultural, political, and socioeconomic focus. I paid attention to issues and questions about cultural norms and idiosyncrasies associated with consumption and inventive recycling in Nigeria. Living in the West has allowed me to sever myself culturally, and perhaps emotionally, from my earlier perceptions and convictions. Increasingly, I have expanded in interest to include ideas interested in understanding the role of materials and forms in shaping and defining our ecological landscape.
I can’t easily claim to have developed a bi-national identity since relocating to America, though I should point out that the experience of living in tow completely distinct worlds has broadened my visual sensitivity and aesthetic interests, steering me toward creating art with a more universal appeal.