Presented by Omenka Gallery, Ndidi Emefiele is a young talent from Nigeria. Having graduated from Delta State University in Abraka, she is now furthering her studies with a MFA at the Slade School of Art at UCL in London. Her work has charmed the public of 1:54 art fair’s third edition, and her pictures are hard to forget. Using discarded materials, fabric and found objects, she depicts expressive characters with spectacles and sunglasses constructed out of discarded CDs, which shiny surface creates a game between light and color. Encounter with a discerning artist.
IAM Magazine: Why do your painting feature such big heads and mostly female characters? And why are they all wearing glasses?
Ndidi Emefiele: My work is personal in the sense that I create art from personal experiences lived out or from those around me. I could decide to focus on a present issue or draw attention to an anomaly in that current space. I have lived with females for the most part of my life, having all sisters we would always engage in conversations that boarded on the feminine existence and what it meant to be female particularly in where we lived. Gradually the focus of my work began to shift from exploring landscapes to raising questions and high lightening some of these issues, such as the commodification of women in the northern part of my country. It was a very constricting and difficult space for a woman, as she is often confronted with pressures from family, culture, society, economic and religious groups and all demanding disparate dictations.
My media has become my means to protest.
The exaggerated heads are symbolic, particularly in the western part of Nigeria, where sculptural heads are depicted larger than they appear and embedded with cultural meanings. The head is called the “Ori” and it is considered the most important part of the body, regarded as the ‘locus of the ase of olodumare‘. The head is said to control a person’s destiny. My work is a combination of many things including culture. The glasses are my strategy to give the female some form of protection. It is that curtain, a veil, a mask behind which she masters the art of mobility, she is learning to work the alchemy of dissolving the hard conditions in which she finds herself. They have become a mark of identity, but also an element of style.
IAM: Fashion has always inspired your practice. How does it influence your artworks?
NE: Art and Fashion are inextricable components in my process.
I look to one for inspiration for the other. They are more closely linked than one would merely observe. I once had my studio within my bedroom: it was a whirlwind of controlled chaos. From suitcases of cloths to boxes of shoes, to make-up littered all around. I usually got the frenzy of a fashion show backstage. I would pick garments and rip them off to wear on my pieces. There were fashion magazines lying around that would also become useful in the process. There was so much stuff around I didn’t have the need to go out sourcing for materials. These random materials became an integral part of my artworks.
IAM: What inspired you to use recycled materials and traditional pieces of fabric to bring life to your paintings?
NE: That also began when I started using my bedroom as a studio, it was a crucial point in my practise as I had just graduated from the university and was looking for ways to experiment and breakaway from what I was taught to be good art. It started in a bid to find other ways of making, particularly using materials that had that physicality and tactile quality that appealed to me other than paints. My present space was a good resource. Remnants would be turned to arts. It was easy to find these recyclable materials lying around the compound where I lived. I would encounter objects and immediately visualize were and how to fit it into my work. My mother’s spoilt wrappers became useful not only for their unique prints but also for the cultural and emotional meanings imbedded in them.
IAM: As a young artist living in London, what do you think are the difficulties faced by contemporary African artists trying to emerge in today’s international art scene?
NE: One of the biggest problems is the high-cost of living in London and buying art supplies; you’re not fully aware of this until you start living there. The cost of renting a property continues to push up. I was living on my naira debit card when I first got here, with the drop in the naira currency it was hard to look at the text message alerts I got from my bank whenever I made purchases, they Made my heart skip! I guess it’s a lot easier once you start earning in pounds.
There is also the problem of visibility. There’s a lot to see but it appears the galleries tend to show only well-established artists and so the opportunities for young talents are very little.
IAM: You have completed a Bachelor’s degree in Nigeria and continued your education with a Master’s at UCL in London. Did you experience two different styles of teaching art? If so, in which way do you feel your practice has been influenced by those?
NE: So prior to coming to Slade (UCL), I was having an intense studio practice. I would spend endless hours in the studio making art and seeing very little art outside. The Art scene in Abuja, where I lived, didn’t boost many Art establishments, unlike Lagos the Art’s capital with a vibrant artistic landscape. London gives you so much to look at. The institution where I had my first BA degree also didn’t do much to give exposure, while it at Slade we often had regular studio critiques and arts discourse. It was more about developing your artistic skills through your chosen medium.
You also are not limited to how far you can take an experiment, there’s so much room with available machineries to aid your process and support your experiment. I’m able to still retain the essence in relation to where most of my inspiration is drawn from even while working in London.
IAM: Are there any specific artists that you look up to and that inspire you?
NE: I continue to discover works of many amazing artists so I don’t limit my source of inspiration. I encounter different works at specific time that inspire and help give my work more meaning. I love the works of Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu. Particularly her approach to the female body. Nike Okundaye, one of Nigeria’s prominent art figures who’s batik and textile designs are drawn on themes from youruba folklore and her life experience. She also has been a source of inspiration in many other ways. Frida Khalo’s works touches your soul just as much as you are able tap into some of where her emotions came from.
IAM: How do you feel about having exhibited your work at 1-54?
NE: I visited the 1:54 art fair last year with a journalist friend of mine not knowing I would have my works show at the next edition. I remember walking from room to room captivated by the Arts on display in its diversity ranging from paintings to sculptures to installations and all sorts exceeding the boarders of what is usually considered African art. It was very impressive and satisfying to see works from Africa be represented at an international level. So when Omenka Gallery decided to give me a solo show at the fair this year, I was thrilled and it has been a very rewarding experience.
IAM: What’s next for you and your art?
NE: I’m making sculptures, more paintings. I would show at more art fairs, one is in the coming months. Hopefully some museum shows alongside. Wherever my Arts takes me. I’m not charting this course.
More about Ndidi Emefiele
Ndidi Emefiele was born in 1987 and holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Painting from Delta State University, Abraka. She is presently studying for a Masters in Fine Art at the prestigious Slade School of Art, University College, London.
Emefiele is one of the exciting artists working in Nigeria today and has won many awards including the COJA Art Competition (2003). She is well exhibited and her work has been published in several notable magazines, and can be found in many important collections in Nigeria and abroad. Text by Omenka Gallery.
30.10. 2015 – Interview by Giulia Franceschini – Images : Courtesy Ndidi Emefiele
About Giulia Franceschini
Giulia Franceschini was born in Milan, Italy and graduated from Royal Holloway University of London in 2014, she is devoted to creativity and has written and directed three short films. Based in London, Giulia dedicates her time to explore contemporary cinema and visual arts.
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