Kosisochukwu Nnebe: The Seeds We Carry

Image courtesy of the artist.

Kosisochukwu Nnebe: The Seeds We Carry

June 8 – August 10, 2024
SAW, Ottawa

Curator: Joséphine Denis

Opening Reception and Party
Saturday, June 8, 2024, 7pm – midnight
Free admission

This invitation is for two. Please register here to receive complimentary drink tickets at the door.

The opening reception will be followed by a special presentation as part of the summer edition of Pique, organized by Debaser, featuring musical acts from Jamaican sound systems and voguing and stepping performances in the SAW outdoor courtyard, all reflecting forms of Black resistance. This event, orchestrated by Chukwubuikem Nnebe and Kosisochukwu Nnebe, highlights cultural preservation through sustainable musical traditions, echoing the themes of Black survival and vitality in the exhibition.

SAW presents Kosisochukwu Nnebe in a solo exhibition titled The Seeds We Carry, which honours the somatic rites where oppressive soil transforms into liberating earth.

The exhibition begins by orienting bodily and earthly functions toward the materialization of spiritual forces, producing an archive of the specific methodologies of enslaved Black women, true alchemists of emancipation. Nnebe’s installations embody the transgressive forms our presence takes within oppressive structures. In these works, women subvert the arduous manual labour of colonial plantations into liberating work. They imbue the land with their rituals, reestablishing a spiritual connection with ancestors and evoking the abolitionist insurrections of the Taíno, fueled by ancestral practices of healing and protection. Indigenous medicinal practices, which fuse faith and plant life, restore fertility to landscapes apostatized by colonial plantations, sustaining a dignified and enduring existence.

With and through their nails, these women transformed their bodies into vessels that exacted their rage and hope. Using the cyanide nestled within cassava—a crop the Taíno attributed to the divine—they pursued justice through natural and spiritual channels, courting death with each act. In these works, women displace the site of stolen pleasure from their bodies, diverting the forced toil of colonial plantations into acts of emancipatory sowing.

an inheritance/a threat/a haunting presents a fabled method through a multi-screen video, where Nnebe activates the toxic properties of cassava, turning it into a poisoned powder embedded under the thumbnail of Black women. In the imperial geographies, enslaved women reconfigured the house of their captors into a site of ambush. Preparing a meal became an act of lying in wait, an entrapping lure set for the pillagers’ violence on their bodies. Exploiting their central yet disparaged roles within plantations, the revolted women concealed their appetites and opportunities to kill their captors in the irrepressible corners of their domesticated bodies. As Nnebe shares this method from her kitchen, she offers this practice as a recipe for daily resistance, where the roots of poison connect a dispersed community.

The installation We Have a Cure attracts with shimmering neon signs, camouflaging the plot in embellishment. Through manicure rites, Nnebe shapes cosmetic care into spiritual armour, marking an allegiance inscribed in the ideogram motifs of Igbo, Asante, Yoruba and other West and Central African peoples. Ome na ala (the land remained the Earth—and the Earth was a goddess) serves as a place of burial and transition, where funeral rites allow the dead to assume various forms of existence. The seeds of cassava, hibiscus and okra, sown and nourished with sacred libations, are the genesis of transatlantic cultural rhizomes. Nnebe, Indigenous to Igbo land, found subterranean paths leading her land to Jamaica. There, sacred rites trace the common histories between the Igbo and the displaced peoples to the island. The rupture of this sacred connection, through forced removal, marked a violent transplantation for the dislocated, whose implantation, however, became an omen of doom for the usurpers.

In The Seeds We Carry, the eponymous piece of the exhibition, translucent arms emerge from the walls, cradling beaded bottles. Each bottle bears the name of a doktè-fey, leaf-doctors from the southern United States, Jamaica and Haiti, steeped in their healing traditions and cursing prowess, invoking spirits and channelling mystical forces. Inside are hidden potions of cassava juice, wielded as weapons, and mixtures of roots, seeds and stones for protection. An homage to Haitian Vodou altars, these containers transform into conjuring decorations, beckoning the spirits, lwas, to infuse the potions with their strength and blessings.

through us (a dedication from my family to yours) honours the family and ancestral bonds unleashing spiritual energies. The busts of the zemi Yocahu and Nnedimma Nnebe, poised between emergence and submersion, embody this dual spiritual journey. As Nnedimma’s mould, crafted from grated cassava, rises from the black matter, Yucahu remains buried, intertwining the present with the absent. Atabey, mother of all beings, breathes life into Nnebe’s form, infused with the essence of Yaya, the supreme zemi god.

This dedication pays tribute to the artist’s parents and siblings, whose involvement is intimately associated with the creative process. The entire Nnebe family contributed to The Seeds We Carry: Nnedimma, the eldest sister, whose thesis on the incidence of cyanide in cassava inspired this exhibition; Ogochukwu, the mother, who nurtured the planted plots; Ikechukwu, the father, who is preparing the funeral rites; and Chukwubuikem, the younger brother, who is curating a musical tribute for the opening. Nnedimma means “good mother” in Igbo, while Chukwu, signifying “God,” dwells within the names of the other family members. To speak their names is to praise the divine source that animates their inspirations. This cup overflowing with familial tenderness pours into the artist’s practice, ceremonially retracing the indissoluble spirit that crossed the waters to resurface in the rebellions of displaced peoples.

The Seeds We Carry becomes a living tribute to past struggles and an invocation of spiritual forces for future ancestors. The land offers threads to Kosisochukwu Nnebe. She interweaves the ancestral, contemporary, spirituality and rituals, grounding hopes and resistances in the fertile soil of memory, revolts and triumphs.

– Joséphine Denis, Curator

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