By Morakinyo David
Chinenye Emelogu ‘s installation (Human Hives) at the exhibition titled ‘Designing Africa: Appropriating Culture, mediums and meanings’ and organized by Ikoyi-based African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) is eye-popping. It’s a massive spread–on the floor and on the ceiling–of countless bale strips stapled one to another in little circles and presented in four distinct colours.
“When I set out to work on the project, I had it at the back of my mind to create something really striking, something that will make whoever sees it ‘wow’!” she says, using her hands to make an additional statement. “And I have seen people react just as I had imagined they would.”
Those colours, Emelogu says, represents the social classes that exist in Nigeria: the high class (purple), the middle class (orange), the low class (brown) and the lowest class (black). But it isn’t the colour-based distinctions that mark out Emelogu’s work as brilliant; it is her interpretation, her understanding and her appreciation of how we live amongst ourselves.
As anyone living in Nigeria (or anywhere in the world for that matter) will agree, the super-rich more often than not coexist with the outstandingly poor. The plastic rings, from purple to black, are bunched together to replicate that real-life scenario. Inspired by bee hives, which are a representation of meticulous planning and attention to detail, Emelogu’s Human Hives shows our human habitation as clearly the opposite.
“We are not organized,” she tells waka-about in a chat, adding that putting the entire exhibit together took the most part of three months.
Emelogu, who trained at the University of Nsukka, makes another striking statement on the floor section of Human Hives: the co-joined rings rise and fall in different parts, almost appearing like little hills and mountains. To a casual observer, they probably would mean nothing; but to me, they brought Nigeria’s physical terrain to mind.
“The mounds are a visual representation of the imminent tensions and foreshadow more revolutionary reactions and trends that follow the class composition in the country,” according to the notes accompanying the installation. “Also, the mounds visually reveal the eruption of violence and social disorder that are a consequence of dissatisfaction by group denied the dividends and rights of a supposed democratic nation.”
Editor’s Note: Emelogu is currently pursuing her MFA. She has worked with different mediums, including: ceramics, textile, clay, fiber, ropes, and strip bales, among others.