Inside Nigerian Artist Nanci Amaka's Healing Visual Performance Honoring Her Roots
Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy Of Brandyn Liu

Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy Of Brandyn Liu

Inside Nigerian Artist Nanci Amaka's Healing Visual Performance Honoring Her Roots

Honolulu , United States
Malik Peay
Malik Peay Mar 30, 2021

In 2017, Hawai’i-based multimedia artist and mother, Nanci Amaka filmed her visual performance for “Cleanse” and now, she wholeheartedly believes is the most opportune time for her art to be seen.

Similar to the title of Amaka’s most recent piece, “Cleanse” is more of a visceral reaction and acknowledgment to the loss of Amaka’s mother at an early age. The poetic short film highlights Amaka’s Nigerian-roots while she speaks Igbo to pay homage to her ancestry and cultural heritage that she holds so tightly to her heart.

The film showcases Amaka sweating profusely through a cloth white dress as she wipes the dirt off the former Ward Warehouse building located in Honolulu. This space was often seen as an artist sanctuary where artists and local vendors alike, could really find a sense of home within this all-inclusive shopping and dining center.

Photo Courtesy Of  Rob Lau & Emily Lau 

Amaka wanted to have one final experience with the space that she once called home by literally and figuratively cleansing the space with her broom and washcloth.

The Ward Warehouse was set for demolition 4 years ago and has now transformed into luxury skyrise condos. Amaka wanted to pay her respects to the place that held many precious memories for her through polishing the warehouse. She did so by also recognizing her mother’s death through the representation of cleansing and reflecting on how her uncle wishes he was able to clean her mother’s body prior to her burial which is a common practice in Igbo culture.

Furthermore, Amaka used her native language to relish those who have passed on before her and the power of radical acceptance that life has its inescapable major turning points.

Photo Courtesy Of Brandyn Liu

Through this long process, she was really aiming to implement her cultural traditions and upbringing.

Growing up in a small village in Southeastern Nigeria, Amaka reconciled with the fact that she lost her mother at a young age where she couldn’t even digest the devastation of a loss that large. While being raised practicing animism, she knew the importance of interconnectedness between the natural world and her immediate surroundings in her village and how that plays an even more vital role in the way the world functions.

The screening and talk was presented by Hilo-based, Above the Equator in collaboration with and hosted by Arts & Letters Nuʻuanu. Above the Equator is a hybrid gallery model, with a project space in Hilo, founded by Ara Laylo, Rosina Potter, Isabella Hughes. Arts & Letters Nuʻuanu is founded by Maile Meyer and Wei Fang.

During the talk, Amaka spoke more about her art and its multiple interpretations.

Photo Courtesy Of Brandyn Liu

She spoke about the symbolism of wearing white and how she does so because it makes her have more self-awareness which she needs in order to heal and be fully present. She doesn’t believe in mere coincidences and wanted the viewers to know that the subversion of femininity for power isn’t mutually exclusive.

The broader future reach of “Cleanse” is for Nanci Amaka to project this visual onto other bare walls around the world in other gallery exhibitions. That way, when viewers see her short film, it will seem as if she is, there cleansing the space that they are in.

Amaka recognizes the divine timing of the pandemic and how it was finally the moment for “Cleanse” to be released so that she can help remedy society of the harmful residue that may have impacted those who have experienced tremendous loss like herself. Ultimately, she wants to build a world full of affection and wisdom for her young daughter that way she can become the person she wants to be.