Interview with Ken Nwadiogbu for his upcoming exhibition “UBUNTU”

Thinkspace is pleased to present Nigerian-born multidisciplinary artist Ken Nwadiogbu’s first solo exhibition in the United States. ‘UBUNTU’ is an ideology of humanity, often translated as “I am because we are.” Nwadiogbu recreates his own realities as a young Nigerian, but the pieces reflect the spirit of experiences encountered by black lives around the globe.

His work invokes a humanist connection and illuminates the ongoing issues of police brutality, racism, xenophobia, culture conflict and shock. Working with charcoal and acrylic he creates a hyperrealist narrative that demands socio-political thought and discourse, bringing the ideology full circle by emphasizing an understanding that we are more alike than different.

In anticipation of “UBUNTU” which will be showing twenty new hyperrealist works, we interviewed Nwadiogbu to find out more about his creative process, thoughts about art in society, and Nigeria.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background? How did you come to work with Thinkspace?

Passion pushed me to become a visual artist in a society where art was not popular. While studying Civil Engineering in the University of Lagos, Nigeria, I stumbled on Hyperrealism art. The thought of creating something so real took my interest and that became my gateway into the world of art.

I got more interested in creating art that had value to me. Inspired by issues around, I took an interest in creating works that reflect the everyday struggles of people around me, with the hopes of invoking empathy. I am able to pose questions on what it means to be Nigerian and highlight the challenges that come with it. This helps to interrogate, explore and challenge socio-political structures and issues within the society.

I first worked with Thinkspace in 2019 for the LAX group shows. We kept in touch and in 2020, they reached out to me for a possible solo show in 2021 in their new gallery. Really grateful and humbled for the ability to share my conversations and works.

What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

These works were created between 2020 to 2021. The question was: what did it feel like to be Nigerian during this time and what do I think we can do to make it better.

I experienced a lot of threatening events around me and could connect it with what was happening around the world. The hatred, the war, division and violence. I got really interested in making direct statements through my works concerning this. This gave rise to UBUNTU, an African philosophy made popular by Late Nelson Mandela. The philosophy of togetherness. “I am because we are”. I believe there’s a lot of good we can do if we are United.

Your work stares back at the viewer, breaking down the proverbial fourth wall – when developing your work, do you start with the expression or does the entire composition inform the gaze that is selected? 

There’s a powerful feeling staring at someone intensely and I always wanted to explore that in my works. It became my way of interacting with the viewer. My works always highlight important issues around and I want people to pay attention to them.

Taking pictures is something I enjoy doing. Pictures of my experiences and close-ups of the people around me. These sorta come together when creating my works. No routine way.

Who are a few of your creative influences? How have they inspired you and your work?

I was first influenced by works from Kelvin Okafor and Chuck Close. I later found works by David Hockney, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley and Ai Wei Wei to be of huge influence. These artists had something to teach me. Some about how art can save the world while some about the extent of expression.

What is a day in the studio like? Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

No ritual. I just love creating every day. I enjoy it. I might have some breaks in between to catch up with social life, but always back to create. Once I’m ready, I put on the speaker to play beautiful music, and I just create.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you to grow as an artist?

Syncytium was a work I did after my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It represents all these cells connected together to aid human life. Here, just one bad cell could ruin the whole connection, Just as one bad person could ruin a whole community. It represents humans as fields of energy connected together.

What is your most favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part of the creative process?

Honestly wish I didn’t have to experience so much violence and division, so I can focus on creating other things that matter to me. Asides that, I enjoy every part of my creative process.

What do you think the role of an artist is in society?

Artists have important roles to play in society. Asides just responding and educating the society through their art, I believe they can also lend help and opportunities as well. I read an article about how Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seeds created many jobs for skilled artisans in Jingdezhen. I also am aware of Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Residency in Senegal that give black artists an opportunity to grow. These are artists doing amazing things to give back and uplift the community around them.

