In the heart of Sant’Andrea de Scaphis, a ninth-century deconsecrated Roman church, Nigerian-American poet and artist Precious Okoyomon takes her visitors head-first into a captivating installation. The exhibition, titled The Sun Eats Her Children, transforms the historical space into a vibrant green oasis where nature grows aplenty and a serene melody of nature and mystery plays. Within the church, Okoyomon has planted a diverse array of plants, including jimsonweed, lantana, bitter nightshade and stinging nettle. What unites these botanical specimens is their shared ability to produce poison—a mysterious and potent quality that binds them both in nature and artistic metaphor.

The Sun Eats Her Children is a testament to nature's paradoxes, prompting contemplation about life's myriad facets that are all part of a single whole. Okoyomon's fascination with these plants stems from their defiance of the conventional perception of nature as weak and defenceless. In the exhibit, flowers, often associated with purity, beauty, fertility and innocence, shed their traditional connotations and emerge as symbols of strength and power. They uplift nature, and especially plant life, as beings with as much agency as humankind does, worthy of care and respect, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Life on Land.

Photo of Precious Okoyomon by Lia Clay Miller. Image courtesy of W Magazine.

The lush installation becomes a canvas for the intertwining elements, including a stuffed animatronic bear centrepiece that alternates between slumber and wakefulness, emitting a haunting scream upon awakening. The screams from the bears are voiceovers done by writer Sadiya Hartman, performance artist Okwui Okpokwasili and Okoyomon herself. They create a stark contrast to the melodic strains of Kelsey Lu's background cello, which plays within the space. These creatives are all Black women who have come together to celebrate their shared heritage and like the poisonous flowers in the installation, showcase their powers and endurance, despite negative stereotypes. 

The animatronic bear in The Sun Eats Her Children by Precious Okoyomon. Image courtesy of Frieze Magazine.

The exhibition also incorporates live black butterflies, which play a crucial role in the immersive experience, symbolizing the cycles of life—living, reproducing, and eventually dying within a relatively short period. This signifies the artist’s celebration of life, an invitation to audiences to live in the moment and try their best to make a positive impact due to life’s fleeting nature.

The Sun Eats Her Children by Precious Okoyomon. Image courtesy of Gladstone Gallery.

Another notable project by Okoyomon involved transforming the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum for an exhibition titled Every Earthly Morning the Sky’s Light Touches Ur Life is Unprecedented in its Beauty. Collaborating with local growers, Okoyomon created seasonal biospheres of indigenous and invasive plants that are being irrigated by a stream of black algae water. Large-scale "angel protector" sculptures, crafted by local ceramicists, have also been erected within the space. Meanwhile, event activations by musicians, poets, and others added layers to this immersive environment.

Again, with the exhibition’s seasonal nature, themes of decay and death are yet again present in Okoyomon’s work. Here, Okoyomon challenges the prevailing anxiety surrounding mortality. The artist contends that death is an inherent part of everyday life, urging individuals to embrace decay as a natural process. Drawing on their background in philosophy, Okoyomon explores eschatology and the human condition, emphasizing the importance of love in confronting the inevitability of death and creating a healing reflection that puts people front and centre.

Every Earthly Morning the Sky’s Light Touches Ur Life is Unprecedented in its Beauty by Precious Okoyomon. Image courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum.

Precious Okoyomon's artistic practice is a testament to the power of chaos, constant change, and a profound connection with the natural world. Through installations and a visionary approach to intervention, Okoyomon challenges people’s conventional perceptions of nature and invites audiences to rediscover themselves in the ever-unfolding miracle of the world.

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