Nigerian-raised Fulbright Fellow, Nnenna Okore (b. 1975, Australia), creates abstract, richly textured wall sculptures from recycled materials. Okore’s large scale sculptures stem from her early-life experiences, addressing concepts of recycling, transformation, and regeneration of forms constructed by natural materials: found paper, fibers, coffee, and clay, often sourced from West Africa. Okore’s structures mimic the intricacies of the fabric, trees, bark, and topography familiar from her childhood in Nigeria. Her manually repetitive techniques of fraying, weaving, dyeing, and sewing recall her childhood experiences, where she watched and participated in daily manual activities like cooking, washing, harvesting, and fabricating brooms. Okore’s elaborate sculptures interact with their environments; she often strategically lights the work to cast shadows and highlight particular aspects. She sometimes pairs her sculptures with ambient sounds recalling her childhood in Nigeria or video projections. Okore’s work often surrounds the viewer, with installations extending up the walls and onto the ceiling or into the center of the room.
Okore’s work has been exhibited widely internationally, including shows at the Blachere Fondation Art Center in France, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Art in New York, and at Princeton University, among many others. She was recently featured in Materiality at the Prairie State College in Chicago, IL. Okore, who studied under El Anatsui, was the recipient of the 56th Venice Biennale Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and is a Professor of Art at Chicago's North Park University, where she chairs the Art department and teaches courses in Art Theory and Sculptural Practices. Okore is a 2012 Fulbright Award recipient, along with numerous national and international awards. She has participated in over a hundred solo and group exhibitions over the last decade. Recent exhibitions include the Memphis Brook Museum of Art, Memphis, and Children’s Museum of the Arts, New York. She has recently exhibited at Mattatuck Art Museum, Connecticut and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Detroit. Okore has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the Guardian. Her 2018 exhibition at Jenkins Johnson Gallery was highlighted in Sculpture Magazine. Okore lives and works in both Nigeria and Illinois.