Nifemi Marcus-Bello Casts Empathy in Bronze

Photography by Erik Benjamins. Image courtesy of Marta, Los Angeles.

Empathy is at the core of Nifemi Marcus-Bello’s practice. The Nigerian designer makes works that enter into quiet communion with their user, highlighting intentionally sourced materials and time-honored rituals of production. The Introvert’s Chair, Marcus-Bello’s contribution to the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, features a high screen of traditionally woven raffia that wraps around the sitter in a protective embrace. His M2 shelves, 2022, are made from African mahogany and a powder-coated frame that maintain their structural integrity primarily by “leaning on one another for support.”

This spring, Marcus-Bello presents his first U.S. exhibition, “Oríkì (Act I): Friction Ridge,” at Marta. Six bronze benches, fabricated by repeatedly thumping their molds to achieve the dented texture of recently repatriated Beninese royal sculptures, are arranged in a circle in the Los Angeles design space, set to a recording of the artist’s mother delivering an oríkì (a form of poetic affirmation among West African Yoruba-speakers). For the designer, who got his degree in industrial and product design at the University of Leeds in the U.K., entering this chapter after a career in commercial production poses a new set of challenges. “I am exploring what it means to present this work in a gallery space, to be able to tell the story the right way,” he says, noting his attention to themes of Africanism and modern material colonization. The exhibition, on view through March 4, is the first in a series of design “acts” that will engage with different facets of African identity and craft production—a subject close to Marcus-Bello’s heart. “This work feels extremely different, a lot more personal.”