Tony Akudinobi Awakens Africa in Designs of Beauty

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“The works of art presented here are coded in furniture of utilitarian types that are simply alluring.”

The ambience at Shell Club in Port Harcourt struck a note of genius. The designs of Tony Chidi Akudinobi held the scores of Nigerians and expatriates gathered in the hall spellbound. Emeritus Professor Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, an eminent supporter of the Awakened Africa project of Tony Akudinobi, strongly believes that African design must reach deep into the resources of history to make a mark in the world.

For Dr. Jude Akudinobi, the elder brother of Tony who teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “The Awakened African is about emboldened dreams and richly textured cultural imaginaries. In this project, Africa is repositioned, quite confidently, to unfurl the philosophical, social and political significance of its intricately diverse cultural forms and ever-expanding representational realms.

In exploring the links between modes of expression and social identities, for instance, it is a marked intervention and, crucially, about engendering the capacities to dream anew. The project, in its surefooted standpoints, richness of details and understandings, does not depend on a paradigm ordained by the ostensible high priests of art.

Remarkably, it is about eschewing the generic, mapping new terrains of possibilities and fostering dynamic relationships between imagination and cultural patrimonies, embodying a consciousness which questions incarceratory ideas of what it means to be ‘African’.

In this, it is not an issue of dressing up older forms in new guises. If anything, its subtle explorations of shifting relationships between genealogies and progenies, myriad inspirational streams and imaginative sensibilities, is, in African manners of expression, a palpable parable for the present times. Notably, the project contests the extraneous hierarchies of art, taste, and value which cloak African creative impulses in moth-ridden fabrications and costumes.

It seeks to take African art out of museums, especially ‘natural history’ museums. It seeks to foster cross-cultural fields in which the African is a primogenitor not curiosity or an artifact. The Awakened African is not a repository of exotic fantasies or patronage.

Driving the project is a desire to open up prolific spaces and reference points with which to engage the eclectic verve and nuanced meanings of art on the continent. With its conceptual framework of renascence, the project aims at reasserting and celebrating a dynamic process of rejuvenation.

Alagoa, Akudinobi, Amene, Ugiomoh, Nsikak
Alagoa, Akudinobi, Amene, Ugiomoh, Nsikak

Given the inextricable roles and relationships of art in African cultural systems, the Awakened African presents a veritable wellspring of narratives, aesthetic trajectories, and subtle roots. Just as important, it insists on projecting autonomous identities and promoting new understandings of ‘Africanness’.

In reinterpreting certain elements of tradition, the project encourages integration of the complex tissues and textures of African creative drives in contesting certain normative expectations. Without qualms, it contends that African art, however it is defined, exists because the resplendent imaginative sparks exist in Africa. As a project that positions Africa in the present, rather than as a grotesque archive, the Awakened African is about going beyond clichés to the larger history of Africa’s creative proclivities.”

Prof Frank Ugiomoh of the University of Port Harcourt avers: “The works of art presented here are coded in furniture of utilitarian types that are simply alluring. They are in tandem with the African spirit where the works of art are products of imaginative creative powers that are at once utilitarian as they are decorative and loud; desiring and demanding that we appropriate them because we value them as products of our ingenuity. The value of these designs is the abandonment of the synthetic world induced by modern technology.

In many furniture catalogues we confront furniture made with same technology as Akudinobi’s designs. They are an assemblage of various works that include the textile and leather artist, the machine operators and a host of diverse interests that lead to an end product.

Where Akudinobi’s designs appear rustic and bucolic they all the same define a strength that is adequate to their function. Their rustic nature which relates them to the past is mediated by available technology but leaves their origins intact. This is where their renascence is located.

Inspired by diverse extant and extinct traditions of design, these contemporary designs stand as eternal bridges that hold the flow of time with cheek; demanding that we revaluate their origins while identifying what we should hold onto as our identity or remnant of self. Within an African worldview sturdiness belongs to these designs in their diversity.”

In the view of the iconoclastic Chike Amene, “The awakened African is a thinking mind! The awakened African therefore must think on his very own frequency which is his symbols, signs, signals and totems in order to create, maintain and sustain a culture that will push his civilization! What do we get from the culture that overwhelmed us with decrees and commandment they never regards if not putting us to sleep? We are sleeping because our frequencies have been shut down or blocked by man assuming ‘God’.”

The last word of course belongs to Tony Chidi Akudinobi: “The Awakened Africa shines in the distance as we step on the rosary that tells the beads of our journey to rediscover our sun setting in our own rainstorm. Within the boundaries of each nation’s wilderness, which carries the inextinguishable definitions of its mutations and the rigors on the journey of self-discovery, lie its salvation, emancipation and otherwise which become etched in facial marks like ICHI. The deep incisions and the free flow of blood through the rites of passage mark the arrival at the gates of the Awakened African paradise.”

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