Can you share with us a few of your favorite Nigerian or West African artists/creatives?

Oh yes. I’ve always been a fan of works from my brother Arinze Stanley. Great works from Alex Peter, Dennis Osadebe, and Babajide Olatunji too. I believe there are many amazing artists from West Africa with really powerful conversations.

What are three things you would like people to know about Nigeria? And three things about your hometown?

Three things I’ll love people to know about Nigeria:

AMAZING unseen talents
We are not fraudsters as these movies most times represent us.
You need to eat Nigerian jollof rice

Three things about my hometown:

Located in Anambra state, Nigeria
Popular language is Igbo
Beautiful music

If you could have dinner with five people (fictional or real, dead or alive) who would they be? What would be on the menu? And what is your ice breaker question? 

Oh wow. Please Let me mention five artists instead (fictional or real, dead or alive) that I’ll love to have dinner with.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Frida Khalo
Toyin Ojih Odutola
David Hockney
Kehinde Wiley

Food Menu will include Nigerian Jollof rice and grilled chicken. With a bit of salad too.

My ice breaker question will be: What is Art? (Just because I know we could talk about it for years)

A special fundraiser for Ol Pejeta Conservancy involving Dulk x Suarez Rhinoceros ring “Sudan”

Thinkspace Projects, Spoke Art, Joyeria Suarez, and DULK are happy to announce a special fundraiser involving the new Rhinoceros ring “Sudan” that Suarez has designed and produced together with the artist. The rhinoceros-shaped ring is one of a kind and it’s made with 18-carat pink and white gold with brilliant-cut champagne diamonds alongside brilliant-cut brown diamonds and round-cut pink sapphires.

The artist has decided to donate all profits from the sale of this special ring to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki, Kenya where he recently went and discovered first hand all the good this special organization does for the wildlife there, specially for the rhinos. After this visit, DULK wanted to pay tribute to the last male northern white rhino that lived there with this jewelry ring piece named “Sudan”.

Thinkspace Projects in Los Angeles, California, in partnership with Spoke Art in New York, New York, will be handling the sale of this incredible piece of jewelry as part of DULK’s current solo exhibition in NYC “Ephemeral Treasures” and will also be donating all their shares to the conservancy, along with the producer of the ring, Suarez, as well. 100% of the profits from this incredible piece of craftsmanship will go to Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Fumi Nakamura’s exhibition “Look Toward The Future, But Not So Far As To Miss Today” debuts this March

FUMI NAKAMURA
Look Toward The Future, But Not So Far As To Miss Today

Opening Reception:
Saturday, March 6 from noon to 6pm

On view March 6 – March 27, 2021

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present this new solo exhibition from artist Fumi Nakamura. ‘Look Towards the Future, But Not So Far As To Miss Today’ is a new body of work depicting flora and fauna. Each element is carefully selected to represent elements of life, memory, body and soul. Nakamura pulls from the subconscious, using metaphor and imagery to create striking pieces.

Fumi Nakamura draws inspiration from the Japanese phrase meaning “language of flower.” In line with this concept, each flower has different meanings right down to the positioning. Colors play a huge role as well, and each work becomes full of phrases and meanings. One tulip can mean a variety of things from “compassion” to “confession of love” to the “lost love” of a white tulip.

Different from her previous work in which she frequently incorporated negative space, this new series is filled up to the edges. Using custom “coffin” or “container” imagery, Nakamura takes inspiration from the funeral ceremony where we last see and connect with another being physically and reflect on the past together. This collection of works is layered and complex both in visuals and meaning.

masks and social distancing required at all times / schedule your visit here

Artist Statement:
Using fauna and flora as symbolism: each thing is carefully selected to depict my subconscious and unconscious mind about life, memories, body and soul.

