In 1775, Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is, therefore, an emblem of magnanimity and true courage” while musing on the nation’s first symbol, the rattlesnake. Franklin’s America described here as “an emblem of magnanimity and true courage” was rapidly gaining its independence through war, veiled by the vow to protect its newfound freedom and justice for all. In _5, Onyedika Chuke conceptualizes the role protection—of bodies, of borders, of resources—has played in the development of nations by analyzing allegories of snakes and nationalism in five pieces.
Starting with the architecture of Cuchifritos Gallery, Chuke’s newest body of work manipulates the viewer’s sense of perspective and perception. Each of these pieces distorts, incises, grounds, expands and confines the gallery space, extending it beyond its aesthetic and physical limits. _5 begins with a gateway into globalization in FMA_Untitled_New Curtains, a 10ft x 5ft transparent vinyl butcher curtain embedded with deep blue miniature steel globes from c. 1960. Viewers walking through this sculptural symbol can meditate on how trade has shaped modern notions of commercialization and nationalism. The vinyl in this piece is an homage to traditional markets and the globes signify the new world order initially proposed by Winston Churchill after WWII. FMA_Untitled_U.S Navy Jack 1776-Present is a 6ft x 4ft hand-painted watercolor on taffeta of the First Navy Jack flag, the image of American freedom stemmed from resistance to British colonization in America—taxation without representation, state dissent and desire for democracy. Issues deemed problematic from the start; currently unresolved and further complicated by more recent history. In FMA_Untitled_Labyrinth, Chuke explores how water has been used as a conduit to enhance security and trade. In his work, labyrinths are both anti-navigation symbols and targets. The gentle movement of the water around the found items, inside the stark angles of the resin and packing material, _Labyrinth makes note of the attempt to control nature for the protection of man. FMA_Untitled_Python questions whether or not Franklin’s famous essay on the similarities between this nation and rattlesnakes has continued to be veritable. Displaying a 25ft coiled resin python, perched to keep an eye on visitors, Chuke presents a new allegory for America’s strategy for self-preservation. Finally, FMA_Untitled_Arch is a work created by cutting directly into the wall of the gallery. A reference to the end of the Vietnam era and a gateway into an imperial expansion, it carries the imagery of a cathedral window or a gateway into a void. It is a solid space, void space, and non-space.