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Mikael Owunna: Featured Artist #4

"Or is chi an infinitesimal manifestation of Chukwu’s infinite essence given to each of us separately and uniquely, a single ray from the sun’s boundless radiance?" - Chinua Achebe

The constant media coverage of dying and dead black people is overwhelming. Bodies once full of life, weakened by death. Mikael Owunna wanted to recast the black body. In his latest series, he does just that.

Infinite Essence is his response to pervasive media images of black people dead and dying. Being gunned down by police officers, drowning and washing up on the shores of the Mediterranean, starving and suffering in award-winning photography. The trope of the black body as a site of death is everywhere.

Mikael explains, "With this series, I’ve set about on a quest to recast the black body as the cosmos and eternal. I hand paint the models' bodies with fluorescent paints, and using my engineering background I have augmented a standard flash with an ultraviolet bandpass filter, to only pass ultraviolet light. Using this method, in total darkness, I click down on the shutter – “snap” – and for a fraction of a second, their bodies illuminate as the universe. We view the beauty of the soul and our deeper cosmic connections communicated through them."

Mikael recently received a $20,000 grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to finish this incredible series.

For a full portfolio of this series, click here.

For the NPR article about this series, click here.

About the Artist:

Mikael Chukwuma Owunna (b. 1990) is an award-winning queer Nigerian-Swedish artist and photographer, born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and with degrees in Biomedical Engineering and History (Duke University '12). His work centers around identity while bending the medium with his engineering and multidisciplinary background. His work imagines new universes and realities for marginalized communities around the globe.

Do you want to be featured as our next Featured Artist? This monthly series will dive into the underbelly of Pittsburgh art and bring recognition to some of the hardest working, most inspired talents in Pittsburgh. No matter your artistic medium, send us an email at so we know about the work you are doing to grow Pittsburgh's already incredible artistry.

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