“My work explores the intersection between multimedia, art, technology and African cosmologies. It’s about how we can tie ancient perspectives and ancient ideas with the contemporary to an emancipatory vision of possibilities for humanity,” explains Mikael Owunna, the 56th Guest Artist Pavilion Project Artist in Residence. He was in residence at the Toledo Museum of Art from Nov. 1 – 10, 2023.
Owunna, a Nigerian-American, multimedia artist, filmmaker and engineer, is president of the City of Pittsburgh's Public Art and Civic Design Commission and co-founder of Rainbow Serpent, Inc., a Black LGBTQ art nonprofit organization.
While in Toledo, Owunna worked with museum glass artists to create headdresses for a series of queer African deity busts that he and collaborating artist Marques Redd have been working on in Owunna’s hometown of Pittsburgh. For the glass work, Owunna drew inspiration from both the museum’s ancient art and glass collections.
“The museum’s archivist (Julie McMasters) explained that when the Glass Pavilion was originally conceived, it was meant to have this makerspace right across from the glass collection. People could draw inspiration from there and then go to the contemporary section and see how glass has evolved. That’s exactly how I’ve been able to use this opportunity. It’s had a huge impact on me,” said Owunna.
Owunna’s work has been exhibited across Africa, Asia, Europe and North America and collected by institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Nasher Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Middlebury College Museum of Art; Equal Justice Initiative; Duke University Pratt School of Engineering; University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Mississippi Delta Health Center; and National Taiwan Museum.
In addition, Owunna has published two monographs: Limitless Africans (FotoEvidence, 2019) and Cosmologies (ClampArt, 2021). In 2021, he directed the dance film Obi Mbu (The Primordial House) with Marques Redd, and in 2023, he premiered the multimedia live performance The Four World Ages with the Rainbow Serpent Collective.
His work has been commissioned for major public art installations by organizations including the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Foundation, Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, Pittsburgh International Airport, and Orange Barrel Media.