Ikenna has been modeling and creating visual art since 2017. New-York based and Nigerian born, Ikenna works in fashion and branding at the moment. He has a Business degree from Duke and also is the host of a music commentary podcast on Brooklyn’s own Newtown Radio. Ikenna is a scholar of the arts in all its facets. His visual and written work have running themes inspired by religion, spirituality, nature and identity.
Ikenna Ugwu has recently published three of his notes on Paradoxical Continuities in Singularity here at Black Boy Review. Ese Emmanuel has sent out an email of questions to him, in a quest to learn and examine more deeply, his style and motives towards creating these notes.
The first note in the tripartite collection, Jupiter's Orb, speaks of volatility, a certain unpredictability, flimsiness and ephemerality to the world and its processes. But the form of the note is in itself very structured, almost essayistic. This is somewhat ironic, as one would imagine that a note about volatility would be very flowy, and unhinged. This paradox that we see between form and content, was it as intentional as the paradox between meanings that we find throughout the notes?
Yes very much so. So interestingly enough, I didn’t fully intend to have that contrast between the writing style and the subject matter become a thing. A lot of these notes just naturally flowed out of me at moments during the early days of the quarantine when emotions were on high.
But as I kept on writing, I found that I liked the nature of duality that was seeping into my work. The hills and valleys.
So in a way, having that contrast manifested subconsciously but I can see now how it was truly intentional because of my duty to highlighting the beauty in duality.
As noticed in the first note, there is a poem/essay parallel that runs through your work. This is also seen in the second note, Renegade. Is this something that is specific to the three notes published here in Blackboy Review, or is it a reflection of your personal style, this synergy between creative freedom and ideological constrictions?
I have always been interested in duality. I mean at the core of everything, I think duality has always been and still is the bedrock of my worldview. Duality and the readiness to exist in harmony on both sides of an axis. Masculine / Feminine. Chaos / Order. Logical/Creative etc.
And I have always been inspired by religious doctrines. The Bible. The Rosary. The Litany. I went to Catholic boarding school in Nigeria and I was a devout scholar in Catechism and a Lector (the person who reads the daily readings at mass) in church. I became one with the scriptures. Do I agree with everything in those teachings? Not entirely in the least. But I found the literary pieces of the church institutional and very foundational and also at times, very reclusively poetic. So that institutional structure has always played a role in how I write even how I communicate on a daily basis.
So yes it is very much a reflection of my personal style.
"...and creating a new universe is nothing short of chaos and agony, like a dream within a dream." These lines culled from your second note, Renegade, speak of the subject's process of curating music playlists. But it also seems to be telling of a larger artistic dilemma. Is this feeling of "chaos and agony" what you experience when you create art- and specifically, when you write?
I think that I honestly am just beginning to scratch the surface of my full artistic sensibilities. And I must say that being an artist, to any capacity, is the most emotionally tasking burden that there is. Or one of them at least.
In terms of writing specifically, I think of the act of birthing. Mothers are the greatest artists that there are. The process of writing itself feels so beautiful and liberating to me. I can draw parallels to when a mother sees her child for the first time through the Ultra Sound; the satisfaction in seeing her bump grow month to month. Yes the process could be rocky at times. Writers block and all which I equate to a mother’s feelings of morning sickness and such. But the joy overcomes.
But it is the birthing that is the hardest. The release. And I think for artists everywhere it’s the release that is the hardest. Because I think every artist should know that once you create a new art form, it really doesn’t belong to you anymore. It is in fact its own entity and that is the hardest part of the process.
Like a mother, watching her sweet baby grow up independent and make a life for itself. No longer hers but she will always have a sometimes self-deprecating bond to her creation. So again, I believe mothers are the greatest artists that there are.
Titles seem to be the thread by which separate notes in this mini-collection are interconnected. The first note which speaks of volatility is titled "Jupiter's Orb", while the second, actually having planetary and spatial elements, and wherein the word orb is repeated severally, is titled "Renegade". The titles almost seem interchanged, if not misplaced. What was the motive behind giving the notes their characteristic titles, and why are they reflective of notes other than themselves?
Well the thing is I think that it can be a continuous story but you can also view each chapter on its own separate accord.
