Ozioma Onuzulike Nigeria, b. 1972

Overview

Ozioma Onuzulike is a ceramics artist, poet and historian of African art and design whose studio work has largely focused on the historical and sociological roots of the political and socio-economic turmoil in Africa and their debilitating effects on daily living on the continent.

He often explores the aesthetic, symbolic and metaphorical nature of clay (his basic material) and the clay-working processes – pounding, crushing, hammering, wedging, grinding, cutting, pinching, punching, perforating, burning, firing – in his making of the multiple units that characterise his mixed-media projects.

His recent work has been inspired by the aesthetic and conceptual force held by such natural resources as yam tubers, palm kernel shells and honeycombs which he mass-produces in terracotta and weaves together in often laborious processes. He configures a multiplicity of the individual units in ways that call attention to burning socio-political and environmental issues (such as reckless politics, bad governance, imperialism, terrorism and climate change) and their effects on the human condition in Africa and beyond.

In his Yam series, Onuzulike uses the metaphor of the “king” of sacred Igbo crops, pointing to their inevitable deterioration in misuse. As the artist explains, “When they are grown in a hostile environment, they come out with blisters, they come out empty, they come out rotten and eaten or devastated by rodents”. He also uses the intricately packed quality of his yam works to reference the claustrophobic conditions of African migrants on boats in search of job opportunities.

In his Bead series, Onuzulike likens the palm kernel shells to the history of colonialism and the slave trade. Beads have a history as a symbol of slavery, once used as a currency in transactions. For the artist, they also represent the continuing imbalance in political relations between Africa and the West.

His most recent project, the Honeycombs series, speaks to our current state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Onuzulike suggests similarities between bee houses and quarantine houses/isolation centres and intensive care units. The Honeycombs series alludes to the fragility of life while also the resilience of the collective community.

Biography

Born 1972 in Achi, Enugu State, Nigeria, Ozioma Onuzulike graduated First Class from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he is currently Head of Department and professor of ceramic art and African art and design history. His solo exhibition, Seed Yams of Our Land, was held at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, Nigeria, in 2019, along with a presentation of his poetry collection of the same title also published by the CCA. His works have been included in the forthcoming exhibition at the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK, arising from the [Re:]Entanglements Research Project led by Professor Paul Basu. Onuzulike is a fellow of the Civitella Ranieri Centre, Umbertide, Perugia, Italy, where he undertook a residency under the UNESCO-ASCHBERG Bursary for Artists, and an alumnus of the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine, USA. This is his eleventh solo exhibition.

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