Like the first brace of Chicago wind on an uncovered face in June, the air, joy and freedom in ruby onyinyechi amanze’s exhibition at Mariane Ibrahim is palpable. The seven large-scale drawings are spartan—befitting an artist preoccupied with space. But these depictions of divers, dancers, motorcycles and modernist grids punch above their weight with ease. “Thinghood” captivates with economy of means and formal clarity.
Amanze is Nigeria-born and Philly-based, a Fulbright Scholar and the recipient of other awards. She also has a deft touch and a keen sense of balance. Her handling of graphite in pieces such as “the divers II [ada, a pool, a bike, windows and birds]” is precise, almost academic in a realist atelier style. Compositionally, though, her patchwork treatment of the underlying grid would make Mondrian proud.
If there’s a concrete narrative underpinning these images, it’s difficult to tease out. Surreal elements such as an anthropomorphic leopard juxtaposed against a photo-transferred motorbike suggest memories of place or maybe modern folklore, but they don’t reveal much. A poetic slice of wall text is all we’re offered. And in an absorbing video walk through of the exhibition (available on the gallery’s website) amanze makes it clear the poem is all we get.
As a consequence of the limited vocabulary, both formal and didactic, we’re on our own with these pictures. And yet, one needn’t plumb the depths of critical theory to see just how fun these images are. As we emerge from a historical moment defined in part by lack of mobility, these imaginative works and the unreal spaces they create remind us how good it is to move, to feel our fingers and wiggle our toes. To dress-up and go out. To exhale softly and say to ourselves: “I’m alive.” (Alan Pocaro)
“Thinghood” is on view through June 19 at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, 437 North Paulina.