The Ancient in Modern African Design of Nigeria's Akudinobi


The Ancient in Modern African Design of Nigeria's AkudinobiFacial scarification, known as Igbu-ichi in parts of Igboland, is making a return from ancestry into the designs of Tony George Chidi Akudinobi. A visual thinker and quintessential poet of furniture-cum-interior design in the African mode, Akudinobi is the acclaimed Convener of the African Design Roundtable who holds pride of place for representing Nigeria at the 29th India International Trade Fair (Pragati Maidan) New Delhi. He equally represented Nigeria in The World Expo at the Global Village, Dubai. He is highly respected in official circles, being selected and sponsored by The Nigerian Export Promotions Council.

For Tony Akudinobi, exquisite beauty can be discerned as an object shining in interactive light, escalating in design by losing physicality to be beautiful. His vision and structured path could be seen in fusing nature with fantasy to reach beyond boundaries of design and aesthetic presence. He ardently believes that there are sacred principles and definitions littering the scorched highways of the African expression called Art.

According to Akudinobi, “In this Art we find patterns, motifs and recorded principles of ways of life and living which may be man’s salvation. That is why I raised Ethnika as a contemporary discourse of the past, defined in the present, to be called African Urban Classics, just shouting out when the village goes to town.”

The designing of furniture, for instance, thus evinces character. By characterizing, the design through structured aesthetic presence shines light onto self to define space or spaces in dialogue. Every design finds itself in dialogue with the owner and the maker, but asserting in its presence a light that dims, flickers or shines on its path to eventual physical destruction, but lives forever in the dialogues evoked.

“In man’s rhythm and lyrics, he works up an interface that releases energy to build culture and lifestyles that capture his design essence,” Akudinobbi asserts, leaning on his masterwork known as Okpoka. “We bend and mould that energy to design as a channel of manifestation of the creative essence. Some call it inspiration but it goes with perspiration to manifest duly as a great design.”

He forges ahead thusly: “The incompleteness of design is like life in which every breath stretches the journey. Deep within every man’s definition a veil is lifted so that his inner light shines in dialogue with the thing he finds beautiful.”

The grist of Akudinobi’s art is all encompassing – intervolving Africa, life in general and the Holy Spirit. His words: “We have come with booties and bounties picking up crushed petals on our path to find our place in our sun. Design application for me is a matter of mind control over the medium, and the right attitude of conquest opens the medium (material) like the brain of a child, and the necessary variables come to play: Love, Discipline, Freedom and Authority etc. It is then you work up a mix that creates for you.

As it grows in dimension and direction it will live in constant dialogue with contentions of sound, sight, and silence to find its place in the realms of existence, both physical and otherwise. Retention of images becomes a background or backdrop on the canvas of reality which holds dreams, fantasy, accidents, living and ultimately being as a part of the greater canvas of the Creator or, some say, Nature.”  

As CEO of Hammerhead Integrated Ltd which operates out of Aba and Port Harcourt, Tony Akudinobi sees designs as creative manipulations of life. He intones: “The direction and dimension of designs are like inputs in the brain of a child which forms in learning and perception but grows with the courage of application in quest and conquest. One of the greatest design assets is courage to go beyond borders and push for new boundaries, for in this the unforeseen becomes a friend in the new dialogue before a definition. Your inner lights shine beyond your eyes, and the learning trapped in the seat of the mind unfolds like a lotus before your emotional centre as the heart screams ‘wow’ for all to see and delight in. The dynamic nature of the design is captured extensively in urbanization when a village square transforms to a city centre and a can of Coca-Cola or a bottle of Schnapps gets half-buried in a shrine to add a new definition to worship; that which man brings to the gods. In urbanization, man’s internal and external definitions fuse in a continuing mix to create frontiers which will be broken down tomorrow.”

The Ancient in Modern African Design of Nigeria's Akudinobi

The highly revered Emeritus Professor Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, author of The Uses of Hindsight as Foresight, is a major supporter of Akudinobi’s work, sitting as chair on the board of the African Design Roundtable. The eminent art historian, Professor Frank Ugiomoh, has high regards for Akudinobi’ designs, and writes thusly: “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.” 

On his part, Chike Amene believes that Akudinobi can conquer the world with his works only if he deigns to move ahead: “You have done wonders with your raw natural talent; no University in this world will teach you these…but you have not moved. You are like the great Greek legend called Atlas that supports his work on his shoulders and stands in a spot for eternity; no matter the weight you carry or the talents latent in you, if you don’t move, you have done nothing.”

Throwing more light on the Hammerhead phenomenon, the notable film scholar and sibling of the Hammerhead founder, Dr. Jude Akudinobi, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has followed its germinal spark and assured mutations, over the years, has this to say: “In lots of ways, Hammerhead Furniture, draws from the dynamic transformations within contemporary Africa to project kaleidoscopic expressions of African modernities. Their sparkly conceptual spirit gives renewed life to indigenous art forms, inviting contemplation of the relationship between form and functionality, art and design, and crucially, cultural identities and living spaces. In essence, Hammerhead Furniture goes beyond the utilitarian, to give new shapes and meanings to the comforts of home.” 

In Akudinobi’s works such as the one named “Kumasi”, we find that the elevation of gods lies in sacrifice. In “Akataka” we behold in bold relief the two faces of the spirit. “Abayi” is a paean to the kidnapping in his beloved city of Aba. Of course “Okpoka” dares you to look at him to recognize him to your peril!

Akudinobi has taken African utilitarian art to a level such that it is incumbent on the world at large to latch on to the African Roundtable Design initiative.   


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