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Made to Fly: “To make the box move, I gave it legs”. Meet Radical conversationalist Ken Nwadiogbu

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

The release of the Air Jordan 3’s (1988) designed by Tinker Hatfield, marked an evolution in the Air Jordan’s legacy. The birth of the Jumpman logo brandished on the shoe’s tongue and heel stationed the Jordan Three silhouette as a fan favourite and player must-have. From the bold elephant print to the distinctive features, it showcased a profound cultural impact that symbolised a peak for Michael Jordan’s achievements while celebrating inspiration from the innovative character of African art. Much like the Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Ken Nwadiogbu, the revolutionary design strikes similarity to Ken - whose ability to evoke meaningful conversations through his soulful passion for political change, starts with hyperrealism.

His dynamic projects, including the colourful sculpture, “Journey Mercies”, showcase a familiar migrant journey elevated by his diverse experiences, Nigerian roots and encounters with unique individuals. His mission to “paint, sculpt and fabricate” a world without boundaries echoes the very essence of the iconic Jordan 3's, that transcended limitations in the Basketball world. After a magnetic exchange in London, Yellowzine had the joy of “posing” with Ken and exploring his “ever-evolving” world of storytelling across “all the mediums of art that can be projected”.

Just as the Jordan 3's revolutionised sneaker culture and sports history, Ken’s art challenges the norms and strives to unburden migrants from societal and political constraints. From his awe-inspiring 15ft 3D sculpture titled 'The Migrant', a bold narrative infused with the desire for freedom and inspirations from Damien Hirst and Kehinde Wiley, his motivations are straightforward: "I saw that they were very radical in how they projected their conversations in their work. They were against creating art in the way people thought art should be”. He exclaims, “I wanted to embody that as well. I’m always thinking of how I can revitalise. Not just for me but for the conversation that I’m trying to pass across.”

Ken’s ability to elicit emotion in critical dialogues through pieces such as, “Packages in Brown Skins” (2020) comes as no surprise with his impressive background further forged by the Royal College of Art, London: “I started to pay into more ways I could present my work and be radical in the conversations I try to make. Now I have a different form of expression in my art that people can engage with. Everything feels new”. Though the crossroads beforehand impacted his trajectory in a way he couldn’t account for. “The second time I came to London, it was a very hard time because it was during the [COVID-19] pandemic. And that was also when I lost my dad”. What presented as an emotionally demanding time also honoured the moment he was selected for the Bomb Factory Arts Foundation residency which he communicates, pushed him “to build a new body of work that was new and radical” - ‘Journey Mercies’. Additionally he states, “it contributed to my growth because people could relate to it. We all feel like a box, self-contained. But at the same time, we create a community. We stand on each other’s shoulders.”

Consequently, Ken illustrated that London was the driving force for his newfound identity, “The reactions to my work were fulfilling. I began to have the confidence to pursue my practice and find more radical ways of thinking. I believe that pushed me to work with different mediums and pass my conversations in different ways”. With a soft smile he resumes, “I was intrigued, I wanted to come [to London] more because the art community here is so big. I loved the way people could relate and interact with my work. The obsession began to grow.” Ken’s exploration of London spurred an untapped passion in his art which set a new foundation, “I’ve been influenced by different artists in London, the culture, the music. Music influences and inspires art. Even the structure of London is artistic, with the way London has been built. It’s been an experience for me to soak it all in and see how it can affect the way I see the world and create.”

Though during what he describes as a time of “political gymnastics”, it shifted his art to implore change, “I’ve been thinking of ways to create social change, not just from the conversations about migration. I see the whole of London. I see the train tracks, the architecture and that experience – seeing London and how beautiful and structured it is, feed into my work. It shows how black people and migrants like me have been able to engage with this architecture while migrating.” Opposing the restrictions of movement, Ken raises the question, “Why shouldn't we have the opportunity to move, learn and explore the world? For me, my sculpture was created from the idea that these boxes cannot move until we pick them up and move them. So, in a way, it has a social context. Movement is systematic. I thought, to make this box move on its own, I can bring in a human form, the legs, and it can begin that journey on its own. I wanted to make the statement that we are all migrants. It doesn’t represent something bad, it's just a way of life.”

The concept of "Ubuntu" further underscores Ken's commitment to supporting young artists in Nigeria through his multidisciplinary practices. Embracing the idea of interconnectedness, Ken believes that unity is essential for creating a more pleasant and inclusive world, evident during times like the End Sars movement in Lagos and the Black Lives Matter movement both in the UK and the US. “I fell in love with ‘Ubuntu’ meaning ‘I am because we are.’ We need each other to exist like a doctor needs a patient. If we can understand why we exist as people and why we need to work together, life will be more pleasant. We've all experienced the same thing, just from different perspectives. The moment we understand that is the moment we can begin to work together to find a way to coexist unrestricted.” Credits Production and creative direction: @yellowzine Graphics: @yellowzine Photography: @karisbeaumont Photography assistant: @seunomis Styling: @taylaggordon Styling Assistant: @alimalisa Interview: @lizziebarek Model: @Kenwadiogbu


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