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Arnolfini - est 1961

by Gemma Brace, Head of Programme at Arnolfini

Artist Ifeoma U. Anyaeji
Photo by Lisa Whiting Photography for Arnolfini. All rights reserved.

Scope of the Award

As an international centre for contemporary art a key component of our remit is to bring international artists to Arnolfini, providing a platform for their work and an opportunity to share their practice with our audiences. We believe that showing the work of artists from across the globe helps to broaden audiences understanding of contemporary art practice and the cultural, political, and social context within which these artists work, whilst creating opportunities to further an artist’s research and practice.

We also recognise the value in going beyond simply exhibiting the work of international artists. We want to create opportunities for artists to spend time within our organisation and to meaningfully engage with our communities, including Bristol’s artistic community, our student population, and the many community groups and organisations across Bristol with which we have built strong sustainable relationships.

By creating opportunities for artists to spend time physically in residence at Arnolfini and within Bristol we can transform both our audiences and artists engagement with our exhibitions from one of cultural experience to mutual exchange, generating conversations, sharing practice, and deepening our understanding of other cultures.

Ifeoma with fellow Threads exhibiting artist Farwa Moledina.
Photo by Lisa Whiting Photography for Arnolfini. All rights reserved.

Meet the Artist

Our first International Artist Award recipient is Montreal-based Nigerian artist Ifeoma U. Anyaeji who was invited to join us in Bristol as part of the international group textile exhibition Threads: ‘Breathing stories into materials’, summer 2023, co-curated with Alice Kettle.

One of the original aims of the award was to offer it on a twice-yearly basis to one ‘early-career artist’ and one ‘mid-career’ artist. As one of the original shortlisted artists for the exhibition, with a rising international profile, a socially-engaged practice, and a proposal for a work to be expanded in-situ, Ifeoma was the obvious recipient.

Ifeoma came to Bristol in June 2023, spending 10 days in an ‘in-kind’ studio space at UWE Bower Ashton developing a work called Ezuhu ezu, which has previously been shown in 4 different gallery locations, expanded each time for the specific space, using locally sourced materials. Ifeoma then joined us on-site at Arnolfini to install the work alongside our technicians and exhibitions team.

As part of the residency’s remit to encourage engagement with our communities and audiences we invited Ifeoma to take part in our engagement programme in addition to developing her own work. This included a group visit with one of our regular community partners AIM (Art in Motion) who work with artists with learning disabilities. The group joined Ifeoma for a session in the gallery whilst her work was being installed talking about her practice, asking questions, and learning about her unique way of working with recycled materials using a technique called ‘threading’.

In addition to joining in our opening day activities, Ifeoma also joined us for a special opening event called Unravelling Threads, a series of informal in-conversations between co-curators Alice Kettle and Gemma Brace and exhibiting artists (including Young In Hong and Richard McVetis) to unravel just some of the interweaving stories and memories explored within the exhibition.

Following Ifeoma’s residency at Arnolfini she has been invited by Alice Kettle to take part in the international textile conference Textile and Place organised by Manchester Metropolitan University in October 2023, during which she will discuss her practice and her residency experience with Kettle, introduced by Gemma Brace.

Ifeoma with co-curator of Threads, Alice Kettle.
Photo by Lisa Whiting Photography for Arnolfini. All rights reserved.

Artist Feedback

In February 2023, I received a formal invitation to accept the first ACBMT and Arnolfini International Artist Residency Award, after several conversations with curators Gemma Brace and Alice Kettle. I was excited for my experience as this would be the first time I had interacted with this part of the UK and would afford me the opportunity to continue the journey of an artwork I started in 2017 titled Ezuhu ezu [in(complete]) which had already been part-extended in 2019 at the Baltic in Newcastle.

I arrived at the end of June to meet an intriguing community with an architecture and landscape that matched some of the inspirations that had informed my artwork – the mélange of traditions, amazing natural scenery matched with a hint of utopic aura. At UWE’s Bower Ashton Campus, where I had a temporary studio setup for me, I was welcomed and assisted by the amazing staff. The 10 days spent editing and extending my work was inspired by moments of interactions with the Bristol community, including staff at Arnolfini, watching them install the exhibition Threads, my daily commute between where I was staying in the city centre and Bower Ashton as well as meeting Bristol artists and art enthusiasts. Not to forget the search for materials and used plastic bags to replace what I needed to complete this part of the project.

Thanks to the residency award, courtesy of Arnolfini’s supporters I was also able to expand the conversations that my cultural knowledge and art practice aims to share with a wider audience. I also made beautiful friendships and expanded my network of contacts a little further. I am grateful for the residency experience, including learning about Bristol’s culture, and participating in the inaugural Arnolfini and ACBMT International Artist residency program.

Ezuhu ezu installed at Arnolfini as part of Threads.
Photo by Lisa Whiting Photography for Arnolfini. All rights reserved.

About Ezuhu ezu

Ezuhu ezu has been re-assembled in Bristol during the artist’s recent residency with Arnolfini. Anyaeji uses discarded plastic bottles and non-biodegradable plastic bags in her work. These are transformed through a traditional hair-plaiting technique – called ikpa isi owu in Igbo – from the Montreal-based artist’s homeland Nigeria.

Anyaeji describes her materials as being seen as ‘second-class citizens’ and asks us to examine the value we traditionally place upon these throwaway objects. Ezuhu ezu began life in 2017 and has been adapted a number of times for different spaces. This practice of amending, expanding and adapting work is a common feature of Anyaeji’s practice.

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