designer chiizii shares how spirituality & igbo heritage inspired her new collection

September 13, 2017
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By Aliyah Blackmore*, AFROPUNK Contributor

Chiizii is a visual artist and textile designer born and currently based in London, raised in New York with an eastern Nigerian Igbo background; her work is a reflection of her varied surroundings and experiences, a powerful relationship with color and pattern, traditional and modern technique, with a special emphasis on culture –her own culture as well as the many that she has a connection with.

Art is a means through which she expresses social commentary, thoughts, and creates a space to learn about herself and others, as explored in her graduate collection “Agbogho Chizitalu;” the vibrant and layered collection is an ode to heritage, particularly masquerades of Igbo culture, unraveled through a series of textile garments, artwork, jewelry and a soundtrack.

Get in to her work and hear more about her graduate collection, “Agbogho Chizitalu” in our interview below!

Location: London


Title (however you would like to identity yourself): Visual Artist and Designer

1. Who is Chiizii – if you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be? How would you say your identity has helped you to evolve as an artist/creative mind in the present?

Sensitive, self-aware, powerful. My identity and my understanding of myself has evolved so much, especially in the last 4 years (after I left New York). My understanding of those three characteristics that I carry and how I specifically carry them has allowed me to really grasp the significance of my creativity, but also not become pretentious about it. As an artist I’ve realized my work and what I do is not possible without life and being in tune to it; my work is important but it is more important to show up in life, otherwise what will I be even be creating?

2. You are based in London, raised in New York, of Nigerian heritage. Has your upbringing inspired your artistic endeavors in any way? How has existing between these spaces influenced you work – particularly as a (visual) artist and fashion designer?

My upbringing is so important, it is the reason why my work is full of color and pattern, why the themes explore how people live, behave and what’s important to them. There’s always been art in my house; being Igbo, everyone wears color and pattern and also has an opinion (laughs). Growing up in a house with parents who had also lived in so many different nations and cities before me was a blessing. Discussion and debate on almost every topic was family bonding (laughs) and always always always looking up, learning or asking about different cultures, nations, lifestyles etc. was encouraged. I’m sure that is why there is always social/cultural context in my work. I don’t actually know how to create work that isn’t tied to that and I don’t really want to. I feel that existing in these different spaces has allowed my work to be something people of different backgrounds can [find] parts of themselves in and connect to. It may be a connection to the colors, the subject matter, the typography reminiscent of a street sign in their area, anything.

3. When did you begin to imagine and construct pieces seen in your graduate collection, the “Agbogho Chizitalu” project? What inspired you to create them?

I started seeing this project in April/May 2016 and decided it would be my final project for university. I started actually constructing and sampling properly in Sept 2016, although a lot of research was done since May. What really was the catalyst was finally reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (my parents had been trying to get me to read it since I was 10) and Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie early in the year. The importance of masquerades and women in Igbo culture kept coming up. It made me think about Agbogho Mmuo, the masquerade that represents maiden women role in my womanhood, because I see similarities between my personality and the performance of the masquerade. That developed more into womanhood in not only Igbo culture, but my village’s culture and my families history. I come from extremely powerful women on both sides of my family. Even the younger women and girls in my family exhibit that power, it’s like a gene.

4. And in working on the project, what was the importance of using textile, garments, artwork, jewelry and a soundtrack?

So, this was the final major project for my fashion textiles degree, but I thought it would be silly to create only clothing, the project is much bigger than fast/disposable fashion, it sounds corny but really its an experience, a story. I created through all of these mediums so that the reasoning behind the project could be understood and received in multiple ways. I don’t plan on being a fast fashion designer, my heart goes into what I create. It’s important that for example, while wearing the Ego Ayolo caftan one can understand its creation has come from exploring the role that cowrie shells played in Igbo culture as money and signifying womanhood through Jigida, waist beads.

5. Who serves as an inspiration to you in your work?

My mother, myself, my siblings, Igbo women. People I love/d, have fallen in love with and or who impact me deeply.

6. What does it mean to engage with and be in conversation with the arts, as a Black body? What feeling does this foster for you?

It most of the time means for me personally being in boring, dead spaces where pretentious art reigns. Feeling a lot like there is a key I don’t have access to that would allow me to be a financially successful artist. But in London there are groups of artists who, like myself, are Black who make spaces where being Black and engaging with art is fun and enriching. Most of my friends are Black and artists /creatives and they improve engaging and conversing with the arts as a Black body , but even more so as a Black Igbo woman. I’m really grateful for Black Blossoms, Lo-fi Odysseys even the photographer Olivia Ema who shot this project. They’re all on their shit, talented, grounded and inspiring. I’m sure being Black and in art, especially Black and in art outside of the U.S is going to improve.

7. What can we look forward to from you in future?

More projects and collections that break the traditional fashion archetype. The successful launch of Ada Nkoli, my art and clothing brand. Projects and work that will contribute in a practical way to the well being of African women, especially Igbo women. An art and mental well being institution. I’m using this question to speak all of this into existence (laughs).

Images from Agbogho Chizitalu Lookbook:

Photography by: Olivia Ema
Artistic Direction and Model: Chiizii
Make up: Shery G

Follow Chiizii:

Website | Instagram: @Chiizii and @adankoli.brand | Soundcloud | Youtube

*Aliyah Blackmore is a DJ, Digital Content Curator, and Writer based in Harlem, New York. Her art making and content curation is interested in engaging with the multi dimensional threads, narratives and histories, that run through African Diasporic experiences to understand, how historically and in the present, our modes of cultural production foster spaces of resistance and recovery for our bodies.
Follow Aliyah:
Instagram: @aliyahblkmre
Soundcloud: DJ LotusMoon