27 March - 24 April 2021
Black figures with striking motifs painted white onto their skin appear against burning blue skies and stylised settings. These people are the deities and characters from Igbo mythology, vividly reimagined by Nigerian artist Kelechi Nwaneri. The history of the Igbo people of South Eastern Nigeria dates back to the 9th century, but their indigenous way of life is rapidly fading in the face of dominating Western cultural narratives. The artist’s first solo exhibition entitled Myths at Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery’s Berlin space presents a new body of mixed-media artworks which are not only visually arresting, but also serve as important artistic documentation of a culture at risk of being erased from public consciousness.
Nwaneri uses motifs drawn mainly from three indigenous languages - Adinkra from Ghana, Uli and Nsbidi from Southern Nigeria - to decorate the skin of his figures, often selecting precise symbols to express the individual’s personality or else to contribute to the work’s wider narrative. Whilst these motifs are derived from specific, ancient writing systems, much of the imagery is recognisable, and can be interpreted on a basic level. This careful balance between cultural specificity and universality is central to Nwaneri’s visual language and the artistic aims of this particular exhibition, which, according to the artist, is ‘about educating, not just viewing.’ ‘The introduction of western culture through colonialism has resulted in a hybrid culture; a blend of the old and new, and a huge dilution of the indigenous way of life despite the depth and richness of the Igbo culture,’ he explains.