My Time in Ogidi-Ijumu came to an end yesterday. With the indigo pit finally ready I was able to dye the threads and the textiles I was preparing over the previous weeks. For so many people Nigerian (and by extension all west african) textiles bring to mind wax print ankara cloth, but for me and the other artisans at the Nike Art Center in Ogidi  the ancient arts of  Adire Oniko Adire Eleko, Aso-ofi and Aso-oke are at the core of the long and rich tradition of adornment. I would like to thank Mrs. Agnes Umeche for being such a patient and fantastic teacher I cant wait to share what you have taught me with students in the U.S.A!

Intro to weaving: Week 3

This week we are focusing on the rich and varied weaving traditions of west Africa.  There are numerous weaving traditions that have been developed and used throughout the African continent. The weaving technique that we will cover in this unit is the broad upright loom weaving technique used in southern Nigeria, Benin Republic and Cameroon. This technique was used to create numerous ritual, prestige and domestic textiles, that were used locally and exported throughout west and central Africa. Primarily ( often exclusively) women used this loom as opposed to the narrow strip loom that was exclusively used by men until the mid-late twentieth century. The prestigious Aso-Olona cloths used by the ogboni society of the Yoruba people are part of this tradition as are the blue and white textiles from the former Benin empire  that were exported to european traders in vast quantities. I studied weaving in Ogidi Ijumu at the the Nike center for art and culture under my teacher, master weaver Mrs Agnes Umeche ,who was born in the neighboring town of Okene a historic center for weaving arts.

Below: Mrs Agnes Umeche and her work

 It is an honor  to be able to teach this art to students here in the United States. For now we are practicing using a modified handheld version of the loom made from sanded canvas stretchers. Apprentices would use a similar practice loom made from an upturned stool or calabash when they first started out.  

Below : A Yoruba woman setting an upright loom, Ihaka  and Jordan setting their practice looms.

I am excited to see how the work they are doing translates to their larger pieces on a full sized loom. These traditions were once very widespread in Nigeria. In fact in the igbo village of Akwete all women were expected to weave. The Yoruba towns of Owo,Ilorin and Ijebu Ode and the Ebira town of Okene were also renowned for their textiles. Although this art is still practiced in Nigeria this particular type of weaving is becoming rarer as time progresses. It is my hope that places like the Nike center for art and culture continue to revive these arts in Nigeria. As an African American who most likely has roots in southern Nigeria learning this art form was a healing experience, one that felt like the reclamation of an ancestral skill that had been taken away by force. I hope to share that experience with my students. Be sure to stay tuned as we continue our journey through the work of african textiles. 

Below: More examples of students weaving on their practice looms


Hello Everyone! I know that it has been a while but Itan project lives. Over the past six months I have been traveling in Nigeria learning the traditional Yoruba arts of weaving, dyeing and woodcarving. I have had the incredible opportunity to work with incredible artists at the Nike Centers For Art And Culture, an organization founded by the legendary artist Chief Nike Okundaye.  Chief Nike has provided arts training for underserved Nigerians for over thirty years. She has not only fostered the Nigerian arts community, she has helped to revive the Yoruba arts of Adire , and Aso Ofi (women’s loom weaving). Art as a source of cultural empowerment is one of the core facets of Itan Project and It has been an honor learning here from such an amazing woman.  As I reach the midway point in my residency with Arts Connect International, I reflect on my experiences and their impact on my perception of identity and the nature of my work. Spending time in Osogbo and Ogidi has made me think about the relationships that exist between Africa and the Diaspora and the common challenges that we face as Black people in both contexts.  In both Africa and in the Americas there is  a struggle to recover from the internalized effects of colonialism, slavery and generations of racially biased and/or exploitative systems. In Nigeria many of these arts face extinction as their value is questioned.  The work I create is meant to encourage viewers to examine their perception of the African past and their relationship to it, while also attempting to highlight even a fraction of the immense beauty and complexity of Yoruba art and culture .  Over the next five months I will be  posting updates on the project as well as the collaborative work I am doing within these artists communities. Stay tuned there is more to come!

If you had been poor in your last life I would have asked you to be rich when you come again. But you were rich. If you had been a coward, I would have asked you to bring courage. But you were a fearless warrior. If you had died young, I would have asked you to get life. But you lived long. So I shall ask you to come again the way you came before. If your death was the death of nature, go in peace. But if a man caused it, do not allow him a moment’s rest.

Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart