Ugo Onyewuchi: Izu
January 19 — March 10, 2021
About the Exhibition
A hybrid of two cultures, Igbo-American, Ugo Onyewuchi’s sculptural practice is rooted in the realm of time, function, and tension. In the Igbo system of time there are four days in a week: EKE, AFỌ, NKWỌ, and ORIE. This translates to 28 days in a month, 7 weeks in a month, and 13 months in a year. Additionally, the days of the week align with the four cardinal points: AFỌ—NORTH; NKWỌ—SOUTH; EKE—EAST; ORIE—WEST.
While the amount of days in the Igbo calendar matches the Gregorian calendar which most of the world uses, how time is experienced is different. This difference is highlighted in the cultural practices that are tied to the days of the week. For example in Onyewuchi’s village of Umuneke the Eke day of the week is reserved for rest. Cultural events such as weddings and burials are not conducted on Eke days. Craftspersons, who are integral to the social and cultural life of the community, are also bound by this system of time as work is not produced or displayed in the marketplace on Eke days.
The Eke days naturally mediate the tensions that exist between individuality and social connectedness in the artistic process, as the artist pauses to engage in other socio-cultural activities on the day of rest. This interplay between socio-cultural activities, craft, and time, lends to the Igbo worldview of the arts as natural proclivities of the human mind. Further illustrated in functional objects of art like the traditional Igbo ekete (basket), which is woven with 13 stems—corresponding to the 13 months in the Igbo calendar. Thus, the artistic process of ekete weaving can be seen as a metaphor and ritual that observes the calendar.
By deconstructing cultural artifacts according to the Igbo calendar, and reconstructing them in the form of ekete, Onyewuchi not only seeks to dictate a physical engagement with materials, but to shift his experience of time in order to discover new visual languages, patterns, textures, and rhythms. For at times, beautiful meanings and languages are sculpted from the tensions that happen when two cultures weave.
More About the Artist
Ugo Onyewuchi is a Nigerian-born Igbo sculptor and designer who lives in New York City. He received his Bachelors of Science degree in Adolescent Education (concentration in English Literature), with minors in Philosophy and Theology from St. John’s University. His work has been exhibited internationally and he has led workshops on the interdisciplinary nature of traditional Igbo art practices at Yale Center for British Art. He founded Nze-Ugo Education Foundation in 2017 in response to the challenges facing rural communities in south-eastern Nigeria.
Onyewuchi received the 2020 Beacon of Light and Knowledge National Merit Award from the Church of Nigeria for the foundation’s work in establishing health, art, and S.T.E.A.M programs in underprivileged schools in Imo State, Nigeria. A Moser-Burton Fellow and doctoral candidate in the Art and Art Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University, his research focuses on traditional African craft, project-based learning, ways of thinking, and craft-based methods of inquiry. A three-time recipient of the Myers Art Prize, his work has been archived in the permanent art collection of Teachers College, and the Yale Center for British Art Education program. He is represented by Superposition Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, and Harvey Preston Gallery in Aspen, CO.