Born in 1975, Jebila Okongwu is a London-based artist. Raised between Nigeria and Australia, he is known for his artistic prowess, which captures the imagination with its beauty, complexity and depth. His art is a critique of African stereotypes and identity, which he transforms into a counter-strategy through his expressive artistic method, using the continent’s symbolism, spirituality and history as inspiration.
Jebila Okongwu holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts degree from Monash University and a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art from the University of Melbourne, and uses a variety of natural materials to create these works. The artist’s most common materials are banana boxes. They are highly prized by Jebila Okongwu for their tropical note, which lends an appealing exotic aspect to her creations. By following the routes formerly used to transport African slaves (Africa, the Caribbean and South America for the West), these crates retrace a piece of African history. This evocative journey of the crates used by Jebila Okongwu accentuates the existing patterns of migration, trade and exploitation in these works.
The artist’s sculptures seek to represent this vision of negritude and to express the emotions felt when immersed in authoritarian systems such as colonialism, racism and exploitation. Rather than referencing histories of domination and oppression, where practices in this context are characterized as voluntary, Jebila Okongwu’s frequently-used BDSM imagery is seen as an instrument for analyzing the functions of difference and the embodiment of certain types of sensation. He questions the blatant visibility of the notion of difference in terms of race and power. By associating the exotic and stereotypical logos of multinational banana importers with BDSM imagery, Jebila Okongwu strives to construct complex histories of physical experience on a foreign body, where domination and brutality substitute not only for profitability but also for eroticization.
Jebila Okongwu’s work has been exhibited in numerous international institutions, including the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples (2014), the MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome (2013), the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples (2014), the American Academy, Rome (2015) and the Schlossmuseum, Linz, Austria (2020). Her work is also featured in the latest publication “100 Sculptors of Tomorrow“, published by Thames and Hudson, and in “Graphite Interdisciplinary Arts Journal“, published by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
Artist Jebila Okongwu is widely recognized for his contribution to contemporary African art and his innovative exploration of visual art. His works are a fascinating testimony to the richness and depth of African spirituality. His use of natural materials and symbolic motifs creates works of art that are both aesthetically captivating and culturally significant. It is clear that Jebila Okongwu‘s art continues to influence and inspire artists around the world, and that he has succeeded in transforming the tradition of wood sculpture into an exciting form of contemporary expression.