The Seeds We Carry




Kosisochukwu Nnebe


Joséphine Denis

Opening reception and party
Saturday, June 8, 2024, 7PM–midnight
SAW (67 Nicholas Street, Ottawa)

Free admission

The opening reception will be followed by a special presentation as part of the summer edition of Pique, organized by Debaser, featuring musical acts from Jamaican sound systems and voguing and stepping performances in the SAW outdoor courtyard, all reflecting forms of Black resistance. This event, orchestrated by Chukwubuikem Nnebe and Kosisochukwu Nnebe, highlights cultural preservation through sustainable musical traditions, echoing the themes of Black survival and vitality in the exhibition.

SAW presents Kosisochukwu Nnebe in a solo exhibition titled The Seeds We Carry, which honours the somatic rites where oppressive soil transforms into liberating earth. 

The exhibition begins by orienting bodily and earthly functions toward the materialization of spiritual forces, producing an archive of the specific methodologies of enslaved Black women, true alchemists of emancipation. Nnebe's installations embody the transgressive forms our presence takes within oppressive structures. In these works, women subvert the arduous manual labour of colonial plantations into liberating work. They imbue the land with their rituals, reestablishing a spiritual connection with ancestors and evoking the abolitionist insurrections of the Taíno, fueled by ancestral practices of healing and protection. Indigenous medicinal practices, which fuse faith and plant life, restore fertility to landscapes apostatized by colonial plantations, sustaining a dignified and enduring existence.

With and through their nails, these women transformed their bodies into vessels that exacted their rage and hope. Using the cyanide nestled within cassava—a crop the Taíno attributed to the divine—they pursued justice through natural and spiritual channels, courting death with each act. In these works, women displace the site of stolen pleasure from their bodies, diverting the forced toil of colonial plantations into acts of emancipatory sowing.

an inheritance/a threat/a haunting presents a fabled method through a multi-screen video, where Nnebe activates the toxic properties of cassava, turning it into a poisoned powder embedded under the thumbnail of Black women. In the imperial geographies, enslaved women reconfigured the house of their captors into a site of ambush. Preparing a meal became an act of lying in wait, an entrapping lure set for the pillagers' violence on their bodies. Exploiting their central yet disparaged roles within plantations, the revolted women concealed their appetites and opportunities to kill their captors in the irrepressible corners of their domesticated bodies. As Nnebe shares this method from her kitchen, she offers this practice as a recipe for daily resistance, where the roots of poison connect a dispersed community.

The installation We Have a Cure attracts with shimmering neon signs, camouflaging the plot in embellishment. Through manicure rites, Nnebe shapes cosmetic care into spiritual armour, marking an allegiance inscribed in the ideogram motifs of Igbo, Asante, Yoruba and other West and Central African peoples. Ome na ala (the land remained the Earth—and the Earth was a goddess) serves as a place of burial and transition, where funeral rites allow the dead to assume various forms of existence. The seeds of cassava, hibiscus and okra, sown and nourished with sacred libations, are the genesis of transatlantic cultural rhizomes. Nnebe, Indigenous to Igbo land, found subterranean paths leading her land to Jamaica. There, sacred rites trace the common histories between the Igbo and the displaced peoples to the island. The rupture of this sacred connection, through forced removal, marked a violent transplantation for the dislocated, whose implantation, however, became an omen of doom for the usurpers.

In The Seeds We Carry, the eponymous piece of the exhibition, translucent arms emerge from the walls, cradling beaded bottles. Each bottle bears the name of a doktè-fey, leaf-doctors from the southern United States, Jamaica and Haiti, steeped in their healing traditions and cursing prowess, invoking spirits and channelling mystical forces. Inside are hidden potions of cassava juice, wielded as weapons, and mixtures of roots, seeds and stones for protection. An homage to Haitian Vodou altars, these containers transform into conjuring decorations, beckoning the spirits, lwas, to infuse the potions with their strength and blessings.

through us (a dedication from my family to yours) honours the family and ancestral bonds unleashing spiritual energies. The busts of the zemi Yocahu and Nnedimma Nnebe, poised between emergence and submersion, embody this dual spiritual journey. As Nnedimma's mould, crafted from grated cassava, rises from the black matter, Yucahu remains buried, intertwining the present with the absent. Atabey, mother of all beings, breathes life into Nnebe's form, infused with the essence of Yaya, the supreme zemi god.

