From Clay, Ozioma Inspires Seed Yams …


One of Nigeria’s contemporary artists and Professor of Ceramic Art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ozioma Onuzulike, has made a statement, and he made it in a language that is local, yet universal.

His declarations take strategic positions at the exhibition space of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, in an exhibition curated and organised by CCA’s curator, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha entitled Seed Yams of our Land’

For someone from the eastern part of Nigeria, the installations will look familiar because yam barns are a common sight in many rural areas. While to a visitor the patterns created by the yams and the way they are displayed is both intimidated and engaging.

Onuzulike must have paid close attention to the techniques and patterns in which the real yams are tied in the barn as he repeats this in creating lines of ceramic yams and yam seedlings forged from the clay dug up in Nsukka-a popular university town in Eastern Nigeria.

Anyone looking at the long rows of yams hanging on the wall, or suspended on metal frames to create barns might think that they are real yams from a distance, but, on closer examination the glassy and hollow surface reveals the truth.

Yam plays a central role in the Igbo tradition, and it even has its own festival that is celebrated by descents of the Igbo society in Nigeria and in the diaspora.

Onuzulike takes the powerful crop and uses it to make statements that are social, political, economic and to an extent spiritual.

This two-year project takes its roots from the one question, what does the future hold for the seed yams (Youth) of our land?

With this timely showing he metaphorically explores yam and the yam barn in dimensions that have never been imagined.

In the Bible man was molded by God from clay, he takes this symbol literally as his basic material and explores the violent studio processes of pounding, cutting, crushing, firing as fitting metaphors for the human conditions in Africa today.

He draws the attention of the audience to the consequences on the ‘seed yams’ (the youth) of things like unwholesome politics, hunger, unemployment, banditry and armed conflicts in Africa.

Yams are everywhere, in heaps that are familiar with the way they are sold in the marketplace, arranged in rows on the walls and on beams.

Some of the yams look like they have been attacked by insects, while another set take the shape of bowls, each ‘gathering’ telling its own story.

For example, in the installation ‘Yam Fields’ made up of ceramic yams in wooden enclosures and x-rays installations that are placed under light.

Like all the yams displayed at the exhibition there are cuts on the body of each one symbolic of the scars of war, deprivation, destruction and the challenges faced by the African every day. The x-ray part of the installation tells something jarring yet hopeful- A broken bone joined together by metal to assist with the healing process.

This could indicate artist’s optimism that in the middle of all the fracture caused by conflicts, politics, unemployment and banditry, there is still hope that peace will come to heal all the broken parts.

Onuzulike who is also a poet used the exhibition to launch his latest collections of poems which address the same themes as the exhibition. He teaches both the artist and viewer one powerful lesson amidst the many things he talks about in his new body of work. Anything consumed by the mouth can inspire the brain.