Get To Know Lucy Azubuike, On A Mission To Photograph The Identity Of One Million Trees

Lucy Azubuike image courtesy of the State Journal


Lucy Azubuike is on a mission to photograph a million trees — a million is called “agûkata agba awahûü,” in the Igbo language. It loosely translates to “too many to count.”

Azubuike, a native of Nigeria, has been serving as resident artist at Josephine Sculpture Park this summer. She started July 7 and will wrap up at the end of this month.

Her photographs aren’t just pictures of trees. She finds the trees’ true identities.

“I am a visual artist, but I let the tree be the ultimate artist,” Azubuike said.

She takes notice of details within the bark, knots, lichens and shapes of the limbs. She may see a human face, figure or animal.

She seeks to find a common ground between humans and the trees.

“Nature is you,” Azubuike said. “I hope to go to as many parks in America, and beyond, and give the trees an identity.”

Azubuike obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nigeria. In 2012, she came to the U.S. to attend Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. She graduated in 2015 with a master’s degree in sculpture and moved to Indianapolis.

Azubuike hopes to make Kentucky her full-time home.

State Journal: Why did you decide to do the residency at Josephine Sculpture Park?

Azubuike: Josephine Sculpture Park’s mission is exactly what I’m looking for — connecting people with the land and nature.

I get to explore and create something to allow people to connect with nature and themselves. The images in the trees reveal themselves to you. Every time I come out, I see something. There are surprises everywhere in the trees.

My time here at the park is meditative. I will install a sanctuary, an initiation ground for the sculptures made by trees in the park. It will house few pictures of some images I found in the park. Then there will be a map that visitors can use to go and try to find the images on the trees.

SJ: Describe your project “One Million Trees.”

Azubuike: Most people, when I say I’m going to identify images in one million, they say “how can you do that?”

I’m talking about one million trees around the world. It’s possible. I will have to be consistent. It’s a symbol of “agûkata agba awahûü” in my language of Igbo, which means you are counting too much. There are too many to count. It means it’s almost uncountable.

I have photographed so many trees, I already can’t count them all.

SJ: Have you held any classes at JSP?

Azubuike: I had one nature photography workshop. I taught participants how to frame pictures, take them and find them. Just pretty much what I do for myself. It was awesome.

SJ: How does it make you feel to be able to share your passion for photographing trees with others?

Azubuike: It’s an amazing feeling. The joy does everything for me. To see people feel the same as me, that’s something I want to continue to do. You see the light in their eyes and how they smile and live. These trees are promoting conversation and making people curious.

SJ: How do you like Kentucky?

Azubuike: It feels like home. I hope someone will give me a piece of land to live on — someone will say, “Take this 10 acres,” so I can keep doing my project. I know we have farms and horse ranches, and I hope to have Lucy’s tree ranch. The world is my ranch. I would like to live here full time. I like it here.

People have a misconception of Africa. They think Africa is a jungle. I’ve never seen anywhere like Kentucky. Kentucky is the jungle. I grew up in a metropolitan area in Nigeria. I saw trees only when we visited family in the village. Unfortunately, we visited only once each year. I love the village.

Before I came here, they said this is an industrial nation and the trees were dead, but no.

All these preconceived notions. Just like with trees. You see the tree, you might just think it’s just a tree, but look at the images I found.

Until you see it with your pure eyes and clean mind, that’s when you see something else and something valuable. It will add something to your life.

SJ: What do you hope people walk away with after seeing your photographs?

Azubuike: Open-mindedness. People should appreciate beyond what you expect. I hate preconceived notions. Yes, it could be what it is, but it could be more.

What I want most is that connection — for people to see themselves in the trees. When you see yourself in something, then you respect and appreciate it. It’s the same. The sky above us is the same. The unity and the nature.

Wherever you see a tree, that is what you are and who you are. Everywhere is your home. Nature is you. Nigeria has dramatic trees, so do other countries. Some of my tree images were from countries like Istanbul, France, South Africa and others. One cannot tell which is from a particular country until I point it out. This is to show people that it’s not about a particular location, it’s around the world. The sky above us is the same.

I share my culture through the trees and I hope to get the same wherever I go. I want people to reflect what evokes them.