Plasto-Yarnsby Polly Leonard
The Baltic is hosting an exciting exhibition of unusual sculptures and wall reliefs by Nigerian artist, Ifeoma U. Anyaeji. This is the first major exhibition of Anyaeji’s work in the UK. The pieces on display are crafted out of ‘Plasto-yarns’, a term Anyaeji uses to describe the material from which she makes her intriguing, colourful and organic work. Her primary source materials are nonbiodegradable plastic/polythene bags and bottles, both substantial global pollutants, and a major environmental problem especially in Nigeria. After transforming them into Plasto-yarns, she then weaves, twists and coils the ‘yarn’ into complicated forms that deal with serious issues. A change of texture and contrast is provided with her ‘bubblies’, round forms based on a lollipop shape.
As an undergraduate, Ifeoma became aware of the large number of rejected plastic bags and sachets from the Pure Water factory next to her school. The shift to plastic packaging and plastic bags, a cheaper alternative to bottles for water, was a result of the development of the petro chemical industry. She began by taking bags and stitching them together in order to paint on them, but the surface did not take paint well. She missed the tactile nature of making and, when coming across a piece of plastic she had threaded in the same manner in which she used to do her sister’s hair, it set her on a new course.
Initially using weaving techniques, she moved to the technique of African hair threading, a skill handed down from mother to daughter, that she found more interesting. She calls the practitioners in the markets, ‘hair architects’, but, regrettably, as an art it is dying out.
Anyaeji’s art is not easily categorised. She identifies as a Neo Traditionalist, re-enacting traditional practices in contemporary materials and is happy to embrace craft techniques and the handmade. As she states, ‘Craft can exist without art but art cannot exist without an element of craft’. Anyaeji is also a proud Nigerian, who values her cultural identity in a globalised world. Her beautifully crafted works draw attention to the rich heritage of her home country.
Until 22 September 2019, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gateshead, NE8 3BA, UK www.baltic.art