Nnenna Okore

Nnenna Okore
Nnenna Okore, When the Heavens meet, 2011. Photo, Jonathan Greet, courtesy October Gallery, London

“I desire to heighten … the perception of textures, undulating contours and movements that exist within our ephemeral world.” Nnenna Okore

Nnenna Okore uses ordinary materials to create extraordinary sculptures. Taking biodegradable material such as old newspapers, rope, thread, yarn, burlap, dye, coffee, starch and clay she transforms them into dazzling abstract forms. Her methods include fraying, tearing, teasing, weaving, dyeing, waxing and sewing; repetitive processes which she learned by watching local Nigerians perform daily tasks. These labour intensive methods transform her materials into new forms with an emphasis on delicate surfaces, new textures and visceral materiality. She is inspired by nature and how organic matter becomes weathered, dilapidated and lifeless, signalling wider concepts of aging, death and decay. Her interest in recycling and finding value in discarded material prompted Nigerian journalist Uzor Maxim Uzoatu to say of her work, “Life throbs in all disused matter.”

When the Heavens Meet the Earth is a large scale installation made from hessian, acrylic and dye. Seemingly floating somewhere in front of the wall, it is partly fixed to the wall and partly suspended from the ceiling, emerging from the wall in relief. Some parts are twisted into thick, heavy forms, other parts look like a thin translucent gauze. Its reference points cannot be pinned down; the dark colour of the work seems resonant of the earth and landscape but its lightness and ethereality is evocative of clouds in the sky. The interplay of shadows on the wall behind is as much a part of the work as the solid form itself; the whole becoming a dynamic ele on immateriality.


Born in Australia in 1975, she was raised mostly in Nigeria and now lives in Chicago, USA, where her practice is sculpture based. She trained at the University of Nigeria, obtaining a BA in Painting in 1999 followed by an MA and MFA in Sculpture at the University of Iowa, USA in 2004 and 2005 respectively. She is currently Associate Professor of the Art Department at North Park University, Chicago and has been named a 2012 recipient of the Fulbright Scholar Award.

Her solo shows include Metamorphoses at the October Gallery, 2011; Textile at the Blachère Fondation Art Center in Apt, France 2010; Affrika West at the Oriel Mostyn Gallery in the UK 2008 and Reflection at the Contemporary African Art Gallery in New York USA in 2007.

Her group shows include Environment and Object in Recent African Art at the Middlebury College Museum of Art in Vermont in 2012 and at the Tang Museum, Skidmore College, New York College in 2011; and the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial, Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2010.

Her work is also part of major private collection including the Jean Paul Blachère Fondation in France, the Royal Collections in Abu Dhabi, UEA and the Channel 4 Collection, UK.

Work in the show

When the Heavens Meet the Earth, 2011

Burlap, dye and acrylic

Varied dimensions

Photograph courtesy of the artist

Artist website


Martin Barlow, curator of the exhibition Moving Into Space at the National Football Museum talks about the exhibition.

Barthélémy Toguo, Lucy Azubuike and Nnenna Okore, three of the exhibited artists, talk about their work and their interest in using materials which reflect the lifestyle and experience of the people of West Africa.

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Street life, dazzling dress, social commentary and a riot of sensuous colour interweave in a rich assembly of West African art, writes Charles Gore in the Times Higher Education

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