First published in the catalogue of the ongoing exhibition We Are Not Welcome Here. Republished with the permission of the artist and curator.
I have had the privilege of visiting Ngozi’s studio during the production of some of these works and during these visits we talk about her current path that excites to no end. I have always marvelled at the patience and painstaking care with which she picks a punched out dot, one at a time to form a larger body of work. Almost like stringing streams of thoughts one at a time to make a bigger picture and that is just in the aesthetics stage of the works. In our conversation, I needed to go a bit more beyond the aesthetics and dig deeper into what makes Ngozi weigh in on hefty issues like displacements, immigration crisis and much talked about issue of identity. I needed to figure out how she fixes the brokenness in these fragmented human existence she’d witnessed and represent visually.
Ngozi’s works are mesmerizingly beautiful stylistically, but what’s more intriguing is the pain, the struggle, the conflicted being, the eyes that stare back with indescribable messages and the way fragility is handled strongly. The basis of our conversation was on this strength and delicateness, beauty and ugliness and the duality she pursues in her works.
Victor Ehikhamenor: I am familiar with some of your old works, but your current works for this show are a departure from that norm. Your process now (collages with confetti -perforated paper) is painstaking and unusual, at what point did you start this trajectory?
Ngozi Schommers: That is true; I guess growth means moving from one process to another without losing anything. This current style actually 2010, that is roughly six years ago. It is quite a process like you rightly said. I start with a series of sketches and studies. I’d usually make a colour representation, which serves as a guide to the work. I’d draw on the canvas using charcoal, acrylic markers and sometimes transfers. I apply the confetti and the remnants after perforation, into the canvas or paper, arranging them layer-by-layer from different sides and angles. My use of colour guide, however, does not always control my rhythm in applying the confetti as it may sometimes change course or take a different colour scheme as I work. In fact, I rarely make colour guides as I have gotten quite used to my technique and have grown into it. One of the challenges and backbreaking aspect of working with confetti is having to perforate my own paper. I am constantly collecting and punching papers, before the actual painting starts.
VE: There is transcendence in the mood and feel of your subjects as well as your total work, is this intentional?
NS: I have always wanted my works to be perceived in a certain way but I don’t have that in mind when I am working. So I will say it is not intentional, one can only strive for the perfection that is necessary in a body of work.
VE: How has your numerous travels and research among immigrants in Europe enhance the emotions inherent in these paintings.
NS: They have been quite important, nothing can be discarded in that regard. I made my first contact with some of the subjects when I moved to Germany 2 years ago. When I arrived Germany I initially lived in a Nigerian friend’s flat in the outskirts of Hamburg. It was in this place that I came in contact with some of the refugees and migrants who were also my neighbours. I’d sit long hours in the balcony and observe them. For a place I have visited often in the past, I immediately noticed the changes and it was also at the peak of the refugee crisis in Europe. I observed these people try to maintain the space given to them and try in some cases to adjust and adapt to this new culture. In some of my works I play with space. You tend to see works that the figures do not take up the whole space and in others, there are just not enough space. Space to me serves also as time. Time wasted, gained or simply not enough
VE: Displacement is a reoccurrence in your work, what’s your personal experience as someone who works both in Germany and Nigeria?
NS: Displacement is a regular thing. People move all the time from place to place and try most times to fit into their new surrounding. I see myself as someone that has, to an extent, integrated well in Germany and in Lagos. I tend to become my surroundings.
VE: There is a certain fragility that confront one from your work, how intentional is this?
NS: I am really not aware of this fragility but I have heard people mention it. Maybe, it has to do with my personality.
VE: I ask because of the your use of flowers and butterflies, those are two things that are fragile.
NS: From the very first time I started doting, flowers and butterflies have always been present in my works. I am lucky to live in a nice old building in Lagos with a massively amazing space overlooking the Lagos lagoon. I am surrounded by trees and flowers and I get to see butterflies as well. I also see butterflies, flowers, trees, birds when I visit Lekki Conservation centre. And in Germany, my balcony is a banquet of colours. All these are what I take with me into the studio when I work. So the constant use of flowers and butterflies in works suggests migration, freedom, transformation, life, damage, integration and hope. In some cases, just something beautiful not necessarily fragile.
VE: How would you describe your art to someone encountering it for the first time?
NS: Colours but without paint!
VE: Kara Walker once said “ you can declare yourself an artist and then figure out how to be an artist”, what was your journey to becoming the artist you are today like?
NS: Kara Walker’s statement is synonymous with her own experience and practice as an artist. Art has been very fulfilling part for me. It is a life long profession for me also. Some artists are born and others are made but in any of this circumstance, it is not enough to rest on ones oars but strive to perfect the skill and make art more functional and benefiting to one’s immediate community as well as the world. This is what actually defines the journey and that sense of satisfaction at some point in ones career. I do wish to be remembered as an artist; an artist that steered changes and advanced the good cause of art in her society and beyond.
Victor Ehikhamenor is an artist and writer based in Lagos, Nigeria.