Manchester University
Oak Leaves

March 1, 2019

oke dolls sculpture

A ceramic collage of doll faces.

Photo provided by Chloe Arndt

Oke Displays Own Art in Gallery G

Kaleigh Gabriel


Professor Ejenobo “Jena” Oke, an associate professor of art at Manchester University, recently opened an exhibit entitled “(Still) Playing with Dolls,” which showcases her artistic love for fibers and ceramics along with her fondness of dolls from her childhood.

As director of Galleries, Oke has dedicated Gallery G, located on the second floor of the Jo Young Switzer Center, to works of her fellow artists in the past. However, she decided now was the time to exhibit her own art, a collection of works that has her taken years to create. 

Upon entering Gallery G, viewers are greeted by stark white podiums jutting toward the high ceiling. Atop the podiums sit pieces of work, some ceramic and some paper. Along the white walls of the gallery hang beautifully woven quilts and blankets, varying wildly in color. 

For two years Oke has worked on pieces inspired by her childhood love for dolls. “I grew up in Nigeria,” Oke said. “I remember the dolls of childhood that I would play with until they fell apart. And when they fell apart, I would then play with the pieces.”

Oke says that while the world may see dolls as props to modern-day horror films, she sees them as a connection to her past. “As a child I learned to love and care for my dolls as my own mother cared for me,” she said. “I was captivated by books, such as those by Enid Blyton, an author who spun tales of toys that came alive when the human children left the room, toys that clearly felt the physical imprint of their contact with children."

Each piece of art displayed is a representation of a doll or moment that held meaning in her life. For example, “Maggie’s Tower,” a tall ceramic sculpture centered in the room, features the repeated face of a doll Oke received from her mother and cherished in her childhood.

With its rusty brown color and the ascending pattern of doll faces, the tower resembles that of perhaps a child’s imagination and love for a special toy. Many other attention-drawing pieces are contained within the walls of Gallery G.

Along the left wall sits a doll portrayed as a swaddled baby, sitting atop an intricately detailed quilt littered with cracked ceramic masks of a doll, suggesting a sense of rebirth.

“It’s about second chances,” Oke said. “It’s a theme I’ve been dealing with for a while now. What happens when you have gotten older and fulfilled your purpose? What do you do with yourself? Do you find a new purpose?” Oke’s art not only displays this theme with the occurrence of ‘used’ parts, but also through her methods of creating the pieces themselves.

“It wasn’t until quite recently that my love for ceramics really began,” Oke said. “I am a fiber artist by nature. But I found that just like in fiber art, in ceramics I am able to use my hands to guide me in my craft. I am very hands-on in my work as well as guided by the notion that everything has a place and a reason.”

Oke’s work in fibers is displayed in full elegance in Gallery G. Along the wall directly across from the door hangs a substantial quilt depicting vibrant white orchids with intricate pink details among a background of mixing reds. The green stem of the flower attached to the delicate petals as it begins to droop and one lonely petal breaks free. “The Orchid Quilt,” the largest of all Oke’s pieces, is a handstitched quilt, which required two years to be completed.

Oke says that given the extensive time she spent crafting this piece, she feels drawn to it because it contains “memories and moments of [her] life.”

“I like to slow down and look at the details in art, in things, and in people,” Oke said. “I am enamored by the thought that by touching the fibers or broken pieces, they touch me. Most often, my works reflect a subtle awareness of what our actions do—on a small scale, to the intimate objects around us and on a larger scale, to each other.”

Oke’s exhibit “(Still) Playing with Dolls” will be open for viewing until April 1.