Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya, aka Akirash, is a Nigerian artist based in the United States. He is one the Nigerian artists on the forefront in the visual arts scene around the world. Akirash is known for his futuristic works which have ties to ancient African history and spirituality. These works are based on moments of time, fleeting moments that can be easily forgotten or transformed into reflections on rural versus urban life, and the accelerated pace of development and social infrastructure which explores both his personal life and the universal.
This uninhibited artist explores different art forms, and fearlessly too. He has, and continues to build a great body of work in mixed media painting, sculpting, installation, body painting and performances. Some of which are often innovative and shocking.
His performances, like those of Nigerian visual artists Wura Natasha Ogunji and Jelili Atiku, evoke feelings of what we used to have and who we used to be, historically, while also showing the shift in the present Nigerian society. The present shows a Nigeria where children and adults believe in Superman and Harry Potter as the real heroes while African deities are constantly referenced as no good.
Akirash’s works tackle real situations that affect everybody – globalization, health, capitalism and commerce. An example is the installation Shopping List which has visited 7 countries at the last count. The installation is quite striking for the reality it presents and use of symbolism. When asked about the motive behind it, Akirash cited the world economy. The subjects of the installation extends beyond the economy. He made reference to the growing pattern of the working class people who work so hard but have less time to enjoy true wellbeing. Most of them eat food cooked outside their homes and barely have a healthy lifestyle. If people truly prioritize their health as important, then how come they do not pay attention to the content of the processed food or fast food they chug-in on the go? As a reflection of one’s shopping list, Akirash asks the simple question, what are you consuming?
In 2014, the same year he first presented Shopping List, he also had another exhibition and performance show focused on commerce. Gbanjo (On Sale), which calls out to passersby to purchase wares, in the popular style of Nigeria street vendors and Saje Nwa (Hope Market Dey Come). Both addressing materialism and consumption, and the global economic situation.
Beyond the subject matter of Akindiya’s works, another element that fascinates the onlooker is the technique and innovation that aids his installation. He weaves the past with the present, and presents local stories with objects and materials that resonates with a global audience. Through his work, he continues to export the Yoruba traditional culture of Nigeria to a global audience. His performances and installations are well done and presented with a sophistication that only enhances his story. There is a finesse to his work that makes it attractive but this does not take away from the originality and trueness of his story.
Before embracing a life of full time art practice, Olaniyi Akindiya had a great job in Nigeria with one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world after his Bio chemistry studies at the University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, Nigeria. However, this was not quite fulfilling for the artist in him. He was restless, and wanted more. Like many artists in Nigeria, he was not encouraged to pursue a career in the arts by his family, and he didn’t get the chance to develop his talents in an art school.
Akindiya’s journey however changed when he visited a colleague one weekend. He was driving back home when he encountered what appeared to be a visual art school. His curiosity led him in, and eight hours later when he resurfaced, he was armed with forms and brochures which would enable him follow his dreams. In the following days he resigned from his job, to the dismay of his parents, particularly his father. He was determined and did not budge, so they let him be. Time has passed and he has since proven that he took the best decision for himself. With a trail of successful solo and group exhibitions across the world, in addition to many fellowships, scholarships, grants and awards, he has not only earned a reputation as one of Nigeria’s brightest stars in the visual art scene, but has won the admiration of his father and the rest of his family.
While rounding up his art residency in Instituto Sacatar in Brazil this year, Akirash was notified of his selection as one of the 65 artists from across the world who would exhibit at the 12th Edition of the prestigious DAK’ART Biennale. Although he is from Nigeria, he will represent the United States at the festival which kicks off on May 3rd in Dakar, Senegal till June 3rd 2016. He will also participate at two art fellowships this year, first from the Santo foundation and then Santa Fe Institute in the United States.
In his entire practice as at today, he has enjoyed participation in over thirty group exhibitions and has presented almost fifty solo exhibitions and performances. He has received numerous awards and has enjoyed scholarships and grants within and outside the United States. He has worked on art projects and initiatives in Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa and the United States. Sadly, he is more popular outside his home country Nigeria, and a big part of the American creative workforce. He is yet another example of why dreams should be followed.
See more pictures of his works on his website.
Okwei Odili, International Contributor