The Armory Show NY with Nigeria’s leading gallery – kó Art Space

Nigerian gallery kó makes its debut at The Armory Show, New York, featuring artists Nnenna Okore and Ozioma Onuzulike from the prestigious Nsukka School.

kó is pleased to announce its participation in the Focus section of the Armory Show, New York, September 9-11, 2022: a curated section dedicated to presentations by solo and double artists who examine the intersectionality of issues related to the environment in South-South ecologies, focusing on personal and political climates as they interact with race and gender.

Ozioma Onuzulike and Nnenna Okore hail from the prestigious Nigerian Nsukka School, a department of experimental art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, known for its interest in conceptual and material processes. The Nsukka School is a term used to distinguish artists who have studied and/or taught in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and who share a critical engagement with their visual and theoretical fields .

Nnenna Okore, Seeking, Finding, Giving, 2018, cheesecloth, twine and jute thread, 49 x 32 x 12 in.

An important center for art education in Nigeria, Nsukka’s art department was led by such luminaries as Nigerian modernists Uche Okeke and Chike Aniakor in the early 1970s, and was later led by pioneering artists such as Obiora Udechukwu and El Anatsui, emphasizing the exploration of ideas, materials and forms coming from the environment. The Nsukka school is best known for the revival of Uli, an Igbo artistic tradition that was historically used for body art and murals, placing this visual language into contemporary art discourses. As a descriptive label, the Nsukka school refers to a stylistic heritage whose formal and aesthetic codes are inspired by a conceptually idealized, experimental and intellectually grounded creative ideology. Many of these artists are known for a stylistic regime that critically addresses the materiality and metaphorical value of natural and man-made objects. The central thesis of Nsukka School art centers on the use of indigenous knowledge to interrogate local and global spheres of artistic practice.

In 2021, kó curated a three-part exhibition series titled The New Nsukka School, which re-examined his conceptual and material practices through a contemporary lens. This presentation at The Armory Show deepens the gallery’s exploration of the Nsukka’s rich artistic trajectory
Contemporary school practices.

Nnenna Okore, a graduate of Nsukka, creates sculptures and installations that combine natural and discarded materials to create abstract forms. Working with the processes of weaving, sewing, twisting and dyeing, her work often draws inspiration from the visual characteristics of Eastern Nigeria. Okore focuses on the concepts of recycling, transformation and regeneration of forms based on observations of ecological and man-made environments. These biomorphic formations often question its dual Nigerian and American identity. For The Armory Show, kó will showcase a selection of Okore’s diverse practices, including ceramic and burlap textiles and jute wall sculptures, as well as his latest body of work incorporating vinyl prints and bioplastics from natural forms with dense texture.

Ozioma Onuzulike, who is currently a professor of ceramic art and the history of African art and design, as well as director of the Institute of African Studies in Nsukka, explores the aesthetic, symbolic and metaphorical nature of the working processes of the clay – pound, smash, hammer, wedge, grind, cut, pinch, punch, perforate, burn and fire. His recent work is inspired by yam tubers, palm kernel shells and honeycombs which he mass-produces in terracotta and weaves together in often laborious processes. It configures a multiplicity of individual units in such a way as to draw attention to burning socio-political and environmental issues, such as reckless politics, bad governance, imperialism, terrorism and climate change. For The Armory Show, Onuzulike has created three new ceramic tapestries, made from thousands of ceramic palm kernel shell beads with glazed edges and glass inlays, in addition to natural palm kernel shells, terracotta and rings of copper. Adopting the laborious process of firing materials through multiple kilns, each firing creates unique colors and textures by transforming clay, oxides, glazes and recycled glass. Natural palm kernel husks were found abandoned under palm trees after harvesting the fruits, which became dry and hollow over a long period of time. Onuzulike’s works examine the history of Africa and are metaphors for socio-environmental unrest. The beads and palm kernel shells refer to the slave trade and their association with high social status, and the titles and shapes allude to traditional African clothing associated with royalty and opulence.

Christopher S. Washington