Ifeoma U. Anyaeji makes distinctive sculptures and installations from discarded bottles and non-biodegradable plastic bags.
Interested in traditional craft processes and the use of non-conventional materials, her work explores transitions of West African culture, specifically drawing on the folklore, fashion, music and poetry of Nigeria, where she is from.
Using a method which she describes as Plasto-art, Anyaeji creates intricately-woven structures and reliefs with a West African hair-plaiting technique known as Ikpa Owu in Igbo language (Threading), an increasingly obsolete hair-craft in Nigeria. By combining this with traditional basketry and fabric weaving techniques, Anyaeji reflects on the loss of such traditions. For her first solo presentation in the UK, Anyaeji presents a selection of recent work in BALTIC’s Level 2 gallery.
Interested in craft processes and the use of non-conventional materials, Anyaeji’s work draws on traditions of West African culture, in particular Nigerian folklore, fashion, music and poetry, and the country’s colonial history. Her sculptures combine non-biodegradable plastic, wood, wire, mesh and twine with objects such as shoes, plastic containers and cans, most of which she has sourced locally in Nigeria and wherever she finds herself.
Using a method which she describes as ‘Plasto-art’, Anyaeji binds the plastic with thread into intricately woven braids using a traditional Nigerian hair-styling technique known as Ikpa Owu or Ikpa Isi Owu in Igbo. Igbo is the native language of the Igbo people, an ethnic group of South Eastern Nigeria – it has approximately forty-four million speakers. Ikpa Owu (or Threading) is an increasingly obsolete hair-craft passed down through the generations, from mother to daughter. The practice has almost disappeared because of the country’s colonised history and the pressures for a global identity, which underlines more of a Western outlook. It is now considered more fashionable to use chemicals to straighten or relax hair for styling.
Combining Ikpa Owu with traditional basketry and fabric weaving techniques, Anyaeji reflects on the loss of such traditions, whilst the use of plastic – a major environmental pollutant – speaks of the devastating impact of human activity on Nigeria’s landscape and natural resources.
Each plastic braid is shaped and layered by the artist into densely textured sculptural forms characterised by their distinctive vibrant colours, coils, spirals, circles and loops. The process of threading the plastic bags is repetitive and labour-intensive, and making the sculptures can take many months. At a glance, the threaded plastic takes on the quality of fabric or wool.
In the weeks preceding the exhibition, several sculptures have been ‘re-edited’ and added to by Anyaeji, some with plastic bags and bottles donated by BALTIC’s visitors. The artist has responded to the Level 2 gallery space and adapted the sculptures to work with its architectural features. The title of the exhibition Ezuhu ezu – In(complete), taken from one of Anyaeji’s works, is reflective of her process; the sculptures are never fully ‘complete’ and continue to be reworked.
The scale and structure of Anyaeji’s sculptures often reference the human body, domestic spaces, furnishings and architecture. Works in the exhibition including Sit with me (2013–18) and A no m’eba, ma na anoho mu eba (I am here, but I am not here – presence, absence) (2016), either incorporate or take the form of communal seating while referencing the absence of the artist. The composition of the sculptures is reminiscent of the patterns of wall partitions, tapestries and upholstering fabric.
Download the Exhibition Guide (PDF) at BALTIC+