I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / Since what I might be is uncontainable
Concerned with phenomenology, perception and the racialized body, Kosisochukwu Nnebe’s work considers how we perceive each other; to what extent can we really know each other, or even ourselves; and how race is inscribed in the act of perceiving another body.
In this new work, Nnebe explores the opposing notions of invisibility and what she describes as “hyper-visibility” or excess. She draws on the writing of Martinique philosopher, writer and poet Édouard Glissant, whose concept of “opacity” offers an alternative to the familiar terrain of identity, visibility and representation. Nnebe’s work considers opacity — a lack of transparency and a way of not giving yourself away completely — as a way to claim agency. Nnebe believes that Glissant’s politics of refusal offer a kind of “refuge”; in withholding a part of herself she refuses to be fully seen, fixed, or racialized in a particular way.
Nnebe’s engagement with perception, phenomenology and opacity is perhaps most obvious in I want you to know that I am hiding something from you (2018). From different positions in the room, only certain things are visible. For this piece, the artist’s body is remade into the form of Anansi, the Ghanian trickster figure of the spider, and hidden within the room. In the game of “hide and seek” that ensues, Nnebe hopes to cause the viewer to pause, to find a moment of hesitation, to think about what and how we perceive bodies, particularly racialized bodies. Anansi is neither good nor evil; crossing boundaries and borders he is seen as a fluid and liminal character. For Nnebe, to be a trickster is to be “uncontainable and unknowable”.
That which cannot be confined or controlled, and is without limits, is clearly explored in Since what I might be is uncontainable (2018), whose title is extracted from a poem by Dionne Brand. A collection of plexiglass limbs are hung around a light source that projects their form onto the walls of the room; Nnebe’s body parts are all around you, on you, in front of you and behind: hyper-visible. The truncated limbs speak to the violence this can engender, not only of violence perpetrated against black bodies throughout history but also of the violence associated with looking — of inscribing a body of color as “other” based on non-white markers as visible difference. The installation thus hints at the complex, and often contradictory, impulses at work in both the perception of racialized bodies as well as lived reality which, paradoxically, offers a sense of “kinship predicated on shared experiences” and histories.
Nnebe’s play between opacity as a refusal to fully present, represent or reveal, and excess enables her to explore alternative strategies for visual representations of her black body and asks us to reconsider how we experience each other, and ourselves.
— Anna Khimasia
Kosisochukwu Nnebe is a Nigerian-Canadian visual artist. Using phenomenology (the study of experience) as a methodology, her practice aims to engage viewers on issues of race, gender and power in ways that make them aware of their own complicity through interactive and installation-based pieces. Her work has been exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Places des Arts, Station 16 and Z Art Space in Montreal, Studio Sixty Six in Ottawa, the NIA Centre in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Guelph, and the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California. She has given presentations on her artistic practice and research at universities across Quebec, including Laval, McGill and Concordia, and has facilitated youth workshops at the Ottawa Art Gallery and Redwood City High School in California. She is currently based in Ottawa.
The artist would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.