Interview with Nkiruka Oparah

Tell me about you. I’m a first generation Nigerian, born in Los Angeles and raised in Atlanta. I’m based in Brooklyn right now.

I did my undergrad in psychology, pre- pharmacy and I graduated and worked in a pharmacy for a few years and I went back to the New School of fashion , marketing, designs. And then I started making explorations in art and visual art.

Quite interesting. Atlanta, LA… The east?

I heard you say Enugu… I’ve been to Enugu once.
Have you ever lived in Enugu, do you speak ibo? My parents actually lived in Enugu but they are now based in Atlanta, USA.

You’ve got lots of influences. I heard marketing, I heard (), I heard fashion school and now, you’re doing art. How are you going to merge or blend all of these influences into your work? I don’t really have to try… It’s like the things I’m interested in just kind of merge; like design, fashion… they kind of just melt together in some way.
Is that why your photographs look like collages?

Actually, most of my work is collage. I guess that would be how they all come together, collage together.

How do you think you fit into the theme of the exhibition and when you relate your work with the works of the others, how do you think you fit in?

I think I fit into the theme in the sense that we all have been able to tap into the place and create your own world whether out of imagination or from design. I think that’s how I kind of fit into it, in that all my graphic collages come from my personal experiences and my personal life. They’re kind of projections on myself anyway. So, it’s me forming all these selves together and trying to understand my experience. That’s what’s being displayed.

How would you describe yourself, seeing you have several selves; what should I be looking for in your work; how would I interpret your art; how can I see Nkiru in your work, without conflicting what you’re trying to portray with these selves?

I think the self that comes out through images is my spiritual self mostly. It’s just a kind of feeling, it’s something I’m trying to get to and I don’t really know exactly how to explain it but it just kind of comes out. I get to the right feeling when I’m collaging; then, I know it’s done. It’s just a sense; it’s not concrete anyway. I think that’s one big part of myself that comes to the work; there’s a conscious experience that I’m having which is the idea around the piece I’m creating, like the experience around the piece which will be like a lot of the pieces that are being exhibited. Well, few of them are from a larger series that I did while exploring this idea and that’s where the images come from, that I just kind of love my personal experience in that and that’s where the images come from. It’s just me trying to pull out a certain feeling or what I’m feeling at the moment and representing it via collage in a digital image. That’s another part of myself that’s being represented.

I’m trying to contextualize your work, to see how you fit into the general theme; because the theme, in my opinion has to do with how each artist exists and the sort of world you live in and the issues you deal with. How do you define yourself in this world?

For someone like you who has got very cultural influences; you’ve not really been in Nigeria. I think migration might be an issue, forming an identity might also be an issue. You’ve come back after 3 years and have not really been to Nigeria often. Your name I thought was Jennifer, until I saw Nkiruka when you sent a mail to me. I see a sort of conflict; you’re trying to find yourself somehow. You’re happy to be here yet you’re trying to connect back with your roots. Why would you want to have an exhibition in Lagos for instance? I definitely think the part of a selfexploration. It’s definitely about finding my identity and who I am. Yes, I was raised in America but both of my parents are Nigerians. So, it’s like two different worlds that I’m always trying to connect to and never really feeling like I fit into either one. I live and was raised in America and I never really feel American. I’m back here and this is one of the first visits that I feel like I’m really at home, like I belong here and I’m a part of this place. When I’m in America, I very much identify as being Nigerian.

Do you bear Nkiruka?

Yes, I go by Nkiruka or Nkiru. I think everything I’ve been exploring is about trying to get to my truth, like my own story, like what makes me different; that’s what I’m trying to find.
You haven’t found that yet? I’ll do with 60%. Laughs…It’s a constant thing. I don’t think it’s ever really a finished story.

How would you define yourself now?

I’m not a big fan of using definitions because I think they are kind of fluid. My personality is kind of fluid as well. I can be different things in different situations and cultures. Of course I’m the same person, I’m not changing by leaps and bounds. I don’t want to be like I’m this and I am that.

You’ve come back to Nigeria and you want to identify with Nigeria… In a way?

Yes, I definitely want to identify with Nigeria. I’ve always thought that eventually I would move here.


Yes, a lot of my dreams and aspirations include Nigeria. Nigeria is in my future: To live, work and mentor here; things like that. This programme is great timing and opportunity for me because I was able to come back and also to exhibit here for the first time as an artist. I’ve been able to make new connections and meet other artists that are similar and who have similar visions. We are definitely always trying to connect to Nigeria and this is, I feel, like one of the most concrete ways to have been able to do so, so far in my life, and my own way too because my parents are not involved. It’s like finally, I have my own connection to here and you know, people here that want me here and I feel like I’m accepted and I belong and I’m Nigerian; I don’t have to question it anymore. So, that’s really nice.
I hope to live here in the future and to establish something concrete; some kind of space for developing artists and for promoting talents, like musicians.

Are you into music too?

Yes, I’m veering into music. Though, I don’t sing professionally. I mean I do sing, like everyone sings but I’m not a great singer.

Your style of work is a bit different. Especially if you’re thinking about coming to Nigeria, Nigeria as a dynamic space is growing. We might not be there yet, especially with very contemporary, cutting edge art like the digital art. If you’re trying to come into the space, how do you think you can make that difference and to get collectors to be interested, how do you think your work will fit into the Nigerian space, particularly when you’re thinking of settling here on the long term? I think I’m actually okay with the idea of not necessarily fitting in so much because I believe in an evolving Nigerian identity. Of course we respect the tradition, everything that has happened in history, the culture but also there’s a future in a Nigeria that is globalized, contemporary and has a lot of different influences because of everything that is going on and all the access that we have to the future and our access to the internet, other peoples and culture. So, there is also that evolving self and that’s where I feel like my work kind of fits in a way and I hope to just have people look at it and just see that there are more possibilities than what we have now. It’s not to feel like I’m the future but like the little art is growing and expanding now and people are recognizing it more as something that might be sticking around. I think in that’s where my work kind of fits in. It’s like an evolving identity where Nigeria could be or is… like the multiplicities of who we are as a people.

I want to do a summary of an interview where the writer said “Nkiruka was born in LA and she’s trying to find a connect with her country in her work. She has had various experiences including fashion, marketing; and all these influences she puts into her work in a way of finding and defining herself and coming back has been a real opportunity for her to think about also fitting within the Nigerian space. Not necessarily by being defined by it as a way of fitting in; she’s got long-term plans to mentor Nigerians who have interest in.”

So when I see all the collages and all of that, that’s different bits of you trying to find a way to define yourself. Yes?

Yes, I would say so. That’s fair.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *