Artist: Ify Chiejina

My full name is Ifeatuanya Chiejina, and I am a visual artist born and raised in NYC. With each day that passes, I am thankful to be a black Igbo female visual artist. I’m constantly coming into the realization that it is up to me to present myself, and bring forth my own happiness. I carry some ideas, thoughts, and truths that are reflective of Nigerian customs and traditions. But I also accept and carry with me truths that are not.

My parents kept albums containing pictures, and having the access to view them frequently, gives me several reasons to appreciate the essence of one’s own personal sense of self, within an environment or space. I primarily work in acrylic paint on canvas and or paper, but I do venture and create with other wet and dry based mediums such as charcoal. I do like to distort with my materials, and the human figure. I chose to play with the human form so that my pieces can evolve and move from just being understood as direct renderings of photographs. Portrait of FatherTheir Time in the Ivory Coast, and A Photograph Sent, are examples of pieces that are direct renderings of photographs. I want to leave room for imagination, and I also work to create symbolic pieces.

In my portraits and figurative pieces I express emotions, personalities and character. I lost my mother in 2014, and I’ve created several works that are reflective of my feelings, which stem from her absence. Immediately following my mother’s passing, I painted Three Persons in One Mother. I witnessed my mother’s health decline fairly quickly, and in each hospital and hospice visit, I viewed her individuality and essence differently.

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For the piece, Three Persons in One Mother, portrayals of my mother’s strength, innocence, and vulnerability are shown. I made patterns for the background on a blank canvas, and I constructed patterns on found canvas. I used the found canvas by cutting it up into pieces, and positioning them onto canvas with adhesive. Once the pieces dried, I designed a well-suited pattern with acrylic paint.

This process of cutting, adhering, and then painting on top of, is one I often utilize when I make new works. I applied the method for my pieces in the To Trust in and Find an End to Poor Self-Esteem series, (formerly known as To Trust and Let Go)To Trust in and Find an End to Poor Self-Esteem is a series in which I make portraits for the purpose of documenting various stages of grief. While creating pieces for the To Trust in and Find an End to Poor Self-Esteem series, another separate series called, In This Memory, formed. Both series are ongoing.

As a visual artist, I am more concerned with identifying the significance of self with feelings and thoughts, than I am with accurately depicting the head and body. I credit my style to my upbringing. However, I am also influenced by German Abstract Expressionists, Expressionists, and Graphic artists.

By breaking up anatomical forms geometrically and into areas of warm and cool temperature, I developed an understanding for the human figure that suited me best. I use photographs as primary references for my paintings and drawings. 

I traveled to Puerto Rico in June 2015 for the first time, through the Community Arts University Without Walls (CAUWW) program. Going to Puerto Rico opened up my perspective towards race and equality in the Caribbean. Prior to traveling, I had completed two pieces for my Dying to Dream series, Fleeting and Thrown Off The BoatDying to Dream is a series in which I symbolically illustrate the black experience through times of slavery, colonialism, and racial discrimination. Before I had the opportunity to visit and learn about Puerto Rican history, my knowledge towards colonialism in the Caribbean, and the ethnic backgrounds of Puerto Rican people wasn’t vast.

Upon returning, I painted La Perseverancia, Claridad y Fe, and I added it to the series Dying to Dream.

I work to involve more traditions rooted in various cultures. Conversing with different people unlocks the door for my beliefs to be questioned. How I best choose to honor myself and speak honestly in those instances, when there is potential for relationships to be formed or broken, really defines who I am as an individual person. Creating portraits and figurative pieces is my way of indicating the importance of knowing thy self.

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