In Japanese, we have Hana Kotoba which it means “language of flower”
For example, each flower has different meanings, and arranged/composed onto paper carefully (Ie: Tulip generally means “compassion.” And different color changes meaning of tulip; red tulip translates “confession of love,” white tulip becomes “lost love,” and yellow tulip is “genuine love.” Tulip also has a meaning of a “perfect lover”).

I also try to incorporate traditional Japanese floral arrangement, ikebana, where it was historically made as an offering by Buddhist altar during the Heian Period. Buddhist and buddhism desire to preserve lives and believe in rebirth and death is part of life. Unlike animals, flowers and plants can continue to grow/regrow even if they are detached from roots and soil. It is also considered to be an attempt to comprehensively manage the mysterious power beyond the reach of humans on the vase.

Unlike my older work where negative spaces were common, a new series fills the image up to edges. In a format of depicting a custom “coffin” or “container.” In funerals is a ceremony where we last see and connect with another being physically, and revise to look back at the past together.

Ken Nwadiogbu’s exhibition “Ubuntu” debuts this March

KEN NWADIOGBU
Ubuntu

Opening Reception:
Saturday, March 6 from noon to 6pm

On view March 6 – March 27, 2021

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present Nigerian-born multidisciplinary artist Ken Nwadiogbu’s first solo exhibition in the United States. ‘UBUNTU’ is an ideology of humanity, often translated as “I am because we are.” In twenty new hyperrealist works, Nwadiogbu investigates representation through a focal-point of eyes as a means of discovering and revelation.

By recreating his own realities as a young Nigerian, his work projects the experiences encountered by black lives around the globe. Nwadiogbu invokes a humanist connection to the ongoing issues of police brutality, racism, xenophobia, culture conflict and shock. Working with charcoal and acrylic he creates a hyperrealist narrative that demands socio-political thought and discourse, bringing the ideology full circle by emphasizing an understanding that we are more alike than different.

Societal tendencies drive Nwadiogbu’s work and his commitment to technique amplifies the intention behind every mark. Nwadiogbu explains, “I implore us to consider our society as spaces we occupy and challenge us to think, in a larger context, about our role in these spaces, what we can do to influence these spaces and how we react to these spaces, because I believe, it is only then that we can discover the true meaning of Ubuntu.”

masks and social distancing required at all times / schedule your visit here

Artist Statement:
There will always be a need to understand and represent people in a different way. This becomes our way of discovering and revealing who we truly are.

My love for drawing faces of everyday people through ripped paper was born from a need to identify Africans in major global contexts. The eye became a major feature for me as it expresses and exposes more about us than any other part of the human body. My process of caring less for other features of my subjects and focusing on the eyes intensifies my every approach to represent us differently to the world.

The focal point of my art is on black lives; recreating my experiences and those encountered by the people around me such as police brutality, lingering racism, xenophobia, culture conflict and shock. Working with charcoal and acrylic, I am able to invoke empathy in the viewer forcing socio-political thoughts and discourse, and making them aware enough to respond to what is going on in the society.

‘UBUNTU’ can be expressed in the phrase “I am because we are”. My works bring this ideology FULL CIRCLE around the world to remind people that we are all more a like than different. We do not only bleed red but we were created to coexist, thus, for humanity to reach its zenith as one, we all need to uplift each other across the boundaries of miles, oceans and continents as a way to let Dictators and Perpetrators know that they have not won and that we are all willing to stand as one.

All I’m doing is presenting you the truth with being black in a society crying out for UBUNTU. I believe we need this and many more conversations about our society to grow and pull the world out of the third world mentality that was inflicted on us by generations of imperialistic rulers.

Trailer for DULK’s “Ephemeral Treasures”

“Ephemeral Treasures” will be the debut NYC solo exhibition of Spanish artist DULK. Curated by Thinkspace and co-hosted by our good friends at Spoke Art, the exhibition will feature new canvas works, a sculpture, and unique jewelry pieces.

On view: February 20, 2020 – March 13, 2021

Taking Place At:
Spoke Art
210 Rivington St,
New York, NY 10002