My practice is about the possible transitions of a West African culture precisely, Igbo traditional aesthetics, within today’s globalized society; as well as reformatting certain local Nigerian crafts techniques and environmental waste ideologies. Like historical indigenous object reuse and repurposing concepts – a system focused on validating ‘new’ values for that assumed to have lost its functionality. With a nonconventional and neo-traditional craft concept, I developed and termed Plasto-yarning, I create sculptures primarily from found or discarded household plastic materials of contemporary consumerist urbanity, predominantly non-decomposable plastic bags and bottles which are then transformed intuitively using receding and obsolete non-material objects such as the diminishing craft methods of a traditional Nigerian hair-plaiting technique called Threading1 (also know as Ikpa isi Owu – in Igbo language or African hair threading).
Converted initially into Plasto-yarns, to retain the physical quality of the bags and the technical designs and function of the hair threading process, these superfluous waste plastic bags become complex, yet organic, three-dimensional forms and installations characterized by lines, circles and recurrent loops, with outlines that refer to domestic spaces, furniture, architectural structures, and iterations of my everyday observations. Through these sculptures and installations I examine current portrayals of value and value systems formed, most times, by elements that uphold social abnormalities – such as compulsive mass accumulation and disposal – in other to understand the implication of our modernity’s systems of waste generation or our collective attitude to utility and the expiration-date syndrome. In addition to engaging these “old” discarded objects as insignias of the past, I try to emphasize the potency of traditional crafting methodologies, highlighting the mark of the hand in those supposedly menial obsolete techniques, by using them to repetitively manipulate the ubiquitous. Thereby, extending the significance of their aesthetic histories and potential use in today’s wasteful society. It is an artistic ideology of value-use extension I refer to as Neotraditionalism. Neo-traditionalism is an eco-aesthetic philosophy which acculturates traditional Nigerian art elements unto current waste materials, using the methods of outmoded domestic craft as repurposing tools to interprets socio-environmental issues caused by the adverse magnitude of some of today’s commercial consumption systems. Hence, it returns to those past traditional models of artistic sustainability and environmental ethos, upholding them while incorporating materials from our wasteful contemporary society in other to address the current issues relating to now, hence, the prefix ‘Neo’. This neo-traditional reform principle has always been part of indigenous pre-colonial way of life, art and craft making in Nigeria and should not be mistaken for “Recycling” – which is an automated waste reclamation process with no element of craft involved. Neither should it be considered “Upcycling” because both are modern terminologies derived and applied from a Western understanding, which cannot be applied in all contexts of repurposing practices around the world. Not to forget the difference in era between when ‘upcycle’ and ‘recycle’ were first formulated and used in eco-art and the already existing practice in early West African history.
Although the primary motivation for this neo-traditional reuse concept may have been to highlight the universal environmental impact of waste accumulation and disposal, thematically there are symbolic inputs of narratives sketched directly from my experiences in Igbo customary folklore, fashion, music, dance, poetry and some other indigenous Nigerian performances, amid delicate dialogues on: today’s stipulations of culture assimilation, colonial orientations on beauty, authenticity and newness; self-worth, identity and the human body. Despite their relevance, and obviousness in some of my works, I choose to not make illustrations on race and gender predominant. So as to challenge, or somewhat reduce, the typical clichéd affiliation of creative and intellectual aptitudes of any African artist (especially female) to mainly gendered and racially focused expectancies.
* 1. Threading is a beautiful traditional hair plaiting technique and an elaborate hair architectural process, also known as African hair threading, which was predominantly practiced in some West African countries, Nigeria in particular. Sadly it is becoming an obsolete hair craft.