Geoffrey Nwogu Creates Mbari Houses
Geoffrey Nwogu creates [Mbari] houses. These sculptures, depicting family figures, deities, ancestral spirits, animals from myths and legends, and humorous scenes from daily life, are erected on a platform with a scenic backdrop. The Nigerian native builds these spiritually inspired Mbari houses using mud clay, fashioned over wooden armatures; he enhances the structures with colorful paint.
Geoffrey learned to build these houses - that are intrinsic to the Nigerian "Igbo" school of art - from his father and grandfather, both artists and religious leaders in their village: "In the village I grew up in, everyone lives for the good of the family, and the family is for the village. This background gave me a strong belief in humanity. Later, I gravitated to SGI Buddhism with the understanding that we are all connected to each other and to everything in the universe. Interconnectedness is my mantra."
Carving Wood and Molding Clay
As a child, Geoffrey was encouraged to express himself by carving wood and painting on canvasses. As a teenager, he began molding clay to create his "signature" sculptural houses. He also sculpted with a variety of materials including cement. As an adult, he continued working in these disciplines and widened his skills to include photographic artwork. He also received a Certificate in Education at the University of London. In the 1970's, he co-founded the Nigerian "Mbaise School," of which Mbari is a part.
Geoffrey worked in various capacities as a cultural officer and artistic liaison in his native country. He then expanded his creative instincts and knowledge of art by traveling to the United States; his intent was to exhibit his art and to view the works of artistic masters.
Rodin and Moore
He spent many hours perusing sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore, regarding these works as inspirations for his own pieces, and for his Mbari sculptures: "Rodin's works have great movement, very strong and imposing looks. Even his female figures have strong masculine limbs, which make them so powerful. Henry More fascinated me with his manipulation of mass and mastery of the fluidity of shape. He was obsessed with the female figure. The fact that he carved wood too got me enamored. Picasso impressed me the most because of the simplicity of his style, which encourages the artist in every viewer."
Geoffrey lived in San Francisco from 1983 until 2007. While there, he drew on his lifetime of experiences, expanding his influence as an internationally based contemporary artist. He has exhibited his artworks widely throughout this country and beyond, and lectured and taught at the Academy of Art College, San Francisco, the University of California at San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University, and the San Francisco Art Institute, among others.
First Mbari Sculpture in US
While in San Francisco, Geoffrey revived his interest in Mbari artwork, creating the first sculpture of this genre outside of Nigeria for the California Academy of Sciences in 2002. The five feet by six feet unfired clay house features a family unit of father, mother and child, against a backdrop of colorful, traditional African design. The primitive figures, design and colors are reminiscent of Picasso's early cubist works, which are themselves inspired by primitive African masks and sculptures.
Smithsonian Institution Design
Recently, Geoffrey designed a larger, 144-square-foot Mbari environmental sculptural work, slated to be installed at a Smithsonian Institution garden in 2013. This piece, to be constructed on several levels, will feature a traditional family unit, as well as spiritual and symbolic characters from Nigerian mythology.
Geoffrey Nwogu has exhibited his works worldwide at institutions including: Heineken Gallery, Frienge Club, Central, Hong Kong; Le Grand Arche, La Defense, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, Toluca, Mexico; National Museum, Enugu, Nigeria; National War Memorial Museum, Seoul, South, Korea; World Trade Center, Osaka, Japan; Legion of Honor Museum, MH DeYoung Museum and Vorpal Gallery, San Francisco.Back to top