Nengi Omuku (b. 1987, Nigeria) studies nature, heritage and the interior psychological experience. Painting on sanyan, a tightly woven Aso-oke fabric crafted by the Yoruba people, she presents scenes of figures in flux, interacting with one another and the landscape around them in an atmosphere of meditative collectivity. Omuku’s figures are otherworldly in their ambiguity, their faces hazy and undefined with mottled layers of oil paint. In states of rest or quiet collective movement, the artist’s figures appear to float and waver, inviting considerations of interiority, spirituality, subjecthood and group identity.
Having trained as a horticulturist and florist, the natural world is a key source of inspiration for Omuku. Inspired by both European impressionist painting, her mother’s drawings of plants, and her own background in gardening and floristry, the artist depictions of nature are lush and sensual in deep, abstracted colour. Omuku’s paintings represent an ethereal place of natural co-existence where ecological beings are removed from their old hierarchies of subject and habitat. Omuku’s paintings are neither portraits nor landscapes, and often the distinction between the figures and their natural settings is blurred.
“How do you paint the mind? How does one translate a person’s emotions on a surface, and how can the depiction of the body move beyond representation and focus instead on the state of mind of the sitter or the collective?”Nengi Omuku