Nigerian artist Nonye Ikegwuoha brings a selection from his latest series to New York City: The M-Series, a collection of 20 large paintings and 30 studies focusing on the “dark, harrowing experiences of migrants.” Inspired by global news accounts of displaced individuals of war-torn areas, the M-Series visually expresses not only the hunger, disease, and death that these migrants are being exposed to, but the vulnerability and emotional intensity of the experience.
Ikegwuoha splits his time between Nigeria and Shanghai, where he runs an architectural firm. His professional work, which exposes him to people facing both risk and opportunity, has been a major source of creative material for his art. Ikegwuoha says that the stress of these projects often “brings out the worst in people, creating conflict, self-interest, greed, and many other shortcomings and vices.” These negative attitudes are incorporated into his work, allowing him to confront them, in a way, on his own turf.
Ikegwuoha finds his direct inspiration in African culture and art. He describes African art as a type of “exorcism” to “give form to one’s fears, tormentors, demons, and terrors in hope of being free of them.” He believes that the emotional value of a piece must always trump the aesthetic. “Only the artist’s feelings and experiences count,” Ikegwuoha says. “I’ve become better over time at ignoring the obvious search for beauty in favor of the emotional.”
For Ikegwuoha, art precedes memory. As early as three years old, drawing was as much a fascination to Ikegwuoha as the toys that surrounded him. Indeed, his earliest memories are of a world where art was already an essential part of his identity: a permanent aspect of his life. He remembers other children being drawn to his work, and the satisfaction he felt as a result of their attention. “I found that very much to my liking,” he says, “wanting my childhood friends and others to always be pleased with this 'art stuff' which seemed to come quite easily from me.”