Onyedika Chuke

Onyedika Chuke, The Untitled/hermes_and_reflection pool_red, 2016, water, steel, and rust, Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, NY [courtesy of the artist]

This text originally appeared in ART PAPERS Fall/Winter 2020, Monumental Interventions, as part of a special dossier highlighting seven artists who have fought—and continue the fight—to transform their public spaces by uncovering suppressed histories, resisting oppression, and telling formerly silenced truths. 


For New York–based multimedia artist Onyedika Chuke the monument is plastic in form and concept. Monuments can be defined and redefined, based on their spatial and cultural contexts. He plays with this plasticity to reveal that history, too, is in constant flux. The Forever Museum Archive began in 2011, while Chuke was traveling in Libya. There he saw layered architectural remnants from the rise and fall of empire and fascism. The archive, an ongoing research project, consists of artworks, iconography, and political objects, which Chuke has either collected, replicated, or fabricated. His works often reference ancient Western civilizations to comment upon the inescapable influence of Western globalization. The archive’s aim is to interrogate history, to make evident pervasive semiotics, patterns, and narratives within human cultural production. Chuke’s power as an archivist rests in his ability to form and re-form monumental sculptures and symbols to shift their meaning and affect, revealing the fallacy of linear history and nationalist essentialism.

In-progress statue of bearded man with lion skin covering on art studio table

Onyedika Chuke, The Forever Museum Archive_The Untitled_Severed Head of Hercules, 2020, clay and steel, 2 x 2 x 2 feet, New York, NY [courtesy of the artist]

The Untitled/Hermes_and_reflection pool_red (2016) is a part of Chuke’s public installation at Socrates Sculpture Park for the 2017 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition. The work includes two objects from the Forever Museum Archive installed together as a seamless assemblage, and in conversation with several other objects from the archive. The first object was a round, shallow reflection pool constructed on-site with a steel base. The second object was Hermes, a concrete replica cast from the feet of a fragmented ancient sculpture of the messenger of the Greek Gods. His identity was made evident by winged sandals. Untitled was inspired by the United Nations’ public admission that global warming is a real and critical phenomenon. Chuke juxtaposed classical sculpture, industrial materials, and mythology to comment on the news media response in the Western World. Chuke’s reference to Hermes, a trickster figure and messenger, alludes to the mercurial ways in which the media obscured realities of global warming to cause confusion and apathy. Left to naturally oxidize over time, the steel sheets at the base of the pool rust, turning the stagnant water red. The polluted pool taints the shared public space and becomes a subtle warning to idle complacency.

Pair of winged feet resembling fragments of Ancient Greek marble statue

Onyedika Chuke, The Untitled/hermes_and_reflection pool_red, 2016, water, steel, and rust, Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, NY [courtesy of the artist]