Saturday 22 January 2022

Fashion designer, Wanger Ayu, brings native texture into contemporary art

Wanger Ayu.

From the fabric identity of her native Tiv, Benue State, in North Central of Nigeria, Wanger Ayu makes visual culture statement. Her works, of largely mixed media celebrate cultural value in art of traditional and contemporary contents.

And being a fashion designer seemed to have enriched Ayu's work when it comes to expressing creativity that combines the use of the Tiv people 'A’nger' fabric with painting, printmaking and collage. Quite a number of artists coming from non-Fine Art background, by formal training, usually don't stay long in studio art practice before fading off. For Ayu, it is not about quick fix opportunity, but a marathon that has gone pass testing the waters of fine art. "The goal is certainly to have a long and fulfilling art practice and creative career.," Ayu, a self-taught artist assured during a chat. "The process of transitioning to studio practice is both time and resource consuming; it would be unfortunate to abandon it. In my case especially I find healing in art." She added that duration is relative as "impact should be at the heart" sincere creative career. "I don’t plan to change the world with my art, I only hope to share stories that can bring light and even healing or peace to someone else."

Last December, Ayu had a two-artist exhibition titled Weaving Identity from December 17-23, 2021 at DICA Art, Lagos. At the exhibition, her works, sold out, as it were also have enough to chew and suggest in critical contents.

Curator of Weaving Identity, Naomi Edobor noted that in the Multiplicity body of work, Ayu uses the A’nger cloth; a piece of black and white striped plain-woven cloth that is produced on the narrow band loom by the Tiv people of the Benue valley, as a background from which she weaves a tale. Edobor said the entirety of Ayu's work seeks to engage the public by exploring the tensions between past and present. "The A’nger cloth is most popular because it is an average clothe for both men and women - the two complementary forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life- The colours of the A’nger cloth depict unity, how opposite forces may be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another."

The curator explained that the multicultural background of Ayu reiterates the exception that the average person in 21st century is a coalescence of multiple cultures and influences. She cited the relevance of the tribal distinctions in a Nigerian context, on the roles of tribe and ethnicity within the country as a micro-reflection of the issues of race and dominance on a global perspective.

 "We are all different and yet the same, with threads connecting us more closely than we realise, our cultural identity is an essential part of conflict, and conflict resolution, shaping our perceptions and ideas of self," Edobor said. "They are always changing and always being renegotiated, and we are constantly in this shift, forcing us to have debates with ourselves about who we are and who we want to be, always becoming."

Between fashion design and fine art, which one takes more space jn Ayu's creative career? "I believe which takes precedence is seasonal for me," the artist said. "At certain points - especially while transitioning to studio practice - the fashion took up more space. However, since transitioning, the visual arts have taken up more of my time and head space. I think perhaps also because I have been full time in fashion longer, I find myself in a place where I am ready to devote more time to the fine arts."

Wanger Ayu, (b. 1986), studied law at the University of Exeter, UK, and  earned a diploma from the French Fashion University (ESMOD), Dubai, UAE. She launched her fashion label, 'Wanger Ayu', which got her the patronage of famous Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Wanger also earned  several nominations, including being nominated twice for the Future Awards prize, in the fashion category.

Her transition to studio practice began in 2017 after a surgery left her locked up at home for many weeks, of which she was unable to walk more than a short distance or engage in much physical activity. Art became her therapy and escape, providing freedom. Since then, she has been mentored by some of Nigeria’s old and contemporary masters including Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya and Mr Sam Ovraiti through the Harmattan Workshop Series. Nduwhite Ndubuisi, Uthman Wahab and Patrick Akpojotor, among others mentored Ayu during her informal tutelage in art.

Some of her influences include Vermeer, Collins Sekajugo, Abass Kelani and Billie Zangewa.

Wenger Ayu's Mba-a-de-ga (they have not stopped), 2021, 56 x 56 inches, 

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