Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu, December 2021:
“I am a vessel of my Igbo ancestors.
I am here to tell our stories and to preserve the rich cultural identity and traditions of our people. I do not
take for granted, this responsibility. This is a journey of a lifetime.
This exhibition is the first page to a thousand pages of historical Igbo testaments.
The exhibition is an introduction to the visions of the vessel and the ancestors that speak through her.”
Jack Shainman Gallery presents “Genesis,” Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu’s first exhibition with the gallery, through February 19.
Growing up in the Anambra state of Nigeria, Chiamonwu was taught that tradition, community, and most importantly, family were values to be placed above all others. Chiamonwu has chosen to highlight these same priorities in “Genesis,” a grouping of works on paper and canvas showcasing her family members and close friends as representations of mythological Igbo deities, customs, and cultural beliefs both past and present.
Born in 1995, Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu recounts witnessing the recession of many of her close-knit, Igbo community’s tribal traditions and cultural practices, and in response has shaped her practice in order to preserve them. The range of Igbo identities worldwide is vast, and Chiamonwu has chosen to focus her expression on the kinds of physical, tribal objects and cultural figures that played such a large role in her childhood and are close to her heart when she thinks of her community.
Over the years she has made an effort to spend time with local elders; to listen to and protect their stories through her artwork so that she can subsequently share them with this and future generations, locally and around the world.
Paintings like Nne Mmiri (Igbo Water Goddess) demonstrate the kinds of rich myths and histories that Chiamonwu seeks to embody. As queen of the marine world, Nne Mmiri is thought to be the embodiment of beauty, fertility, and wealth. She holds her realm in her hands, sparkling and beautiful with vivacity. Accompanying her is a python; her messenger and a symbol of her strength.
Along with Igbo deities, Chiamonwu also portrays quieter, more domestic aspects of her culture, such as in Umunne (Siblings). Featuring her own brother and sister as models, she contrasts their brightly colorful Ankara wrappers and adornments with the serene composure of her siblings. Most striking is the sense of their ease, contentment, and security with each other, in a way that often only comes from a life-long, nurtured bond.
Chiamonwu’s remarkable skill is entirely self-taught. Though she studied Education in college, a longstanding fascination with art since her youth led her to devote innumerable hours to developing the meticulous technique she uses today. The subjects seem to exit the picture plane and enter our world as near-tangible figures imbued with warmth and life. The discipline and effort evident in each drawing and painting ultimately echoes the love and respect she has for each figure in her own life.
In this way, “Genesis” is not only a preservation of Chiamonwu’s Igbo culture, but also a tribute to personal relationships and the unique history one has with those around them.
Concurrently on view at Jack Shainman Gallery’s 513 West 20th Street space is an exhibition of work by Carrie Mae Weems.