Ozioma Onuzulike: The New Nsukka School Series
kó IS PLEASED TO PRESENT a SOLO EXHIBITION OF OZIOMA ONUZULIKE. THIS EXHIBITION IS THE THIRD OF A THREE-PART EXHIBITION SERIES, THE NEW NSUKKA SCHOOL, WHICH RE-EXAMINES THE CONCEPTUAL AND MATERIAL PRACTICES THAT CHARACTERISE THE ART DEPARTMENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA, NSUKKA.
The Nsukka School is term used to distinguish artists who have studied and taught at the Fine and Applied Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in Southeastern Nigeria, and who share a critical engagement in both their visual and theoretical fields. The formal and aesthetic codes of the Nsukka school draw primarily from the art school’s creative ideology which places emphasis on experimentation as a critical aspect of the creative process. An important center for art education in Nigeria, the experimental trajectory of the post-Civil War art department at Nsukka was spearheaded by Uche Okeke and Chike Aniakor in the early 1970s, and has subsequently been led by prominent artists including Obiora Udechukwu and El Anatsui. Historically, stylistic trends in the Nsukka school have largely been driven by the enriching influence of art teachers whose pedagogical footprints and artistic sensibilities have had a crystallizing effect on the Nsukka art school’s stylistic identity. The Nsukka School is best known for the revival of Uli, an Igbo art tradition that was historically used for body art and wall murals, placing this visual language into contemporary art discourses.
As a descriptive label, the Nsukka School references a stylistic heritage whose formal and aesthetic codes draw from a creative ideology that is conceptually idealized, experimentally driven and intellectually grounded. Nsukka artists leverage this ideology in creating contemporary art through the exploration of ideas, materials and forms sourced from the environment. Many of these artists are known for a stylistic regime that critically engages with the materiality and metaphoric value of both natural and man-made objects. The core thesis of Nsukka school art centres on the use of indigenous knowledge to interrogate local and global spheres of art practice.
The New Nsukka School exhibition series re-examines the conceptual and aesthetic concerns of the Nsukka School through three contemporary artists, who all currently serve as lecturers or professors in its art department. Although sharing commonalities in technical approaches and the use of commonplace materials, the differing formal language employed by these artists highlights how they each engage the potentialities and materiality of their chosen medium. In this context, actions like piercing, tying, stringing, suspending, perforating, cutting, firing, dyeing and roasting, among others, are used as metaphors that explicate the temporariness, permanence and liminality of the human condition.
Ozioma Onuzulike is a ceramic 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 characterize 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.
Onuzulike is professor of ceramic art and African art and design history at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His recent 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-entanglement Research Project led by Professor Paul Basu.