The School of Visual Arts illustration graduate whose delicate water-based works express a playful intersection of art and prose, presenting personal stories of identity
After undertaking a BA in sociology at Boston College, influenced by her fascination with the power of images, it was illustration’s ability to provide art to the masses that convinced Chioma Ebinama to develop her creative practice by enrolling on the MFA illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “Galleries and museums can be very alienating, if you don’t have the social capital to navigate such spaces” she tells us, “but a beautiful illustration in a book you can get at the library, you can own it for almost nothing. That’s beautiful”.
Her time on the MFA course allowed her to experiment and fail, acting as a “rapid incubator” for Chioma’s organic working process, affording her the time and space to explore different techniques and media. “I’ve always enjoyed making things not just drawing or painting” she explains. The combination of this and a sense of urgency within her practice to make things in order to survive, it’s not surprising that it was only last year that Chioma began to feel comfortable and confident with the title of ‘illustrator’.
Her creative practice was found out of her love for images and the influence they have within representation, yet, her delicate works are often equally inspired by the ambiguity of words and language. “I do a lot more reading and writing than sketching these days, I’ve found that words really help to stir up my imagination” Chioma reveals, “they can be so final and concrete and yet leave so much room for misunderstanding and abstraction”.
This interest in the void and discord within communication gives a little insight into Chioma’s choice of materials throughout her works. After randomly inheriting the ink collection of Spike Jonze’s late mother — having previously worked exclusively in watercolours — she began to experiment and became captivated by the way water behaves, the bleeding, pooling and dripping of the inks adding character to each piece. “I love water media in general because they all require a lot of skill to control” she opines, “but can also have beautiful results when you let go and let mistakes happen”. With her approach to each individual project often being material driven, a sense of contemplation and sensitivity radiates throughout her practice.
As her practice develops, Chioma is considering and probing the limitations of her creative practice. After recently returning home to Nigeria for the first time in 17 years, the experience is stirring up lots of questions about the industry and her responsibilities as an artist. “Illustration is very white and very male and very Western, and is sustained by industries that are equally so” she tells us, “I’ve been thinking a lot more about what kinds of stories I want to tell with my work and questioning whether illustration is really the right realm for all of them”. As she continues to expand her creative pursuits we will be sure to keep an eye out for future works and think you should too.