Award-winning Nigerian artist Marcellina Akpojotor, like many in the creative industry, finds her inspiration in the everyday activities around her. But, the oddity in her work lies with the raw materials she chooses to express her themes.
She was bothered by the tonnes of textile waste generated in Nigeria’s most populous city, Lagos, and therefore, decided to use scraps of fabrics from the tailoring and dressmaking shops to tell her stories. According to her, there is no better way of dealing with textile waste than using it to document history and draw society’s attention to the issues affecting everyone.
Aside from her intention of recycling textile waste, she is interested in these raw materials because traditional print fabrics like Ankara and aso-ebi communicate African themes and history, as reported by textileartist.org.
Once she assembles the textile waste, she turns it into breathtaking collages and visually appealing images. Akpojotor said she selected the African fabric because culturally it resonates with the community she finds herself in and for many, it helps them connect with their heritage.
She said her art mainly dwells on issues surrounding femininity, personal and social identity as well as women empowerment in the contemporary African setting. She opens the door to gender equality in African societies through her art.
One of her works titled “Daughters of Esan” documents the journey of women in her family spanning five generations. It begins with her great-grandmother and ends with her daughter. “The piece depicts my daughter in yellow gown standing on a puzzle-themed carpet and gazing at a globe which I used to represent travel around the world,” she told textileartist.org. “The puzzle carpet design was the one she had at her daycare center as a toddler. The bookshelf represents the knowledge and education which my great grandmother wished she had received.”
Akpojotor said the “Daughters of Esan” in its entirety captures the dream she hopes for her children that one day all of them will attain higher education and that the world will drop its prejudices and allow them to grow to assert their rights. She observed that the work carries a lot of her emotions and those who follow art are able to connect with it.
Akpojotor was making portraits of the women around her initially when she started. The first work she created using textiles included electronic waste and bottle tops and it won an art prize.
“My works were originally, for the most part, faces, but with time I have evolved to create full figures and to incorporate more people into my work,” she said.
The Nigerian artist said she has also added papers and drawings to her media. “I hope to further my exploration into three-dimensional works, multimedia/performance art and to continue to tell engaging stories whilst creating more in-depth pieces,” said Akpojotor.
So far, Akpojotor has performed at the Bone Performance Art Festival in Switzerland and has taken part in group exhibitions in Ohio and Lagos. She also had her own solo exhibition at the Rele Gallery in Lagos. She was the recipient of the 2017 Ronke Ekwensi Salon Fellowship.
“You can’t find anybody doing similar art,” Kehinde Afolabi, associate director of Lagos’s Rele Gallery, said. “It is mind blowing, how somebody can take waste and create something out of it.”