In a small art studio located in the West Bottoms there are stacks of hand patterned fabrics and friezes hanging on the walls. One wall holds a large window overlooking the Bottoms opened to allow fresh air and sunlight into the studio, a sculpture of a girl looks out the window. This is Maria Ogedengbe’s studio.
I first met Maria Ogedengbe at the First Fridays event in the Crossroads District. She was standing on the sidewalk behind a table talking to passersby about her project. A project that is going to bridge two countries through the expression in art. Today, sitting in her studio she has a sparkle in her eyes and speaks enthusiastically as we discuss this project called mySister!, a sculpture built partly in Kansas City and part in Nigeria.
Maria had been working with this idea of an outdoor semi-permanent display since the beginning of the year. She had put in a proposal for the project for a presentation that was different but the same concept of mySister!. That project ended up being cut, so Maria decided why not continue with this idea in a sister city. The idea grew into a sculpture of two girls swinging together on a swing hung from a tree. “I didn’t have the idea for the swing until I took a walk down Central and there was this one particular tree on this one particular corner and it sits up on a retaining wall so it’s just hanging there and there is a school on an adjacent corner,” says Maria.
Having taken two other separate trips to Nigeria, Maria found a people “known for their love of fabrics.” A people who take pride in the way they dress. She found women who call each other “sister” whether they are related or not. “It’s a nice sensibility, a caring sensibility. I think it would be good if America adopted this sensibility.” Maria then built upon this way of thinking to further the concept of her project.
“I don't think I was really aware that Kansas City had a Sister City in the country until after I returned from my first trip and noticed the Nigerian flag flying on the footbridge over Brush Creek on the Plaza here in Kansas City.” Maria did her research into sister cities at the library where she found that a sister city bond was created in the 1990s, initiated by a doctor, Abio Sakari, at UMKC. Port Harcourt, Nigeria is one of the sister cities of Kansas City and future site of the Maria’s sculpture.
The girl that is looking out her studio window is a test doll for the materials Maria will use to create her sculpture. The skeleton of the doll is made of bamboo and steel. Canvas and Tyvek are being used for the “skin” of the girl and she been has stuffed with recycled plastic bags to ensure weather proofing. Maria has used a fleece material for the hair that will allow it to move along with the swinging motion of the sculpture and her clothes will be sprayed with a gel medium so that they will be like a vinyl tablecloth but still allowed to participate in the swinging motion.
Currently, Maria is working to fund mySister! through grants and tax-deductible donations. She began a blog that will chronicle the making of the project. T-shirts are available to help bring attention and funds to the project. The shirts are sold at $11 for one or $20 for two.
Maria Ogedengbe’s vision is to further the notion of the affectionate term of women calling each other “sister” on a worldly scale between Kansas City and Port Harcourt, between America and Nigeria. To envision that in a sculpture of two girls, their dresses made in the colors of the flag for America and Nigeria, hair swinging in the breeze as they hold hands and swing together. The sculpture will be built and presented in Port Harcourt a week before the literary fest known as the World Book Capital by UNESCO.
To continue to follow Maria’s work on the project or to make a tax-deductible donation visit her blog.