Nigerian artist Mary Evans said during her college years she was the only black student in her class, but this didn’t become the focus of her artwork until she had what she described as an eye-opening experience.
A contemporary mixed media artist, Evans discussed the evolution of her art, focusing on themes of immigration, cultural preservation and identity in her work at a talk on Monday.
Born in 1963 in Lagos, Nigeria, Evans immigrated to England at the age of five. As a result, Evans said the majority of her education was taught from a primarily British perspective. Evans said she was usually one of only a handful of minority students for the duration of her experiences in college.
In Amsterdam, after visiting the immigration office, she was cleared for three months to study, while other students were allowed to study uninterrupted for a year. This experience shifted the focus of her work.
“I was too Nigerian for the Dutch, [and] too Nigerian for the British,” Evans said.
Evans said she remembered trying to figure out whether or not she could ever belong in her new home.
“My mom has lived in England for twice as long as she has in Nigeria, but when she says home, she means Nigeria,” Evans said.
The unifying theme in her art is the constant movement of cultures as a result of immigration.
“The core of my practice, really, is how people move around the world and what cultural capital you take with you,” Evans said.
Evans said she likes to keep her images simple because extraneous details tend to distract from the message. According to Evans, a very direct, pictographic image says a lot.
For her medium, Evans works primarily with brown paper and traditional household items, including doilies and gingerbread biscuits.
“As a painter, I would always print in an offset way,” Evans said.
Evans said she let go of more formal painting techniques while in Amsterdam.
“I don’t need fine art material to make art,” she said.
Faith Ann Ruszkowski, a journalism and business sophomore, said she admired the paradoxical element of Evan’s art.
“I like the impermanence of her art,” Ruszkowski said. “She makes temporary work through permanent work, which was a relic of the past.”
Evans’ lecture was one in a series of speaking engagements meant to introduce students and faculty to professionals working in art.
Eddie Chambers, associate professor of art history and African and African American studies, organized Monday’s lecture. Chambers said the goal of the series was to connect the community directly with artists.
“[The goal is] to hear directly from artists,” Chambers said. “Artists have their own way of illuminating their practice.”