1 June 2021 (New Orleans, LA) JONATHAN FERRARA GALLERY is pleased to announce i’je awel’le: A Beautiful Journey, A Safe Journey, a solo exhibition of new figurative paintings by REWA, a Nigerian artist and 2018 NO DEAD ARTISTS International Juried Exhibition finalist. REWA identifies her art as Igbo Vernacular Art, which she considers to exist outside of formal academic or Western dialogue. i’je awel’le: A Beautiful Journey, A Safe Journey is deeply anchored to the legacy of the ancient Nigerian kingdom of Onicha Ado n’Idu and the spiritual tradition of journeying into the foreign land.
The exhibition will be on view from 3 June through 10 July 2021 with an opening reception coinciding with the Arts District of New Orleans’ (ADNO) First Saturday Gallery Openings on Saturday, 5 June from 12 pm - 7 pm. For more information, press or sales inquiries please contact Gallery Director Matthew Weldon Showman at 504.343.6827 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please join the conversation with JFG on Facebook (@JonathanFerraraGallery), Twitter (@JFerraraGallery), and Instagram (@JonathanFerraraGallery) via the hashtags: #REWA, #JonathanFerraraGallery, and #ArtsDistrictNewOrleans.
I am Igbo and my ancestors come from the ancient kingdom of Onicha Ado n’Idu, tracing an ancestry and dynasty of over 400 years from the reign of Eze Chima to the current Igwe (ruler).
To give additional historical context, many tribes which make up Nigeria today came from far-off countries such as Egypt and Sudan, many centuries ago. One such tribe are the people that comprise the kingdom of Benin. According to many historical citations, the people of Onicha left Benin to seek a new place of settlement in the 16th century during the tyrannical rule of the Oba of the Kingdom. These emigrants were nicknamed “Onicha” which means “Despiser”, due to the violent nature with which they plundered through the kingdom during their exodus, using the firearms that were relics of the Portuguese colonial influence.
In my native land, Onicha, forming the tribe of Igbos that hail from the South-eastern part of Nigeria, travels outside our geographical domain are regular and have played historical significance in our choice of settlement. My hometown sits on the River Niger which flows from the grounds of the Fouta Djallon mountains in nearby Guinea. Every ethnic group has a rather interesting approach and attitude to life. For us, the Onichas, who live and trade on the banks of the River Niger, we really had no choice but to imbibe the cross-cultural influences that have brought to bear as a major land and maritime trading post.
Fast forward to modern-day and the term “Despiser” can no longer be said to be relevant to our demeanour as we embrace tribal and global integration. As we traverse the globe seeking fame and fortune, we have a tendency to quickly adopt, and assimilate into, other cultures and lifestyles. Our vibrant youths take on every adventure ranging from education to sports and music. The theme Awele connotes the spirituality of positive traverse and ascendancy. We are Igbos, the people of Onicha, and all the attendant divine blessings of travel and akalaka, divine destiny, come to us naturally.
In this series, i’je awel’le: A Beautiful Journey, A Safe Journey, we see my recurring characters, as well as some new ones, undertake further voyage into the foreign land. Some of them have journeyed into love, as we see with ofu obi, love nwantinti and anyi bu ofu. Others such as efizzy, dubem, Somto in pink jeans and asusu anya have journeyed into modern self-pride, shaking off traditional expectations – there is a flourish of personality juxtaposed with some sensibility in their fashion. They convey a certain sense in their pose, the “uche”, the intangible thing that elevates the work for that moment in time in which it exists, the moment decisive.
As with their ancestors before them, my subjects in i’je awel’le are undergoing constant journey, continuously moving forward, each one traveling his or her own path. No two journeys are similar nor can they be replicated because each subject is unique and so are their circumstances. And so, we bid them i’je awel’le: A Beautiful Journey, A Safe Journey.