Chioma Ebinama

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I grew up in Maryland. I currently live and work in Brooklyn.
What’s your favorite part of living in Brooklyn?
I come from a small town in Maryland where everything is like a set from “Pleasantville”. What I love about Brooklyn, especially BedStuy, where I’ve lived for most of my life in NY, is the sense of warmth and community that is born out of grit. New York is also a cultural port. I love feeling that I am connected to the rest of the world.
You work with a variety of different paper and techniques in the studio. How do you decide which is right for a given series, or do you prefer to explore materials in and of themselves?
My collages began as a means of exorcising my feelings, and a general sense of “clutter” in my life. It made sense that I would use the paper scraps that were piling up in my studio. I take a scrap and look for interesting shapes, stains, or marks, then cut it out, slowly building upon each “discovery.” In a way, it’s kind of like walking along a beach looking for an interesting shell or piece of sea glass. I’m discerning, but there’s still an element of surprise. There is that special feeling of joy when you, and you alone, find something really beautiful.
What necessities do you require in the studio?
I’m upset whenever I leave home and realize I forgot my headphones. Although I may start a project with a set of ideas or objectives everything is made very intuitively. Sometimes this requires that I step out of whatever headspace I might be in when I enter the studio. Music is the perfect vehicle for this sort of travel.
How do you choose your materials?
I choose my materials largely based on how it feels to use them. I love watermedia, like ink and watercolors, precisely because they are water. I like the way that water behaves on paper–bleeding, pooling, buckling, dripping–it’s all very satisfying. Collage, cutting, ripping, and gluing paper adds another pleasurable, visceral element. Drawing and painting can sometimes feel like tapping into a primal part of the self, like I’m reaching back and invoking the hands of my ancestors. So the tactile elements of media are really important to me. That’s why I prefer to stand while I work. Ultimately, I would be satisfied with doing larger work, perhaps sculptural work, where I can get my whole body into the process–that’s soon to come.
In a way, it’s kind of like walking along a beach looking for an interesting shell or piece of sea glass. — Chioma Ebinama
Is there any artwork on display in your studio?
I have a painted rock on my desk by Misaki Kawai. It has a frowny face that makes me smile.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I have always been interested in how images are used in narrative or to express ideas. In the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly concerned about how to create visual narratives that operate on an intrinsic level the way that music can tell a whole story with only a few lyrics and a simple chords, or how a space can make you feel a certain way just by how the light enters it. These are all ideas that float around my head, but in my studio I’ve been experimenting more with materials and thinking less about figuration and more about the process, the feeling. Although I’m happy with paper right now, I hope to branch into the sculpture and more interactive work.
How do you see your newest work relating to narrative?
This work is my furthest departure from narrative. Although the shapes and colors interact with each other almost like they are playing, it is more like how we understand narrative in music. Some of the collages are “quieter” than others and some are “louder”. Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” comes to mind. It’s a symphony that is so well done that even a child can “see” of the story just by recognizing the sound of each instrument.
Although the shapes and colors interact with each other almost like they are playing, it is more like how we understand narrative in music. — Chioma Ebinama
What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?
I have very crudely carved wooden afro pick with a hand drawn Nike logo. The swoosh is backwards and chubby. My grandmother gave it to me to use to unbraid my hair on my first trip to see my father’s village in Nigeria. This was when I was about 11 years old. It wasn’t very good for picking my hair. I like it because it’s ugly, but in its imperfection you can tell whoever made it really wanted something and was insistent on having it by any means necessary. I’m drawn to scrappy things like that.
Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
I don’t really keep much of sketchbook, instead I have a journal where I write everything–my diary, to do lists, project notes, and analysis of whatever I’ve been reading. Most recently, I re-read Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. It’s a Nietzschean novel of intertwining romantic relationships. On the surface, it’s a nihilist romance, but with deeper consideration it’s also a brilliant dialogue on how we grapple to give our lives gravity when a human life is so fleeting that it is ultimately meaningless or “unbearably light”.

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