Ndidi Dike

? | London, United Kingdom

Nigerian visual artist.

After spending her early years in London, Ndidi Dike relocated to Nigeria. There she completed her degree in Fine Arts at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka in 1984, studying under some of the country’s leading modern artists including Uche Okeke (1933-2016) and Obiora Udechukwu (born in 1946). Although she studied painting, it was her transgressive work as a self-taught sculptor – a domain then conventionally reserved for male artists – that won her early acclaim. Much of N. Dike’s early work took the form of intricate wood relief assemblages characterised by curvilinear lines and symbols carved with industrial power tools and embellished with burning techniques. Works like Ikenga (1993), included in the seminal 1995 exhibition Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, drew on influences including Igbo spiritual practices and design traditions such as uli. Through her imaginative embrace of quotidian though historically laden materials such as banana fibres, branding irons, brass figurines, coins and cowrie shells, N. Dike’s formative work modelled an interest in mixed-media aesthetics and histories of cultural exchange, two themes that would animate her dynamic practice for more than three decades.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, N. Dike exhibited consistently throughout Nigeria and internationally, developing an enviable following among art historians, curators and collectors. A breakthrough in her career came with Waka-into-Bondage: The Last ¾ Mile, a 2008 solo exhibition at the then newly established Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos. Curated by the centre’s pioneering director Bisi Silva, for the exhibition N. Dike employed a range of representational strategies to address the complex histories and enduring effects of transatlantic slavery. The show included a suite of wall-mounted sculptures fashioned out of appropriated harbour wood and affixed with slave shackles and other artefacts that evoke the materiality of capture and trade. While this body of work retained traces of the artist’s past relief sculpture, the exhibition’s installation of two large boats suspended from the gallery’s ceiling – one filled with granulated sugar and the other with blood-red liquid – announced a new trajectory in N. Dike’s practice defined, in part, by the dispersal and agglomeration of objects, large-scale installation, and heady conceptualism.

During the 2010s N. Dike revisited the ills of globalisation by breaching the boundaries of media and embracing an unfettered sense of space across her work. The artist’s 2015 installation Trace – Transactional Aesthetics, placed a glut of consumer products before a large composite panorama photograph of a Lagosian marketplace in order to question the pictorial and haptic dimensions of consumption patterns across the developing world. N. Dike’s concern with surplus production and consumption informed Constellations – Floating Space, Motion and Remembrance (2017), the artist’s first European solo exhibition at the Iwalewahaus in Bayreuth in Germany. Curated by Lena Naumann, this show orbited around Michel Foucault’s notion of the heterotopia, and consisted of numerous immersive installations and a video work that collectively addressed realities of forced migration, and economic disparities between the global north and global south. Following her participation in the 2018 Dakar Biennale, N. Dike presented a magisterial work at the 2019 Lagos Biennial of Contemporary Art. Amongst her largest installations to date, A History of a City in a Box constructs a cityscape built out of colonial-era file boxes, various types of earth, and archival documents that variously engage the history of Independence House, an abandoned though historic architectural landmark in Lagos that served as the biennial’s main venue. Reflecting on the work, N. Dike has observed that “this installation, with all its reflexive allusions to site and meditations on the currency of information, points up new terms in the ever-evolving vocabulary of my practice as an artist”.

Antawan I. Byrd

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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