Ken Nwadiogbu – I BELONG HERE

Who gets to call a place home? This question is at the centre of I Belong Here, a solo exhibition by Ken Nwadiogbu at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, Berlin.

In a series of vividly coloured paintings and a mixed-media installation, the Nigerian artist layers his own memories and migration experience with that of his friends and family to explore the ways in which we inhabit and claim space. 

Ken Nwadiogbu moved to London in 2022 to further pursue his artistic studies at the Royal College of Art and while it is an experience that has enriched his practice in many ways, it has also brought about a feeling of dislocation that relates not only to the struggle of adapting to a new culture but also to his position as a migrant and an African artist. 

City Sisters, 2024 | Oil and Acrylic on canvas 170 x 170 cm 66 7/8 x 66 7/8 in

After travelling back to Lagos earlier this year, he began making this latest body of work as a way of reflecting on the varied and complex processes of home-building but also as a tribute to anyone who has been made to feel unwelcome, culturally, politically or socially. 

‘but not everyone is granted that freedom’

All of the paintings take their departing point from photographs Nwadiogbu took of his family and friends in their homes in Lagos. These characters are the protagonists of both Nwadiobgu’s compositions and the spaces they inhabit – they welcome us into their homes, eye us with suspicion or, as in The Traveler, gaze past us and longingly into the distance. 

The Traveler, 2024 | Oil and Acrylic on canvas | 170 x 170 cm 66 7/8 x 66 7/8 in

The figure in The Traveler is the only person depicted who is unknown personally to Nwadiogbu although he has encountered him many times over the years, standing amid crowds of people outside the passport office to apply for a visa to Europe.

In this work, Nwadiogbu imagines the figure to have finally made his way out of the queue and about to embark on to the next stage of his journey while the wire fence, shadowy figures and building looming behind him represent the struggles that he has faced and the ways in which freedom of movement continues to be curtailed. As Nwadiogbu points out, ‘Travelling can also be an important part of discovering where you belong but not everyone is granted that freedom.’ 

‘She made it hers’

In the paintings Her Point of View and Chioma (Midnight Visit), we glimpse inside domestic spaces occupied by women. In Her Point of View, we are the voyeur, standing behind the figure’s shoulder as she does her make-up. Her gaze, staring back at us as reflection in a handheld mirror, is both confronting and searching. Chioma, on the other hand, faces us head on. She stands in the doorway of her home, guarding her space. We are the visitor who has turned up unannounced and perhaps unwanted. 

Her Point of View, 2024 | Oil and Acrylic on Akwete Handwoven fabric | 170 x 130 cm 66 7/8 x 51 1/8 in

The portrait tells the real-life story of a family friend who travelled from a rural village to live with Nwadiogbu’s mother in the city. ‘It wasn’t an environment she grew up in, but she overcame the fear of the unknown and found a sense of familiarity in that space,’ Nwadiogbu says. ‘She made it hers.’

‘our identity through time and across borders’

In Chioma, as in all of the works in the exhibition, the figure’s story merges with Nwadiogbu’s own memories to create a complex portrait of place that represents less a specific point on the map than a feeling of belonging and security. For the artist, the fervent colour palette of these latest paintings evokes the climate and culture of his home city while illuminated details against abstract backgrounds recall the ways in which memories often return to us in fragments, both vivid and inexact.

The act of claiming space is also explored in an installation piece that comprises the artist’s personal belongings spilling out of a painted suitcase. It is both a self-portrait and a symbol of the migrant’s journey, exploring the ways in which we carry our identity through time and across borders. 

Chioma (Midnight Visit), 2024 | Oil and Acrylic on Canvas | 210 x 160 cm 82 5/8 x 63 in

‘I recently lost the same suitcase in transit for a couple of weeks and was fascinated by how destabilising that was to me as an experience. It made me think about the fragility of our identity and how we can easily be distanced from who we are.’

Ken Nwadiogbu

Weaving together personal memories and emotional experiences with stories drawn from Nwadiogbu’s surrounding community, I Belong Here offers a portrait not just of contemporary migration, but of strength and togetherness. We all deserve to feel a sense of belonging, Nwadiogbu suggests, whoever and wherever we are.

I BELONG HERE – Ken Nwadiogbu  

8 June – 13 July

Friday the 7th of June, 7 – 10 pm with Cocktail Bar and DJ Set by Casper Sandra

Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery
Linienstr. 130
10115 Berlin, Germany

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