Arts + Culture

Meet Nigerian Artist Ndidi Emefiele Celebrating the Feminine Form Through Spellbinding Mixed Media Works

"Being an artist truly came as a calling I had to heed to."

Ndidikanma "Ndidi" Emefiele is a 29-year-old, mixed media artist from Northern Nigeria who, like many artists, got her start scribbling and sketching. From the age of 7, she began entering art competitions in elementary school.


"Being an artist truly came as a calling I had to heed to," she says.

Emefiele's scribbles matured into painted landscape influenced by her exposure to impressionistic works in art books. But as her passion for that artistic approach waned, Emefiele's signature style emerged characterized by daring portraits of black women with piercing gazes, wearing natural hair and glitzy eye-wear, an accessory she found fascinating as a child, painted on canvas with knickknacks randomly collected over the years such as compact disks, clock bezels, textiles, wires, pearls interspersed as accents.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

Emefiele uses the feminine form featured prominently throughout her series of bold works to explore and challenge the social, cultural and religious pressures she has seen women face in Nigeria and beyond. Her latest "The Rainbow Series" extols the traits she values most in black women, which epitomizes her creations' vibe: beautiful, strong and dynamic.

Okayafrica checked in with Emefiele over email as her exhibition at the Gallery of African Art in London wrapped on July 3 to learn more about "The Rainbow Series"as well as the woman behind the captivating contemporary art. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Erin C.J. Robertson for Okayafrica: How did you come up with the concept for your latest "The Rainbow Series?" 

Ndidi Emefiele: "Rainbow series" was a reaction to the anomalies in society particularly focusing on the female. I use the forms in that series to raise questions on how society constructs identity in defining and confining the roles of gender while highlighting the pressures mounted on the female. I [use] sunglasses to provide protection by shielding her from the dangers in a space that provides little or no safety for her. I'm questioning the role of culture, family,tradition and the relationship between sexes in shaping the identity of a person. I'm using the female form to deconstruct some of these fixed notions by using clothing, bodily features and masculine gesture.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

Who is your intended audience, and what message are you wanting to convey to them through your creations?

 I'm looking to a society that is more accepting of weakness,individuality, personal choices. One that is more human and less judgmental. A society that allows everyone of its own to thrive. I'm using these works to create a safe space. I'm also offering protection to whoever needs it.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

I noticed African wax prints prominently in your work, what is the significance? 

African prints popularly called 'Ankara' are symbolically regarded as a symbol of pride and motherhood, among many other meanings. They also have a rich cultural meaning besides their colorful and vibrant nature. There are certain cultures that require an intending groom to present these fabrics to his in laws-to-be as a marriage rite. Ankara fabrics are also presented to new mothers as a way to welcome them into the terrain of motherhood. These prints holds diverse meaning to different people as well as names given to them 'sweet mother' etc. It's a way to infuse culture and its richness into my practice.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

How has your style evolved over the three series you've made: The Rainbow Series, Waiting and Horny Ayo? 

When I feel like I haven't been able to say all that needed to be said with a single piece, then I turn it into a series just so I can deal with that subject in depth.  My style continues to evolve as I seek new ways to approach the work and I'm constantly taking risks with materials.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

What are the significance of centering your work on black feminine as well as the proportions and expressive eyes that appear throughout your work?

Addressing these issues bordering on the female is important because I grew up in space that allows the woman to suffer for being female, supports it and encourages it. It denies her of privileges afforded to the male and totally disregards her, and it is a norm which should be kicked against.

The eyes give you access to the soul and communicate the most, so I considered them a very important feature.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

Could you set the scene of your optimal creative working environment? How do you approach your craft? 

Airy and spacious because I'm claustrophobic. Cold drinks because I get thirsty too. Music to get into the zone. [And] a lot of walls because I make large works with all tools and materials intact. I don't like communal studios very much because I'm a little scopophobic (having a fear of being seen or stared at by others).

As my work is mostly figurative, I start with sketches.  The initial sketch is to determine if I'm working on the right scale before other decision-making.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

What's an unusual fact you're willing to share about yourself? 

I have developed a pattern of waking up at odd hours to look out my window in the hopes of finding an angel or another supernatural being lurking by as I'm aware they exist and live among us.

Courtesy of Ndidikanma Emefiele

popular
The famous burial mask of King Tutankhamun on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Mark Fischer via Flickr.

Egypt Moves to Stop Sale of King Tut Statue In London Auction

"Once again, we will not be negligent or allow anybody to sell any Egyptian artifact whatsoever," says the Egyptian embassy.

The Egyptian government is working to prevent the sale of a 3,000 year old statue that is set to go up for auction next month in London, reports BBC Africa.

The ancient statue, which is 11-inches high and features the image of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (popularly known as King Tut), is set to be sold by Christie's Auction House in London on July 4, but Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities as well as the Egyptian Embassy in London have appealed to the auction house as well as to UNESCO, demanding that the sale be cancelled. It is estimated that the statue, known as the "Amen Head," could sell for up to $5.1 million.

Egypt has also asked that Christie's provide documentation to prove rightful ownership of the statue, as many Egyptian cultural relics were stolen from the country during the colonial era.

READ: Bringing African Artifacts Home

Keep reading... Show less
Arts + Culture
Heads of a Royal ancestor, arts of the Kingdom of Benin of the end of the 18th century are on display on May 18, 2018 at the Quai Branly Museum-Jacques Chirac in Paris. Benin is demanding restitution of its national treasures that had been taken from the former French colony Dahomey (current Benin) to France and currently are on display at Quai Branly, a museum featuring the indigenous art and cultures of Africa. (Photo by GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Bringing African Artifacts Home

What would it take to finally return the looted treasures of the African continent to their rightful owners? We spoke with curator Niama Safia Sandy about the future of African art repatriation.

Last November, France's President Emmanuel Macron oversaw the return of 26 artifacts that were stolen during France's colonial era back to their home in Benin. The move came after years of petitioning on the part of African governments and the commissioning of a report by the French leader that highlighted the need for full restitution to take place between European colonial powers and their former African colonies.

Macron's actions—while they could be read as performative measures, intended to serve France's economic interests on the continent by painting him in a positive light—was considered a constructive solution to the problem of art repatriation. It's a simple concept: a former colonial power admitted and apologized for stealing valuable cultural relics in the past, and then gave them back.

The process of art repatriation should be that simple, but in reality, it isn't. While efforts have been made to return these items to their rightful African owners—Germany recently returned a looted 15th century stone cross to Namibia—the majority of African cultural relics still live in museums far outside of the continent's borders. After all, France only returned 26 items, when the Quai Branly Museum in Paris alone houses 70,000 African objects, according to The New York Times. And apologies, when they do come, hardly suffice.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC.

Cameroonian UFC Fighter Francis Ngannou Is Set To Join the 9th 'Fast & Furious' Installment

"The Predator" will be the third UFC fighter to make an appearance in the blockbuster franchise.

This Cameroonian UFC fighter will be making his first movie appearance in the next installment of Fast & Furious, Deadline reports.

Francis Ngannou will be playing a character that has yet to be announced in the ninth Fast & Furious movie—the third UFC fighter to join the blockbuster franchise. The film is set to be released May 22, 2020.

Known in the ring as "The Predator," he currently ranks second in the heavyweight division, Deadline adds.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Listen to Swae Lee & Drake's​ New Single 'Won't Be Late,' Produced by Tekno

As well as production, Tekno also gets a writing credit on the new song.

Rae Sremmurd's Swae Lee drops two new singles today, "Won't Be Late" featuring Drake and "Sextasy."

"Won't Be Late" is notably produced by Nigeria's own Tekno. The new single is built on a mid tempo, afro-fusion-inspired beat, filled with claps, and light keyboard chords.

As well as production, Tekno also gets a writing credit on the new song. You can hear his input when Drake sings lines like, 'Ikebe, pressing on me heavy' and 'Bakasi, moving on me wassy.'

If you remember, Drake shouted out Tekno last year as one of his many inspirations behind Scorpion and posted a picture of them working on something together.

"Won't Be Late" is paired with Swae Lee's "Sextasy" which was produced by Mike WiLL Made-It and Chopsquad DJ.

Tekno's had a lively past few months. He was recently featured in Beyoncé's The Lion King: The Gift album and dropped his "Agege" collaboration with Zlatan. He was also accused of being a "threat to security" by Nigeria's Council for Arts & Culture for that single's pole dancing video.

Listen to "Won't Be Late" below.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.