By Segun Ojo
A sharply cut wooden-base, foliage with leaves made of Ghana-must-go-bags, and cashew nuts frame a golden female face with closed eyes—as though at rest or in deep thought. At once uncanny yet familiar, the character seems to recall the widely recognized striations of the Nigerian ‘Ife head’ artifact while donning a modern-day ‘gele’ head wrap. ‘Anacardium occidentalis (Epo Cashew)’ is the title of this sculpture made in 2019 by Layo Bright, a talented 29-year-old Nigerian artist currently based in Brooklyn, New York. The piece is part of a series of head sculptures bright began making in several years ago addressing themes of identity, migration and displacement. In the past few years Bright has become a noteworthy artist, contributing to New York’s bubbling art scene with her remarkable sculptures.
Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Bright moved to New York in 2016 after being accepted to one of the leading art schools globally for Fine Art, Parsons School of Design (The New School). During her MFA studies at Parsons, she became particularly interested in exploring migrant experiences (including her own), and the search for greener pastures abroad. Themes of displacement, identity, family and memory began to inform her choice of materials and sculptural medium—and led to her research into and exploration of the histories of textiles. Using materials such as Ghana-Must-Go bags, ‘gele’, ceramics, glass and wood; she creates vibrant works of art that address human vantage points embedded within natural elements.
A very brilliant young African, she fell in love with art at a tender age mostly drawing and painting until she began sculpting professionally after obtaining her MFA degree (with honours). “Art is my passion and my calling. From a young age I have been drawn to it, and it has always been a crucial means of expression for me”. She recalled her obsession with art from a young age saying, “My classmates were fond of calling me ‘paper lover’, because I would sketch in almost every class. My first painting on canvas…was made in 2008 right after secondary school. I had never painted on canvas before and decided to do a little experimenting (laughs). It turned out to be quite good, and I still have it till this day. At the time I wanted the painting to express my longing to pursue my creativity and be understood, and when I look back at it now, I feel that the work truly captured that.”
That pursuit for creativity is even more palpable in Bright’s works now, as she has extended her expertise into mediums such as glass and wood. She first began working in glass in 2020, after being awarded the UrbanGlass Winter Scholarship Award. This award, for a kilncasting class, was her first exploration of using glass in her sculptures, and resulted in the striking ‘Family Tree series, one of which is ‘Family Tree (Self Portrait)’ 2020. The series portrays Bright and members of her family, with another piece titled ‘Family Tree (Mummy Dearest)’ 2020 with her mother as the subject matter. Another body of work features intricate glass that has been fused and slumped into relief portraits—titled ‘Adebisi’ after her mum, the works literally and figuratively express the complexities of family, womanhood, and inheritance. These works have gone on to be featured in important exhibitions such as To Heal and Protect, Welancora Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; A Chance Encounter, Parts & Labor, Beacon, NY; Black is King, The Bond Collective, Brooklyn, NY; amongst others.
Bright has been an artist in residence at the prestigious Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art MASS (MoCA) North Adams, MA, USA; International Sculpture Center Sculpture Residency, Hamilton Township, NJ, USA; Triangle Residency, Brooklyn NY, USA; and Flux Factory Artist Residency, Queens, NY; USA amongst others. Recently, her works were included in the notable exhibition by SABO Art Advisory and Amar Singh Gallery, I Am Not A Goddess…Unless I Say I Am which took place at Alliance Française – Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos. Additionally she has exhibited work internationally at several institutions, with notable group exhibitions including SOMETHING ABOUT US (2021) Anthony Gallery, IL; A Chance Encounter (2020) Parts & Labor, NY; You Don’t See Me (2020) Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, NY; Migration(s) and Meanings in Art(2020), Meyerhoff Gallery at MICA, MD; Maid in Nigeria (2019), Untitled AWCA, Lagos; Through Her Eye (2018), Mana Contemporary, IL; Carry Over: New Voices from the Global African Diaspora (2018), Smack Mellon, NY; Reality Check (2017), Sotheby’s Institute of Art, NY; among others.
She received her LL.B (Hons.) from Babcock University (2014), was called to the Nigerian Bar Association (2015) and received her MFA in Fine Art (Hons.) from Parson the New School for Design (2018).
She has lectured as a Professor at the New School; with visiting artist talks at Tyler School of Art (Temple University) and a Visiting Artist Talk, Parsons School of Design, NY.
She has participated in international art fairs such as Future Fair and PRIZM Art Fair. Bright is the recipient of honors and awards including the UrbanGlass Winter Scholarship Award (2020), the International Sculpture Center’s 2018 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award (2018); Program Honors from The New School (2018); the Beyoncé Formation Finalist Scholarship (2017); and the Parsons Dean Scholarship (2016).
Her work has undoubtedly influenced many contemporary younger African artists, and with the recent surge of international interest in contemporary African art, her dream of becoming one of the African best is closer than ever.
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