Jebila Okongwu was born in London, raised in Nigeria and Australia, Okongwu and currently lives and works in Rome. He received a BA in Visual Art from Monash University and a Graduate Diploma in Fine Art from the University of Melbourne. Jebila Okongwu critiques stereotypes of Africa and African identity and repurposes them as counterstrategies, drawing on African symbolism, spirituality and history.


Five Banana Boxes

Sculpture, wood, bronze, exhibition


One of Jebila Okongwu’s preferred materials is banana boxes; their tropicalized graphics articulate an ‘exotic’ provenance, much like the exoticization of African bodies from an ethnocentric perspective. When these boxes are shipped to the West from Africa, the Caribbean and South America, old routes of slavery are retraced, accentuating existing patterns of migration, trade and exploitation. He often investigates methods to communicate what it feels like to be embedded in structures of domination such as colonialism, racism and exploitation, and how to represent this aspect of blackness. (J.O.)

Okongwu’s works Five Banana Boxes and Banana Sculpture were presented in the exhibition Schengen at Villa Romana, Florence in 2018. The exhibition examined the limitations of socio-cultural and political borders through a totemic memorialization of the migration of bodies and goods. Drawing upon transnational identity and the blue water of the Mediterranean as fluid conceptions of legality and humanity, the works problematize the values instilled by international agreements whose fallen fruits too often die on the vine. The destabilizing of the environmental impact of fading traditions, the evasion of prescribed images of nationalistic belonging and the escalation of global crisis set the foundation for ruptured canons and displaced cultural legibility.