History and Identity: Retranslating Tradition in Tony Akudinobi’s Furniture Design

Mr. Tony Chidi George Akudinobi’s contemporary exploits in furniture design, is due in an exhibition soon to come entitled “Crown of Thorns: An African Halo”. Contemplating the collection, one cannot but recall Peter J McCormick’s recent reflection on the aesthetics of the German philosopher Hans George-Gadamer on the way tradition is re-enacted in every present time. McCormick’s reflection on Gadamer reads; “tradition is to be understood not as a set of artistic conventions irretrievably sediment in a fixed past, but as horizon of a particular sort that are still operative in continuous ways in the present.

This as much is McCormick’s comment regarding contemporary aesthetics, as he calls attention to a central argument of Gadamer. The above thinking restates an enduring truth that the present will always lack meaning when not tied to the past that begat it. The past no doubt is so diverse in a way that is baffling. It is such that relating within the present and the multiple traditions that it has shed, which are perpetually in renewal in diverse forms confounds. This is where Mr. Akudinobi’s furniture design exploits stand to seek identity. Mr. Akudinobi’s furniture and the designs which they purvey are tacitly historical as they are valid translations of the past which we all share as Africans. His designs can be said to distil the past in tangible ways for contemporary appropriation and appreciation.

Mr. Akudinobi’s furniture may appear rustic. That look is deliberate. It locates us as it locates him within contemporary productions of culture. It does this within a natural human instinct to always seek essence in effort to link back to the roots. For example; what is the essence of a seat? Lavishly ornamented, would such extra odd-on enhance the value of seating or call attention to the object? These are the thrusts Mr. Akudinobi’s furniture establishes in our consciousness. A commensurate initiative and venture, it squarely locates an African identity alongside other contemporary exploits in furniture design from other cultures. Living in a globalised world and the lure of contemporary technology which Mr. Akudinobi exploits brings to the African in his/her living and interactive spaces, not only home-made furniture but home-like furniture. These home utility objects, the way they are presented, provide diverse options and exquisite finish with which the African identity comes alive.

With the aid of technology, Mr. Akudinobi relocates his designs within the reach of the elect-the affluent surely. But this should not be so. Probably, located within such opulent class of people would redefine their Africaness. Such clientele is bound to make them sought after items. The attainment of this kind of standing with Mr. Akudinobi’s designs becomes one sure way to reinvent the African personality.

Mr. Akudinobi’s technical means is western. Cultures across the world are once in a while thrown into the turmoil of identity crisis. Such crises are usually funded by periods of intense cultural contacts occasioned by exposures and with such periods come great exchanges that are mutual in unconventional ways. By this unconventionality is the reality where admiration for another ways leads invariably to their adoption in silent yet tacit agreements. Cultures never expand in their focus unless they encounter another and this is what Mr. Akudinobi’s design privileges for us in the contemporary as we look forward to his coming exhibition. Rustic but finished with synthetic additives they project that virgin essence of a found object reencountered in nature that suits an immediate purpose/end.

This said, one of the Africa’s eminent anthropologists of blessed memory professor Bassey Wei Andah acknowledges the essence of cultural borrowing. He however cautions the African on a mindset that is crucial to such acts of cultural borrowing. As he puts it; while borrowing from alien/another’s culture, endeavour to be otherly critical and be also inwardly reflexive. In other words, adopt what is of value to one and discard the rest. Leopold Sedar Senghor simply lets us know that we are all cultural half-castes. The human of any culture and civilization is a borrowing animal. Western art history is replete with all forms of forward and backward movements in its cultural growth. The West’s forward and backward movement has been placed with the metaphoric strife between the legendary figures of Greek mythology Apollo and Dionysus. The first is considered a rationalist and the other a drunk who is given to orgies and disorderliness. It is assumed that in epochs when Apollo, is in command of the spirit of an era cultural progress becomes ordered. But when Dionysus comes on stage, progress is usually diverse and confused. The slogan usually is “every human for itself and God for us all”. But such periods are when great inventions visit humanity. This reality has become heightened in contemporary African reloaded.

Hammerhead is Mr. Akudinodi’s design outfit focused on revolutionary furniture mainly targeted for the interior of shells where human activities take place. Interior furnishings are categorized into soft and hard furnishing. This is not the first time Mr.Akudinobi will be showing his work to the public. He as regularly, both at home and abroad exhibited in formal exhibitions and fares. But “Crown of thorns: an African Halo” is surely a bold statement on behalf of the African continent. The exhibition adroitly instructs on the unexplored creative potentials that lie in the continent where the creative hands are on the deck and heading Andah’s and Senghor’s wise words.

The past has always been with us in every effort we make to refresh or renew reality. This is why Hans Georg Gadamer reminds us that tradition is not is not a sequestered past; not laid down principles, but the take off point in a here and now where we all act, bringing about new understandings of the past and the future that is yet to be shaped. Tony Chidi George Akudinobi’s furniture speaks translations of the past that belongs to all of us. The mind that engenders these items of furniture explored the potential innate in the human to seek identity and recognition in a cultural context where self renewal is the norm by taking a bit from another. The success of such intercultural dialogue that draws from Africa’s past and what contemporary experience offers is what Akudinobi presents here as a symbolic hallo- a trophy-that once again enriches our identity-the awakened African.

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Renowned journalist and Poet, the 1989 Distinguished Visitor at
the Graduate School of Journalism, University of Western
Ontario, Canada and was nominated for the Caine Prize for
African Writing in 2008 for his short story “Cemetery of Life”

 

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