Nkiruka Oparah: dream constructs at Nook Gallery

Shotgun Review

Nkiruka Oparah: dream constructs at Nook Gallery

By Elena Gross May 22, 2018

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Elena Gross reviews Nkiruka Oparah: dream constructs at Nook Gallery in Oakland.

Like most adults, I have a hard time remembering my dreams. For the past five years, Nigerian artist, curator, and writer Nkiruka Oparah has been dutifully recording the details of her dreams every morning as part of an extensive practice that informs both her waking life and art-making. In her solo exhibition and workshop series, dream constructs, at Nook Gallery, Oparah gives form and color to her subconscious. Employing drawing, text, and printmaking, she encases the viewer in a multimedia installation that is both expansive in meaning and almost claustrophobically intimate in scale—much like the space of dreams. 

Nkiruka Oparah. ege e nti enu ihe ana ekwu, 2018. Courtesy of Nook Gallery. Photo: Elena Gross.

Oparah emphasizes the movement between conscious and unconscious space in the transition from one side of the room to the other, and in the oscillation between color and black-and-white images. On the right hangs a collage of images, affixed together in an almost quilt-like pattern. Risograph prints become the surface of the quilt while technicolor drawings and photographs sit atop like appliques. The drawings and prints are youthful and abstractly insinuate human faces, animals, and flora. However, the appropriated photographs from the artist’s family archive are what stand out most sharply against the bright, cartoonish background. The pictured faces become familiar (and familial), tethering us much the way faces of those we know present themselves in dreams as anchors to our waking lives. 

Nkiruka Oparah. dream constructs (detail), 2018. Courtesy of Nook Gallery. Photo: Elena Gross.

On the left wall, the artist draws portals and ghost-like bodies that hover around and above the viewer’s head. Oparah states that she is interested in “the way the body is both performer and technology” as well as “the fluid ambiguity of time when one inhabits one’s body.”1 Throughout the exhibition, the viewer’s body performs too, contorting to view the work, almost moving in time with the artist’s hand around the walls of the gallery. 

dream constructs is particularly well-suited for a space like Nook Gallery, which is located in an apartment eating nook. The domestic space of the kitchen holds the memory of the beings and bodies that came before, in much the same way Oparah brings the weight and memory of her matriarchs into the unconscious with her. Oparah sheds layers and layers of herself while leaving space for visitors to do the same. Though the exhibition stems largely from the artist’s point of view—she literally draws from her own dreams—Oparah attempts to get at the universal. Not a universality devoid of particularity but informed by what is common within us. I was struck most profoundly by a simple line of text written in the left corner of the wall, just above my head, that read: “want to speak of black beauty.” In this phrase, Oparah names her desire and longing while equally expressing frustration at its unattainability. Even within the limitless and boundless space of dreams, we still wish to be free.

Nkiruka Oparah: dream constructs was on view at Nook Gallery in Oakland through May 4, 2018.


  1. From exhibition's press release.

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