Jeremiah Onifade seeks inspiration from the emotions he experienced growing up in Nigeria. Onifade chatted with us last month, sharing insight on what keeps him connected to his creative voice and passion. View the artist's first solo show, Jeremiah Onifade: surreal figures, at SITE131 gallery from Jan. 9 through March 27.
“Emergency Services” (2020, UV paint on three PMMA panels)
Can you tell us a bit more about your work and what is most important to you?
The human emotion (mind, identity and belief) is of explorative interest for me, most especially that of people of color. A lot about who Black people are and how they think has not been shared with the world, hence why we are presented as second-class humans. There’s this show on Amazon Prime titled Carnival Row that I keep thinking about. The degree to which the emotions and minds of other races have been catalogued has helped the world accept and approve of them exceedingly. So using my personal life experiences as a Black person, as a tender to interrogate these issues by slowly keeping a historical record of our important encounters is my goal. When I look at a Poussin, Simone Leigh, Fragonard or Dürer, I can easily identify the uniqueness of their body of work. So to properly and distinctively communicate, I started drawing and painting my figures to have a simpler anatomic form and extremities; then I represented the human head with my own representation, which is the eye. This now allows me to communicate using a palette of my own vocabulary.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on right now?
Last year, I started a new series of work titled Childhood Commons, for which I have made only two so far. Childhood Commons interrogates truths and nude postcolonial themes from my childhood in Kaduna, Nigeria. So currently I am working on a couple more pieces for that series and some other works that are independently speaking on several subject matters, from community communion to other issues that have now evolved into the #EndSARS movement happening in Nigeria. Some of these works are tentatively set for a show [in January] at SITE131 gallery and another [later this year] at the Dallas Public Library.
“Folorunsho Leading the Front” (2020, acrylic and garri on canvas)
What was your inspiration behind conceptualizing this project?
Things flow in and out of me like water. Projects are always in the works due to the way I conceive them. I try to have my journal and a pencil close to me because themes, stories or subject matters of desire are constantly coming to me. So when I’m done with one project, it’s a slew through a divine chute to the next work. These works come to me starting out with a feeling of deja vu; then it progresses into me aligning it with some personal life experience and then a theme relevant to the future. When it’s time to work, I mostly don’t worry about how it gets completed because missing tangents often come to me in my dreams when I’m asleep, from specific color choices to the gait of the figures.
“Ibinabo’s Red Salmon” (2020, acrylic and garri on canvas)
How has your art evolved throughout this time?
I have always had a North Star of where I think I want my practice to head and the hard topics I want to nail as I progress. Sometimes these topics, stories and themes force me to take another approach at how I work. Looking back I think my practice has evolved into a more constructive language that can be understood when communicating to beholders. Having a cross-cultural life allows me to see the two different ‘doughs’ presented to me, then identify the similarities and dissimilarities between both societies.
Photography by: portrait courtesy of Jeremiah Onifade; all other photos by Jeff Lan