I moved to Africa when I was just ten years old. My father had taken a position with the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria, so we packed up our things, bought a ton of non-perishable items, and headed off to West Africa. Little did I know at that age, what an incredible impact West Africa would have on my life. Firstly the experience of adapting to a new way of life, being introduced to new cultures, and embracing differences proved to be some of the most valuable gifts my parents could have ever given me. As I grew, and as my experiences expanded, my very narrow view of the world vanished and the veil was lifted. What I realized at a young age was that borders don’t create the differences we think they do. Language and looks may be different, religion maybe, but as humans, we all react to laughter, we all appreciate a kind gesture, we feel pain, and we love our families and the time we spend with friends. We also love to create.
Unless you’ve traveled to West Africa or you’re an art aficionado, you may not be privy to some of the incredible pieces created by the artists from this region. Many of the below mentioned artists have been showcased in some of the most prestigious galleries in the world and their works can carry price tags in the six figures. On a recent trip back to Nigeria I had the pleasure of staying with some very dear friends who over the years have amassed quite a collection of art from that area of the world. In fact, my friend’s passion for West African art has now landed him an official position with Bonhams Auction House based in London as the representative for that region. On that same trip I had the pleasure of meeting two incredible young women from Italy who landed in Lagos with a vision for fashion, and who have taken the town like a storm. They represent the generation of people who believe success in business goes hand in hand with the empowerment of others. With the launch of their fashion label, Kinabuti, they are mixing runway fashion and grassroots education for local Nigerians who want the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and be a part of the skilled workforce. There’s nothing better, in my opinion. With a funky vibe and a wicked since of social media on their side, they are attracting bankers, investors, local celebrities, as well as foreign officials and foreign media. I invite you to visit their website at www.kinabuti.com and check out the what the buzz is all about.
I mention these people because they represent the fusion of humanity. It was with this fusion in mind when I first designed my Ibeji ring., I was living in Mexico, an American who spent most of her life in and out of West Africa and Europe, and I was working with a local silversmith, trying to create a few small pieces to begin my “new venture”. My heart and my inspiration kept bringing me back to my African experience, and as I thumbed through countless books on African art, I knew that if I didn’t create something that came from my soul, filled with such love and light, I would never be happy with the end results. With the encouragement of a dear friend who was also a designer, we created about ten pieces, all with an African influence, and I never looked back.
As I’ve developed my line, I’ve changed direction for a few collections within, but my love of Africa still shows how connected to that region I am. I hope my customers feel that connection to other cultures when they wear my pieces and understand how bonded we really are as humans through art, design, fashion, music, and literature. I leave you with one of my favorite pictures of me as a young girl trading jewelry with a young Masai girl. Maybe it was already written in the stars that this would be my journey.
For a peek at some incredible West African artist visit www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/anatsui/ and www.mutualart.com/Artist/Ben–Enwonwu/