Pippy Houldsworth Gallery presents Parables of Joy, the first solo exhibition of works by Nigerian-born Nengi Omuku at the gallery.
Using oil paint on sanyan – a traditional Nigerian fabric used for draped clothing – Omuku’s work interrogates ambiguity and liminality with a focus on interior psychological spaces and how these manifest within the physical world: multiple bodies depict a physical rendering of the multifaceted subconscious. Creating ethereal scenes of spectral figures in constant flux, their faces are deliberately blurred, becoming featureless silent observers whose gaze still seemingly penetrates out towards the viewer. Resisting singularity they instead embrace the collective experience, echoing the chorus in Greek theatre. In exploration of the complexities surrounding her cultural heritage, race and personal identity, Omuku often also draws on current and archival images taken from the Nigerian press and media.
Having trained as a florist and horticulturist under her mother, Omuku takes inspiration from the botanical. In reaction to the past two years of intermittent lockdowns during the global pandemic, these works seek a reconnection with the natural world. Sitting between the figurative and the abstract, Omuku presents spaces in which the distinction between bodies and nature is often blurred, reflecting on the intricacies around navigating place and belonging. This is also explored through her use of materials – Omuku stiches together strips of sanyan, often combining those with similar patterns before starting to apply layers oil paint to the reverse. The dichotomy between the intricately woven and carefully designed materials, combined with the fluidity of the oil paint, speaks to living between cultures while at the same time feeling deeply connected to her country of birth.