This Brooklyn artist wants to change the way you look at furniture
“this is not a pipe– this is not a pipe – are the words that float under the painted pipe of Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte in his 1929 work “The Treachery of Images”. Along the same lines, for the Brooklyn-based Nigerian-American furniture maker and artist Nifemi Ogunro, its chairs are not chairs, nor its tables tables. This modern-day designer makes a point of turning furniture upside down.
When Ogunro set out to study industrial and product design at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, a required class led her to experiment with furniture shapes, a breakthrough for the young designer. “It was really liberating,” she says. Home business. “I was able to not only get an idea, but three days before it was due, I flipped the frame because I wanted the piece to be different. I just redirected what I had drawn and went I really appreciated the freedom of having permission to do something like this while it was still working.
After graduating, Ogunro landed in Atlanta where she took a job with a lighting design company. For a creative outlet, she turned to a membership-based creative space in 2018. As the pandemic hit, her initial interest in furniture found space to flourish. After quitting his full-time job at a solar-powered lighting company, a friend connected Ogunro to work on a large-scale commission with the sculptor Michael Beitz in Colorado. “That’s where I really learned how to work with materials,” says Ogunro. “[Beitz] was really helpful and generous. He allowed me to use his space and pushed me to do the work. With his completed creations photographed and filmed, Ogunro burst onto the scene through a feature film in Wallpaper in April 2021 and has been receiving commissions ever since.
Moulins Dion Lamar
Ogunro refers to his pieces as “functional sculptures” and sees them on the border between utility and style. From her studio in Brooklyn, in addition to commissions, she continues to develop her own concepts, drawing inspiration from her immediate environment. “Form is a big part of what I do,” says Ogunro. “I will see something – whether in subway stations, my apartment, in hallways or in nature – repeating form and abstracting it. As long as you have a flat surface somewhere, it’s furniture. All it has to do is hold something aloft, be it another object, a person, a plate.
Ogunro’s ethos of work introduces a stillness, an almost sacred atmosphere, to each piece. His designs, crafted primarily in wood, are distinguished by a deceptive simplicity – each austere silhouette challenges traditional notions of how furniture should gaze, forging a narrative of their own, infused with themes of family, heritage and sustainability. “I want to move that idea around the furniture we have because I think it’s easy to associate it with such mundane activities,” she says. “I want my pieces to live as works of art as well as things that people can use, and [I hope that] because of this association, people value this piece more than something they got from Ikea, and see a reason to keep it.
Moulins Dion Lamar
And those words resonate both in her pieces and in the way she markets them. In Ogunro’s designs, minimalism meets surrealism to strip furniture of expectation – and she brings this notion to her digital “marketing” as well. “[When] I frame [my work]— you could call it marketing — I’m always imagining a new way of looking at furniture,” she says. “There is a power in the work that challenges the everyday, which you can both observe and interact with. I’m excited to have different ideas and reconceptualize objects and human interaction with them, exploring this tension through photography and video.
Earlier this year, Ogunro debuted at Salone del Mobile in Milan, and as her practice grows, she hopes her pieces will inspire and provoke the same values of abstraction and subversion that went into their design. “Furniture, especially objects that interact with bodies, is just one surface,” she says. “We see a chair as we’ve been told a chair should look, but the second you strip it of four legs and a back, all of a sudden you have lines and curves. different. There’s this idea of where your inspiration should be when you’re in a certain medium, but anything can be inspirational.
Homepage image: Ogunro stands with three of his pieces: “Tob(i)” (left), “Untitled” (center) and “Tope” (right). | Moulins Dion Lamar