Art and Cultural Identity
One of the biggest issues people have culturally faced all throughout time is a lack of or an inability to identify with their cultural identity. With countless families moving halfway across the world to pursue a better life, it’s no surprise that their cultural identity would get lost along the way, whether because of their young age or need to fit in to their new home. Seeing as art is thought to be the innermost thoughts, feelings, and ideas of the artists, you can imagine the creativity that comes out when the artist is able to connect with their cultural identity and incorporate it into their work.
The impact of culture on art is evident in the fact that there are several cultures that have shaped the industry altogether over the centuries. The biggest example would the Greek culture. In an attempt to explore themselves and their identity, artists end up expressing themselves through self-portraits or symbolism in work that relates to their cultural heritage. This is the case for Uzo Njoku, Nigeria-born American painter. As part of Four You Gallery’s latest addition to their roster of female artists, Uzo Njoku’s exhibition titled Alone, Together and Beyond includes an array of bold and colorful pieces inspired by her Nigerian heritage. It is these same bold and colorful pieces that make her work unique and recognizable, something she aimed towards when creating them. “I think my work aims to say, ‘I’m proud, I’m strong’. It’s a very compelling piece. I like that when people see my work in person they just stop, and they look. I want it to capture you, I want it to hold you – that is what I aim for my work to do.”
What’s even more interesting than her color choices are the origins of her pieces; these works began as clean digital drawings. Using the digital drawings as soft guidelines, the final artwork becomes something completely different and independent of the original when created on the canvas. “The glossy oil and acrylic colors come to evoke feelings of pleasure, vulnerability, and nostalgia.” Njoku’s pieces represent a beautiful blend of fine art and design, bringing together her mixed cultural upbringing. One of the key concepts she wanted to explore when starting out was the contrast of darker flesh against dark background, something that she didn’t see very much of when studying pieces from the Renaissance.
While her work was initially inspired by West-African Ankara patterns, Njoku is carving her own path and creating her own patterns to swerve away from already existing ones. Her inspiration has now shifted to her subjects and the way they simply exist on the canvas. As someone with a diverse background, she is a proponent for the development and change of one’s artistic style; “I really did like how over the years he [David Hockney, one of her influences of artistic style] did develop more as an artist and his style has changed which proves that it’s ok for your style to change, it’s ok to explore different things throughout your life” says Njoku.