This dedication pays tribute to the artist's parents and siblings, whose involvement is intimately associated with the creative process. The entire Nnebe family contributed to The Seeds We Carry: Nnedimma, the eldest sister, whose thesis on the incidence of cyanide in cassava inspired this exhibition; Ogochukwu, the mother, who nurtured the planted plots; Ikechukwu, the father, who is preparing the funeral rites; and Chukwubuikem, the younger brother, who is curating a musical tribute for the opening. Nnedimma means “good mother” in Igbo, while Chukwu, signifying “God,” dwells within the names of the other family members. To speak their names is to praise the divine source that animates their inspirations. This cup overflowing with familial tenderness pours into the artist's practice, ceremonially retracing the indissoluble spirit that crossed the waters to resurface in the rebellions of displaced peoples.

Outside, the exhibition begins and concludes with Coseed, a food bank and hub of collective sustenance, constructed in collaboration with Professor Menna Agha and students from the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University. In a time when anti-Blackness persists through food insecurity across Canadian cities, the exhibition stands as an urgent testament to aliveness against overwhelming odds, honouring the ingenuity of Black collective existence. At the close of the exhibition, Coseed will migrate to the Banff community to become the Banff Free Market, continuing the practices cultivated in The Seeds We Carry.

The Seeds We Carry becomes a living tribute to past struggles and an invocation of spiritual forces for future ancestors. The land offers threads to Kosisochukwu Nnebe. She interweaves the ancestral, contemporary, spirituality and rituals, grounding hopes and resistances in the fertile soil of memory, revolts and triumphs.

—Joséphine Denis, Curator

Kosisochukwu Nnebe is a Nigerian-Canadian conceptual artist, curator and writer whose practice draws inspiration from postcolonial and Black feminist thinkers such as Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, bell hooks, and Sylvia Wynter. Working across installation, lens-based media and sculpture, Nnebe engages with topics that range from the politics of Black visibility, embodiment and spatiality to the use of foodways and language as counter-archives of colonial histories. At its core, Nnebe’s practice is interested in anti-colonial and -imperial world-building through acts of solidarity (human and otherwise), the troubling of colonial logics, and speculative (re)imaginings of otherwise pasts, presents and futures. A self-taught artist, Nnebe’s educational background in economics and sociology from McGill University and the London School of Economics, as well as professional background in social policy through her work with the Canadian federal government both inform her approach to her art practice, which is research-based and geared toward social change. Her curatorial practice focuses on anti-colonial solidarities and alternative readings of colonial histories through the lens of racial capitalism and ecology.

Nnebe’s work has been shown in exhibitions across Canada, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Plug In ICA (Winnipeg), the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre (Kingston), Optica Gallery (Montreal), and ArtSpeak (Vancouver), as well as the Hausen Gallery in New York City, the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California, and Tolhuistuin Cultural Centre in Amsterdam. She has forthcoming exhibitions at the Art Museum of Toronto, SAW Centre in Ottawa, Fonderie Darling in Montreal, the Bowling Green State University Gallery in Ohio and Green Space in Miami, Florida, among other. She recently participated in a residency with Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA) at El Espacio 23, a contemporary art space founded by Jorge M. Perez in Miami; is the recipient of the 2023 G.A.S. Fellowship started by Yinka Shonibare in Lagos, Nigeria; and was one of two inaugural artists for NLS Kingston’s Sustainable Sculpture Residency in Maroon Town, Jamaica. In 2025, Nnebe will be among a small cohort of artists, designers, researchers, architects and curators participating in a year-long residency at the Jan van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands. Nnebe has been commmissioned for public art by Plug In ICA; digital art by the Mozilla Foundation, and writing by the Department of Love, the National Gallery of Canada, Disembodied Territories (UK) and Artexte (Montreal), with her writing appearing in two forthcoming book publications. Her work is held in private and public collections, including the Canada Council for the Arts, Ottawa Art Gallery, Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Montreal Roundtable for Black History Month. In 2021, Nnebe designed and delivered a course on Art and Criticism from a critical and decolonial perspective for the Ottawa School of Art’s Fine Arts Diploma Program.

Funders and partners: Canada Council for the Arts, Government of Canada, Ontario Arts Council, Government of Ontario, Ontario Trillium Foundation, City of Ottawa, Dennis Tourbin Fund for Emerging Artists, Ottawa Community Foundation, ACFO Ottawa's Bilingual Ottawa program and Debaser