Victoria Udondian is a Nigerian artist who studied painting and is also trained as tailor and fashion designer. Her work Aso Ikele (1948), 2012, is currently on view at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, as part of the exhibition We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today. Its name means ‘cloth used to protect the home’ in the Yoruba language. By taking Whitworth’s textile collection as its starting point, Aso Ikele questions the impact that second-hand clothing has on West African textile industry and cultural identity. Udondian has recycled second-hand clothes, burlap and different fabrics from Manchester and Nigeria to create this hybrid piece.
Steve Pantazis: What was your inspiration for Aso Ikele? Did you take into account Manchester’s history and the textile collection of the gallery?
Victoria Udondian: Aso Ikele took the Whitworth’s textile collection as its starting point, and this collection took me through the link between Manchester and West Africa. Against this back drop, I was inspired to create a woven textile that would possibly be historically related to both Manchester and Nigeria.
SP: For this work, was the weaving technique important and why?
VU: The weaving technique was important as Venice Lamb and Judy Holmes have attested in African Weaving (Duckworth 1975), ‘Nigeria has a tradition of weaving and dyeing of textiles which was of international importance long before the first European reached the shores of West Africa in the fifteenth century.’ The techniques and patterns of Aso Ikele are undoubtedly drawn from this rich history, but its sections imply a long period of making and remaking, utilising sections of older fabric.
SP: You have incorporated a piece of burlap, which brings to mind the 1950s works of the Italian Alberto Burri, who used burlaps on his canvases and the works of the Arte Povera artist Jannis Kounellis, who also exhibits burlaps in the gallery space. Have your work been inspired by these artists?
VU: No, I wasn’t inspired by these artists; sourcing discarded materials from the street and market place in Nigeria gave birth to this burlap which I found really interesting as the text inscribed on it was possibly linked to the history of Aso Ikele.
SP: You hold a degree in painting and have worked on the medium. Why are you interested in textiles? Does your textile work share the same qualities as your paintings?
VU: I am not sure where my interest really emanated from, but have realised that the scope of meaning associated with cloth, textiles is so wide, mostly in Africa where designs and patterns on cloths are not mere decorations but strong means of communication. Sonya Clark, an impressive fibre artist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, United States, succinctly averred that ‘cloth is to the Africans what monuments are to Westerners.’ Lately I am beginning to create paintings in context related to textile histories.
We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today runs at The Whitworth Gallery until 16th of September 2012.
Steve Pantazis is an art historian who has published and presented papers relevant to the work of the Arte Povera artist Jannis Kounellis.