Viewpoint

July 23, 2023

Playing with Ankara Fabric: Samuel Nnorom’s textile incantations of truth, conspiracy and identity

Playing with Ankara Fabric: Samuel Nnorom’s textile incantations of truth, conspiracy and identity

By George C. Odoh

Nnorom’s fast-rising profile and legitimate posturing as one of the most exciting contemporary Nigerian artists derive from the dynamic and fascinating landscape of his textile-based sculpture installations. The stylistic architecture of his art is firmly rooted in the culture of radical practice that foregrounds the art tradition of the Fine and Applied Arts Department of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he is presently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) in sculpture.

Although the idea of using textiles as a medium for artistic expression started before his postgraduate studies at the Nsukka art department, it was his exposure to the intellectual and experimental disposition of the Nsukka art department that set the current trajectory of his art which is driven by the use of African wax prints (Ankara fabric) to explore the multifarious landscape of human experiences.

The artist’s full realisation of the conceptual depth and artistic potentials of the textile-driven bubble concept occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the bid to relate his art to the emergent realities engendered by the coronavirus outbreak, he began to connect the material properties of the Ankara fabric and the narratives surrounding its provenance to the rhetoric that framed conversations on the COVID-19 outbreak. He drew comparisons between the not-so-clear history about the origin of the Ankara fabric and the accusations and counter-accusations between Western countries and China regarding the origin of the coronavirus. Again, he saw in the visible and hidden structures of the textile bubble, a metaphorical codification of the litany of truths, half-truths, lies, denials, and concealments that characterised governments’ and the public’s responses to the pandemic.

Furthermore, with the emerging practice of the COVID-19 social bubble, which allowed for more in-person social interactions beyond one’s household while still potentially limiting the risk of COVID-19 transmission, his understanding of the bubble through the interpretive lenses of biology, chemistry, and physics assumed a much more structural and thematic significance in his work. Thus, the clustering of bubble-like structures in his works became an expressive tool for interrogating the dynamics of contemporary life during and After the Pandemic the COVID-19 pandemic. Nnorom’s use of the Ankara fabric in ‘clothing’ his artistic and social vision also found both literal and metaphorical validation in its visual enunciation of the collocation ‘the fabric of society,’ often used to reference the social order and its many threads.

The spellbinding encounter with the works of Samuel Nnorom is an invitation into a mesmerising world where beautifully orchestrated colours and the iterative use of globular forms animate the visual energy of its textile landscape. It is also a world ruled by uncertainties, a place where truth, conspiracy, and identity are not only vigorously contested, negotiated, deconstructed, and reconstructed, but also function as the artist’s primary inquisitorial tools for interrogating the varying subjectivities that shape the social, political, and cultural spheres of society.

Samuel Nnorom is an artist of the now and the future. The visual incantations engendered by his experimental and evolving studio practice will continue to calcify his bold artistic footprints in the global art scene.

Odoh is a Senior Lecturer, Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka