Samuel Nnorom : Points of Departure
Text by Andrea Valentine-Lewis
As a child growing up in Nigeria, Samuel Nnorom’s artistic sensibilities emerged from observing the creative processes of his father, a shoemaker, and his mother, a tailor. Realizing his natural propensity for life drawing and sewing through these early explorations, Nnorom later developed his artistic skillset in art school, apprenticeships, and residencies. An element of his practice that has remained constant throughout his career is his dedication to textiles and their capacity as social agents in society.
Points of Departure presents a new body of textile sculptures made from Ankara/African wax fabric sourced from tailors or from off-cast clothing that is wrapped around recycled foam into balls or “bubbles” of various dimensions. These textile orbs are formed into clusters that appear like dense land masses with differently coloured textiles suggesting people, mountains, streams, islands, and peninsulas. Ankara fabric has a unique origin story; while it came from the Dutch who manufactured the wax cotton for the Indonesian textile market, its eventual descent into Central and West Africa during the 19th century was where the fabric flourished and became iconic of the Region. Ankara fabric is popular in clothing, particularly dresses, shirts, and headscarves, and is known for its bold prints and bright colours.
As a fabric that is used to drape the body, it is noteworthy that Nnorom sees the weft and weave of his fabrics as akin to a social structure. In his latest work, Nnorom looks at how his sculptures can be considered a metaphor for a “fabric of society,” made up of individual lives united in space. In particular, Points of Departure explores human survival through processes of migration, considering how the involuntary upheaval of human lives connects people despite their social or cultural backgrounds. For him, the history and social statement relayed in each Ankara fabric print becomes a visual language much like a written text.
Nnorom’s work intersects the boundaries between tapestry, painting, and sculpture, similar to the way his work surpasses the bounds of representation, symbols, or exact points of reference. The methods he uses to cluster the orbs in space vary greatly: some are densely packed like Never Walk Alone (2023) and Brothers Keeper (2023), while others are spaced apart and connected by web-like tendrils as seen in Throw and Catch (2023) and Meeting Points (2023). The multitude of variations through colour, scale, and form demonstrate Nnorom’s capacity to push his chosen material and artistic strategy into infinite directions. The exhibition title, Points of Departure, is an apt sentiment for not only his interest in the intersection between textiles and human migration but for how this exhibition showcases the artist’s propulsion towards this new direction in his practice.