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Elena Njoabuzia Onwochei-Garcia

Elena Njoabuzia Onwochei-Garcia is a Glasgow based painter and installation artist of Spanish, Nigerian and German heritage.

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Artist profile


Elena Njoabuzia Onwochei-Garcia is a Glasgow based painter and installation artist of Spanish, Nigerian and German heritage. In her works, she investigates perception in its many forms, exploring how our conscious and unconscious assumptions about race and identity shape the way we interpret and make meaning of the world around us. Drawing on her mixed-heritage background, Elena’s practice is inspired by the concept of the mestiza, the experience of being caught between divergent cultures and identities. “Having a connection to different pasts and perspectives within history, being confronted with an unauthorised self, and experiencing conflicting moments of an existence in-between, all reflect the reality of being mestiza.”

Before practising art and completing an MFA at Glasgow School of Art, Elena studied History and History of Art at Durham University. Influenced by her academic background and her interest in classical literature and intellectual history, Elena’s paintings often grapple with knowledge production and disparaged, “fictional narratives” concerning otherness. During her year abroad in Rome, she attended the night-classes of Arts in Rome Academy, which had a profound impact on her visual language. She says: “My approach to painting is thoroughly influenced by Italian Renaissance masters’ portrayal of one-point perspective, their compositional style and theatricality.”

Refusing traditional wall hangs, Elena’s paintings on washi paper, which are often cut, curved, or bent (see her piece, A Communion Rite), create the illusion that the viewer is part of the scene - that its space and characters can be tangibly sensed. “I make my figures life-sized, to blur the boundaries between the image and the onlooker, creating a sense of discomfort that disrupts the privilege of spectatorship.” These immersive scenes, which offset the hierarchy between viewer and subject, call for radical empathy with their characters, regardless of their race or identity. Floating freely in the space, Elena’s paintings always have an “exterior and interior”: a front and a back, “the former showing the lived experience in all its tumult, and the latter the theoretical presumption of the mixed-race being”. Puzzling, her collage series composed of cut-out fragments, and inspired by mediaeval frescoes, play on this idea of the two-sides. While the fronts of the paintings are characterised by a confluence of narratives, the obverse reveals Elena's process of working with sheets of washi-paper that are fused together, leaving jagged lines running through their backs, akin to scars or a puzzle. The emotionally charged scenes on one side, and the symbolic gesture of merging fractured parts back together on the other, reifies the mestiza reality - the experience of “having a multiplicity of beings.” Similarly, her works Dramas de Honor and A Comedy of Race, referencing diverse histories from the colonial pasts of Africa, through to British and Spanish imperialism, to the ancient myths of the Greeks, weave together, and unite a myriad of realities.

Recently, Onwochei-Garcia’s work has been exhibited at the Bloomberg New Contemporaries, and at the New Glasgow Society, in Glasgow. Elena is currently working on her first solo show in London, during which she will further explore the sculptural dimensions of washi paper.

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Puzzling backside, detail

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Dramas de Honor

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