In Conversation

ruby onyinyechi amanze: Drawing the Elements, Choreographing Freedom

ruby onyinyechi amanze crafts intricate collaged drawings that look like moments of choreographed freedom and ecological intimacy. These minimalist works immersed us in imaginative atmospheres in which human figures, animals, and the built environment coalesce into nonlinear chronicles.

ruby onyinyechi amanze, astral planes [only kin keeps us warm], 2020, Ink, graphite, colored pencils, photo transfers on four sheets of paper. Courtesy Mariane Ibrahim

By Alexandra M.Thomas

Transfixed on the assortment of characters that appear throughout ruby onyinyechi amanze’s drawings, I ask her who they are. amanze identifies the moving parts and various actors in her drawings as elements. She names certain highlights from this everchanging family of elements: ada the alien, audre the leopard, motorcycles, swimming pools, and birds. A deeply contemplative artist, amanze gently and lovingly pushes her collaged drawings in new directions by removing elements one by one, ultimately compelling herself to experiment with new stories and scenes.

ruby onyinyechi amanze, HOW TO BE ENOUGH, 2021, installation view, Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia. Courtesy: the artist and Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia; photograph: Roberto Marossi

“When drawing and collaging, I know you play the role of choreographer,” I say, “but are you also a dancer?” amanze divulges that she often has the most fun with her larger-scale drawings, when she can work on the floor and intentionally enter the physical world of the collaged drawing, experimenting with her own embodied encounters with the narratives on paper.

“I have always been interested in dance, even more so recently,” she explains, “and I am starting a dance company with a friend. There will be a dance feature happening in Italy in May that will travel.” amanze enjoys attending dances, referencing dance imagery in her drawings, and reading texts by choreographers. Her meticulous attention to dance manifests in her artistic practice, as she “arranges beings in space” – the elements – and decides how and when movement is going to happen through the construction of the drawing.

ruby onyinyechi amanze, HOW TO BE ENOUGH, 2021, installation view, Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia. Courtesy: the artist and Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia; photograph: Roberto Marossi

Her love of dance is accompanied by a fascination with architecture and design. “So, architecture and dance?” I ponder. “Can we think these aesthetic forms alongside each other?” amanze replies that her love of architecture precedes dance. After graduate school, she considered going back to school for architecture, specifically. “As an immigrant, I was thinking of home and what it means to make a home for myself on paper,” she reflects. Poetically aligning architecture and affect, amanze convinces me that architecture is an emotional medium.

She eloquently explains that there are parallels between the beauty, soul, and poetics of dance, and that of architectural design. Both choreographing a dance and drawing a floorplan are about understanding space: bodies in space and buildings in space. As someone working with the largely two-dimensional form of drawing, amanze is enthralled with the three-dimensionality of dance and architecture, rooting their connection in a shared process of space-making.

ruby onyinyechi amanze, ada + windows + motorcyles over birds [two small pools], 2021. Graphite, ink, photo transfer, acrylic, pva coated papers. Courtesy Mariane Ibrahim

Birds abound in amanze’s drawings, including the “bird dances” that appear as collages in her artist edition with C&. She is beginning to show her “cutup sky-mashups” featuring birds more often. Before they lived on postcards and sketchbooks; now they are one of the remaining elements in her drawings. “Why birds?” I inquire. “The birds were originally a reference to pidgin-English in Nigeria,” she explains. “I always appreciate any creole language and how creative people are with words.” Playing with pigeon/pidgin, amanze remixes her cultural experiences, which span Nigeria, the UK, and US cities such as Philadelphia and Brooklyn, among other places. amanze is intimately aware of pidgin-English as a unifying language for those with different cultural backgrounds: “chopped up, free-flowing language that brings everyone together.” Like those who speak creolized languages, birds have their own paths of migration, movement, and travel. “Pigeons are a pervasive species,” amanze says. She hopes to imbue the birds she draws with a sense of freedom to take up space. The birds are not immobilized on the paper because they are able to roam different parts of it as amanze cuts up the paper and refashions it into new designs.

ruby oyinyechi amanze, skies on my left and skies beneath my feet. the pools, open. the windows, transport, 2020. 1/30, digital pigment and silkscreen print with gold leaf and pen on Somerset Velvet 330 gsm paper. 61 x 45.7 cm. (C& Artists’ Edition)

For me, the bird iconography grows even more fascinating as amanze imagines birds as counterparts to swimming pools, mashing up swimming pools and the sky and different water beings. “I’m over land,” she pronounces with a smile. “Land is so last season.” Birds are capable of transgressing land/sea boundaries as they travel through the sky. “I am learning of so many different cultures with their own water mythologies,” she says, adding in that her mother is from River State, Nigeria. amanze loves to be submersed in water – a desire I share with her – and appreciates its boundless, free-flowing nature, and all of the memory, trauma, pleasure, and possibility it holds. Her collages mirror water’s fluidity and its infinite possibilities.


ruby onyinyechi amanze: THINGHOOD is on view at Mariane Ibrahim in Chicago, IL from May 7 through June 5, 2021.

ruby onyinyechi amanze, ‘HOW TO BE ENOUGH’, is at Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, Italy, until 25 July.


ruby onyinyechi amanze’s C& Artist Edition is on sale at amanze has created a series of thirty unique prints with hand-applied elements that mirror her interest in the quiet play between these elements and their ability, once combined, to alter perceptions of space.


Alexandra M. Thomas is a writer and PhD student at Yale. Her interests include: modern and contemporary art of global Africa, transnational feminisms, queer theory, and critical museum studies.


ruby onyinyechi amanze’s (b. 1982, Port-Harcourt, Nigeria; based in Philadelphia) works on paper explore the vast and magical potential of space and the balance between magnitude and weightlessness. Incorporating a working vocabulary of just seven elements, amanze plays with the possibilities of spatial relationships, both within the page and, utilizing custom mounts, beyond its borders.




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