Nnamdi Okonkwo is a talented Nigerian sculptor who lives with his wife and family in Fayetteville, Georgia. Okonkwo says of his work, “In my indigenous culture as well as in many cultures, womanhood is venerated. There is an understanding that women share, even in a small way, with the creator, the sacred act of giving life. Perhaps this understanding of the dignity of womanhood inspires me to seek to honor women in my sculpture.”
Life has taken you from Nigeria to Hawaii to Georgia. I truly believe that artist expression to a great extent comes from the fountain of a person’s innermost thoughts, as well as from life’s experiences. Every aspect of my life and experience has had an indirect and not literal influence on my art. But their is also a natural God-given sensibility to aesthetics and ideas which every person has which, if the artist is loyal to, exercises a greater influence on him than any learned conviction. One of my strongest convictions, which guide my art, is that there is a God, and we are all his children. We have the potential to become, through the talent He has given us, channels through which He can express His perfection for the benefit of humanity.
You often focus on womanhood. How do you feel about women’s issues in LDS culture right now. Actually my main focus is the expression of love, and the dignity or nobility of the soul. At this time, I have chosen the female form as a vehicle to portray these ideas, but will most likely use the male form for the same purpose in the future. As far as women’s issues go in the LDS environment I am of the opinion that God loves both genders equally.
Although we can talk about women’s issues or men’s issues I feel that in reality, and especially in the gospel there should not be any demarcation, for we are all alike unto God, and cannot stand approved of Him when we in anyway treat another as lower than ourselves. However, I also feel that God created men and women to be different, and to have different roles and responsibilities, and to complement each other in their differences. There is always a hurdle of faith that almost always involves an aspect of pride which we all must encounter in our spiritual journeys. Having concerns, perhaps some doubts, I believe is not only okay, but necessary, but it is important, to go about resolving them in the right and appropriate way. Unlike in secular affairs, I don’t think God needs a public demonstration or confrontation, no matter how peaceful, in His Church to bring about His good will for his children.
Describe your creative process I always have lots of ideas that I want to explore in sculpture. Sometimes I try to sketch them first on paper, but other times I prefer to work them out directly with clay. Most times the ideas are vague, and upon exploration in clay, the end product bears only a minimal resemblance to the original idea. I’ve come to believe that having an idea is mostly a tool to get me into the studio. The real inspiration happens when I am actively working, and it usually comes at the moment when I have tried everything to no avail, and am ready to throw up my hands in frustration. Experiences like this have really convinced me that this struggle in creativity is but a way to convince the artist that he or she is not ‘all that’, and that great art does not come from the artist, but from a different higher place, and the artist must not take credit for it.