Ekene Ijeoma makes urgent art in the space between feeling and fact

By Rod Stanley

Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis is a fascinating and enlightening show currently at the Museum of the City of New York, which examines the history of the city’s battle with infectious disease – a fight which, in their words, involves “government, urban planners, medical professionals, businesses and activists.”

The relationship between people and pathogens has always had a cultural and political element, in terms of which communities suffer. On display at the exhibition is a new sculpture titled “Pan-African Aids”, which exemplifies this by exploring the “hyper-visibility of the HIV/Aids epidemic in Africa and the hidden one in Black America.” Between 2008 and 2015, while the rates of HIV/Aids infections in Africa went down, the rates in the black population in the USA actually went up. A series of layered plexiglass panels transition between representations of the two populations at a rate equivalent to the rise of infection in Black America, sliced up into 14 sections – two for each year.

Commissioned by the museum in partnership with London’s Wellcome Trust, the sculpture is the work of 34-year-old Ekene Ijeoma, a New York- and Boston-based conceptual artist who uses design and technology to create powerfully affecting sculptures, installations, websites and performances. “The work I'm doing and the context of it is meant to be seen and discussed,” says Ekene, picking at a croissant on the plate in front of him. Softly spoken and sometimes self-deprecating, he often offers a ‘maybe’ or a ‘kind of’ at the end of lengthier discursions. When an idea takes him, though, he is forthright. “For me, it’s about getting the ideas and the issues out there through the work.”

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