The first major UK solo Museum exhibition of new and recent works by Lagos-based artist Nengi Omuku at Hastings Contemporary, exploring her profound relationship with the natural world.
Nengi Omuku, The Lighthouse, 2021. Oil on Sanyan, 216 x 225cm. Courtesy of the artist and Hastings Contemporary.
‘The Dance of People and the Natural World’ will not only introduce Omuku’s work to a wider UK audience, but also seeks to broaden the exposure and awareness of the vibrant contemporary Nigerian art scene.
Displaying more than ten pieces, the show spans five of Hastings Contemporary’s eight galleries, and includes works made between 2021 and 2023 that explore Omuku’s love of nature and the ways in which it provides her with a sense of safety and serenity. From 2021’s Lighthouse through to her latest, as yet to be titled work made this year (2023), the series focuses on a sense of re-immersion in nature. As Omuku explains: “This comes from both a personal place, telling my story as a gardener and florist, as well as what I feel is a collective leaning, and re-communion with nature today.”
Born in Warri, Nigeria, Omuku spent several years in London, studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. She has subsequently developed a distinctive style, which involves applying oil paint to gesso-prepared composite strips of the Nigerian fabric sanyan; a tightly-woven, hand-spun material that is an important aspect of Nigeria’s cultural history.
A further highlight of the exhibition at Hastings Contemporary will be the chance to see two new works (made this year), along with her largest piece to date, Eden (2022). The display of this monumental painting (measuring 224 x 520cm) includes stools, scatter cushions and pot plants, echoing Nengi’s own studio set-up in Lagos. The ensemble invites visitors to pause and relax, enjoying a moment of quiet reflection and respite. In Eden, Omuku invokes a sense of the biblical paradise and a longing for a pre-fall state of tranquillity, alongside a sense of the solace to be found in nature. Eden also acts as conduit between the other works on display by further expressing the artist’s theme of the rest and sanctuary afforded by the natural world. Eden represents an allegorical journey from darkness into light, as the eye moves from left to right across the canvas, following the passage of figures as they traverse a utopian landscape composed in a vivid, Fauvist palette of complimentary colours.
Welcome Home (2022) and Lighthouse (2021), both feature her signature spectral figures set in a dreamlike landscape. Still Life (2021) alludes to the time Omuku spent working as a florist and horticulturalist under her mother, while the foregrounds of Repose (2022) and Swing (2022) suggest the influence of Monet’s garden at Giverny on her work and the artist’s own research into Impressionism.
Looking ahead to the exhibition, her first major solo show in a UK public gallery, Nengi says: “It is a great privilege to have my first solo institutional exhibition at Hastings Contemporary, whose programme I have long admired for its far-reaching approach to painting. As a student at the Slade I dreamed of having a museum show in the UK, my home from home, and nowhere feels more fitting than Hastings Contemporary whose coastal location, for me, finds kinship with Lagos. The group of works presented focus on bringing love and light into the world, on concern for the environment and on sustainable practices to nurture and protect natural habitats.”
Nengi Omuku (b.1987, Nigeria) has completed both her BA and MA at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Omuku’s work is inspired by the politics of the body and the complexities that surround identity and difference. With every journey, she considers how human beings position themselves in space in relation to other beings. Foremost on her mind are the ways in which the body needs to adapt in order to belong. It is constantly selecting and gathering its identity, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
The exhibition will be on view from the 7th of October 2023 until the 3rd of March, 2024. For more information, please visit Hastings Contemporary.