Ngozi Schommers is a Nigerian/German multidisciplinary artist based in Bremen, Germany and Takoradi, Ghana. Her work focuses on subjects of identity, equality, memory, culture, migration and colonialism. Schommers uses the body and experiences of the female gender, archival materials and memories of her childhood in tackling these subjects. The artistic outcome is a combination of installation with mediums such as paper, paint, charcoal, fibre, photography and performance. As an artist living between West African and Europe, she incorporates experiences of both locations in her work and further expands the discourse using plants, floral patterns and butterflies. These, she manipulates to draw up new forms and parallel meanings
The way we mask
Looking at family photographs of my childhood in Enugu – South-East, Nigeria – I always had this afro-textured hair. I remember the many times that I had come back from school to see that my mother has converted our living room to a hair salon to help her friend out with her hair. I didn’t always pay attention to my hair until I was a senior in high school – when we were allowed to plait or weave our hair.
The discussion on hairstyles of Africans is often overshadowed by colonial history, western representation and perception of our culture with no regards to pre-colonial history. For my research, I engaged with pre-colonial Igbo hairstyles through the archival images of Agbogho Mmuo (maiden spirit mask); internet sources; the book “Among the Ibos of Nigeria” by George Thomas Basden; amongst other references. I also delved into archival images of my mother and childhood memories. I wondered what it means to be part of this hair culture that I know little about? What do the symbols mean? What are the connections between humans and spirits? I was intrigued by the hands that created these hairstyles.
Agbogho Mmuo is one of the masquerades in Igbo culture that depicts the beauty and elegance of women. These hairstyles were done especially for marriage ceremonies, worn mostly by brides and maids of honor.
I started out making fragmented mixed-media paintings, drawings and installation, making use of different materials such as charcoal, acrylic, paper, wool, thread, beads, fiber, wigs, perforated paper, confetti, cut-outs and sequin. I drew on multiple papers using mostly charcoal and blending in watercolor and ink. These drawings, I then cut out and superimposed, thereby bringing different hairstyles or elements from different times together to create new forms.
I observe how these works constantly shift from past to present. Agbogho Mmuo makes use of patterns, embellishments and layering which is something that I emphasize throughout the drawings. As an artist who grew up in Enugu, then Lagos and now living between Germany and Ghana, I draw from a cross-cultural experience in the way I synthesize the materials to create the works. I’m very interested in the parallel and multiple narratives transcending through the works. They are all self-portraits: the many ways of seeing what I am made of, many ways of seeing myself.
If not for a child
If Not For A Child is a performance and installation which questions the expectation of motherhood as a primary source of value for women in Nigeria using the Igbo tradition of Ọmụgwọ as a point of departure. Ọmụgwọ centers around the care of a woman who has recently given birth; typically the woman’s mother will stay with her for three months or more to offer support and care for the baby. Upon return to her own village, the new grandmother sings as she is welcomed home by the women of her town. She offers gifts of salt, soap, fabric and other items to thank them and showcase her wealth, privilege and accomplishments. Schommers performs this tradition in the form of a dance and song with a group of artists, but in this case the song Ma obuhu ma Nwa, onye ga enye m? (translated as If not for a child, who will give me?) becomes a question to society: If not for a child, am I of any value here?
Performers – Taiwo Aiyedogbon, Funke Aiyedogbon, Selom Akubia, Valerie Fab-Uche, Ify Orji, Mary Oruoghor, Ngozi Schommers
We are not welcome here
My works are made with fragment of objects, figures, paintings, drawings and photographs and I tend towards experimentation with these materials. The fragmented objects, pictures, figures etc. are all used in questioning the consequences or after-effect of some of our socio-political, religious, cultural and other human enacted actions and influences. My art further explores the varying differences between the haves and the have-nots, what you could call the poor and the rich. In dealing with this societal construct, I am often times compelled to engage subjects as diverse as migration, displacement, integration, rehabilitation, space and acceptance.
I think of how my subjects construct their lives. I see and understand their innocence or lack of it, manipulation, struggle, neglect and curiosity. Just like the way I connect my dots as in the confetti I string together to make my art, I also tend to fuse these varying human lives together, because at the end of the day no matter how individualistic we may be, we still all live together in the same universe as humans.
My inspiration constantly evolves; I detest stagnancy of ideas or form. However, I am mostly inspired by what I see around me, observations and desire for a better world, as ambitious as that may sound.
Most people associate Africa with abundance of natural resource as well as the notion of supposed starvation. The starting pointing for creating my installation that will lure viewers to the culture of food is also to remind them of the constant need to replenish and the processes involved in that replenishment.
Traditionally for me, preparation of food and recipe have always been passed down from generation to generation through written recipe or the good old way “watch, assist and learn”.
I reference this tradition by gathering my late mother-in-law’s recipes which were written in the old historical form of German handwriting (Suetterlin Schrift), magazine clips of recipes, old flowery serviette and old cook books. I could remember not being able to speak and understand German when we first met but yet we cooked together and bonded. I learnt a whole lot just by watching and assisting her doing the cooking.
On the other hand, I recount my late grandma visits to our house as a child. She would arrive from the village to the city where we lived, beautifully dressed up in red patterned wrapper(George) and lace with boxes of food, ingredients, live chicken, yam and many other local foodstuffs. We would prepare different dishes together as a way of teaching me how to cook new food. Indeed as Linda Henley said, “If God had intended us to follow recipes, He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.”
With the fragments of these memories of my grandmother and mother in law, I have made drawings, create photographs, hand painted George fabric, collaged old recipes to create the installation which pieces together this diminishing culture of cocreation.
B. 1974, Enugu, Nigeria
2011, Painting, Higher Diploma, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos
2008, Fine Art, Diploma, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos
2019, Ngozi Schommers, the way we mask, National Museum, Onikan Lagos, Nigeria
2016, Ngozi Schommers, We Are Not Welcome Here, Rele Gallery Lagos, Nigeria
2019, Deep Sea, Ystads Konstmuseum Ystad, Sweden
2018, Deep Sea, Staedtische Galarie, Bremen, Germany
2017, In the exhibition “The Blind Spot” Bremen, Colonialism and Art, Kunsthalle Bremen Germany
2016, Group Exhibition: Food, Art15 Gallery, Bremen, Germany
2016, Group Exhibition: Fremde-Heimat, Rebuz West, Bremen, Germany
2016, Ngozi Schommers, We Are Not Welcome Here, Rele Gallery Lagos, Nigeria
2014, Group Exhibition: Sensing Spaces, Defactori Studio, Terra Kulture, Lagos, Nigeria
2013, Group Exhibition: Nsuko Ime Emume (Gathering To Celebrate) American International School, Lagos, Nigeria