Jupiter’s Orb itself is named that because it is an introduction to a new world. It’s the first chapter. A new world being the universe which my writing exists in. My version of our current universe. My worldview. Jupiter being the biggest planet and also astrologically the planet that rules idealism and expansion, Jupiter’s Orb is a metaphor for this new idea of my world which I want to express.
So the orb itself and other planetary references run through all 8 chapters of the notes as a reference to this new universe I am trying to craft.
Renegade is named so because as you mentioned, It focuses on a deeper artistic dilemma. It casts the artist in the role of the renegade or the rebellion but does it in a way to also paint the artist as the martyr and the heroic sacrificial lamb at the end of everything.
Still on titles, the title of this collection- Notes on Paradoxical Continuities in Singularity has bits and pieces of itself expressed in all of the three published notes. And in this dispersal, it assumes a variety of meanings, depending on the context of the note where it is explored. But generally- as an individual, concrete concept- what does the title mean?
So let me start by saying that an alternate, more digestible title to this collection is ‘No End In Sight’. Because there is no end to the constant uncertainty and questioning which we will find ourselves in as humans. But you are absolutely right. I kept ‘Notes…’ as the title because it fully encompasses the 8 chapters I wrote.
This title again takes root from the idea of duality. It is a call to understand that everything in life is a grey area and that at the end of the day, almost next to nothing is really as structurally defined as it dares to be. This has always been my worldview and with COVID-19 and all taking swing, that worldview was further reinforced charging a flow of emotions that culminate in this title and in the 8 chapters. Reinforced magnanimously even further by the current state of things – as it relates to the protests on injustice and the current revolution unfolding before our very eyes.
Our existence is in constant question of what it claims to be. Existence leading to our continuity. I think in the end our one true goal in life is to ensure our continuity even beyond the permanence of death. But our continuities are a paradox because nothing is truly what it seems and our whole entire future lies in uncertainty. We truly do not have nearly as much control as we think we do. So how can we ensure this continuity when our current state of existence lies lost in the shadows. It’s a paradox.
But at the other end of it, all of these uncertainties and confusions, when viewed as a singular entity, lead us back to every decision we have and will ever make and ultimately defines our destiny. So in a way these paradoxical continuities are essential when they come together because at the end of the day, they give us life in the present.
"I do not fraternize. I do not subscribe. I do not get personal." These words begin Opaque Hollows, the third of the three published notes, and the subject pronounces the sentence: I do not get personal, just before engaging in a deeply personal recountment of the subject's journey from bleak emptiness into light. The irony of this is glaring, and not unexpected, since the notes themselves are littered with paradoxes. But Opaque Hollows is different from the others as it deviates from the strict essayistic voice of the previous notes, and takes an almost memoir form. What exactly was the mood behind this, and what kind of effect did you intend this particular note to relay?
So as opening lines, “I do not fraternize…” go, this is coming from a place where the subject has fully rejected the old world and is trying to fully dive deep into their own thoughts. I think that you can view Opaque Hollows as a continuation from the first two chapters.
The first two chapters are honestly more like a prologue. I think the true exploration of the subject’s worldview, Jupiter’s Orb in this case, begins in the third chapter. That’s why it is titled Opaque Hollows. Again, this is another paradox. Opaque meaning ‘not transparent’. Things are getting more clearly defined in this chapter. That is why it has less of an essayistic voice. Things are getting more vulnerable and less vague and high minded. Hollow meaning ‘empty space’. Signifying that the subject is ready to be vulnerable and make new meaning of this emptiness they have been feeling.
This chapter can be seen as a continuation from Chapter 2 where I cast the artist as a rebel and discuss the complex emotions of agony that come with releasing artistic work to the world. This chapter is diving deeper into those feelings of chaos and agony and trying to find a silver lining by looking inward. The subject definitely has a war going on in their mind and I think my goal was to ultimately say that as an artist or even just as human, sometimes it is not always wise to look at your creations or possessions. The truest clarity comes from looking inward but not just looking and seeing but looking and choosing to completely actualize what is inside of you. Mind, body and soul.
In all of the three notes, but most obvious in Opaque Hollows, there is a kind of planetary and astrological feel to the work, especially with the use of words like orb, hyperspace, multiverse and dimensionality. This seems to be a function of some sort of transcendence- not just out of self, but out of the space that the self occupies. Is there a background story for your use of these spatially-divergent nouns? And if it really serves the purpose of transcendentalism, why is this necessary?
You are absolutely on the nose! I mean I have always been inspired by space, time and universal elements as a whole. I love astrology and planetary bodies. I have a special connection to the moon and in general, I love anything that is sparse and seemingly full of possibilities. Large grasslands, sunflower fields, lush vegetation in the form of green dense pockets of nature, large bodies of water, open skies, sparse mountainous terrains, deserts etc so naturally, I like space and the galaxy. Even in music, I tend to like deep house, electronic and folk leaning music a lot because they hold a lot of space. The soundscapes are very very sparse. Like driving through extensive terrains of open vegetation. Just the best feeling in the world.
And you are absolutely on the money. I think I have come to realize that my love for things that are sparse and openly layered in nature comes from the ease of transcendence which they hold. With grand open spaces, there is enough room for more possibilities and variations to be actualized. I think it is necessary to emphasize this transcendence using such spatially divergent nouns to further introduce the reader to this new world and indulge them to fully internalize that feeling of calm that comes from the sparseness and openness.
We are well aware that more notes for this project will be published soon, here at Blackboy Review. How many more are we expecting? And what can you tell us about the remainder of the project?
So there are 8 chapters/notes in total. 5 more are to be published.
The remainder runs on similar ideas especially as it relates to paradoxes, duality and continuity. But it gets much much deeper and sometimes, much more vulnerable and personal. One of the chapters capture intense romantic feelings, passion and sexual desire. Another focuses on the longstanding battle between structure and flow and yet another touches on the rewards of restraint and stoicism. It really goes deep. I think the next three chapters after Opaque Hollows are probably the most vulnerable and self-explorative. You might want to call it the section where the plot thickens.
The last two chapters are very high energy and sometimes near abstract poetic pieces. My favorite of all 8 chapters is actually Chapter 8: the very last chapter. Something about it feels like a cathartic end to what was a new world of possibilities. It also gave me the most of a rush during the writing process. I am very satisfied with that particular chapter.
Who/ what are your influences, and what is your creative process like?
So as I mentioned I have always been inspired by religious doctrines. I love the Bible and how the verses are written and structured. Most of all because everything seems very intentional and authoritative but also unapologetically poetic. Nothing is added for flare but the layers run deep. It is the greatest book ever written.
The catholic church also plays a huge influence. I was really a very devoted Catechism scholar. The prayers, especially those focusing on Mary, the Mother of God were so poetically authoritative, almost to the point of tears. The Litany. The Rosary. The Novena. There was this effortless illumination that surrounded the aura of the Virgin Mary and the accompanying prayers. I am also heavily inspired by institutional fixtures – family, kings, war, incantations, marriage, coronations, burials, baptisms etc. Anything that is ceremonial and symbolic beyond the frame of natural principle. As I grew older, I began to see the authoritative artistry that flowed from the catholic church sprinkled through other practices I became interested in like Buddhism, witchcraft and astrology.
But at the other end of it, is space, galaxy, time. Sparseness. And also music. A lot of music influences my emotions. In fact for majority of the writing process, I would listen to this playlist (Here is the link: https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/no-end-in-sight/pl.u-yZyPa71CXP5Xjq )
It held such beautiful space for me. My creative process is very free flowing. I don’t like to create or write out of a feeling of obligation. That works for some people and could work under the right circumstance but I prefer to have things happen organically. Naturally. Out of a true necessity to express.
I actually do not like being in the presence of other people when I am writing. And I also don’t even like other people knowing that I am writing or creating something until it is fully done and ready to go. I was quarantined with a very close friend at the time I wrote this. But I could only focus enough to write from the deepest points of my being verylate at night around 3 or 4 am with all the lights in the living room shut off. Complete and utter darkness with the playlist playing lightly in the background.
Thank you very much for your time, Ikenna Ugwu. It is very well appreciated.