“Ijeoma” is artist and curator Alexandria Eregbu’s middle name, given to her by her father to recall their Nigerian roots. It translates to “safe journey,” particularly auspicious as Eregbu embarks on an interdisciplinary art career that includes performances and studio-based production, curating and community engagement, and sharp-witted instincts for research. At twenty-three, two years since completing her undergraduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Eregbu has developed exhibitions (of her own work and that of others) for Columbia College, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Artists Coalition and, most recently, the exhibition “Exodus” at University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator in Washington Park—an installation of works developed with Alfredo Salazar-Caro. About her work in “Exodus,” which included objects adapted from athletic equipment steeped in research into the physical performance on black women, Eregbu explains, “I was interested in considering ‘flight’ and ‘departure’ as conceptual landings for how I would imagine a racialized individual or collective body might move through a traumatic event or state of miserablism.” With a nod to her namesake, Eregbu’s work marks out her own passage through various art-world networks.
Next year, Eregbu plans to travel to Nigeria with her father and sister. In anticipation of this journey, she used her recently concluded residency at the Chicago Cultural Center to collaborate with other artists and creatives around Chicago to situate her explorations into Nigerian culture into a panoply of creative expressions collectively titled “The Finding Ijeoma Project.” Describing this work, Eregbu says, “Some of these collaborations included On the Spirit with Black Girl In Om—focusing on yoga, art and wellness; On Sound with Perpetual Rebel, who curated a selection of Nigerian music; and On Love + Narrative with Krista Franklin, which involved a pop-up letterpress workshop inspired by Nigerian author Ben Okri, with the Tandem Felix Letterpress Mobile Studio.” Additionally, an online shop stocked with goods Eregbu has hand sewn from Nigerian fabrics is helping to raise funds for her travels.
Eregbu’s discoveries in her personal heritage and in the histories that track how black and brown bodies have been circulated and made to perform all conspire to inform her studio work. “Above all my interest really is in performative practices and thinking about how we assume classification, roles, and/or identities to disrupt and/or assimilate in space either conceptually, physically and materially,” she says. “I am thinking about the art market, collectors circles, art business, and perhaps even consulting. My thoughts right now in the studio are often on oil and sand drilling in Nigeria and are especially moved by art theory that focuses on economy, globalization and colonization.” (Matt Morris)