Tradition, Modernity and Design
Lani Adeoye was raised in Nigeria and immigrated to Canada with her family when she was about 10 years old. She earned a Bachelors degree in commerce from McGill University and worked briefly in management and IT consulting with Fortune Global 100 clients.
Adeoye later moved to New York City to study at Parsons, after which she gained experience on a variety of luxury projects at a few architecture and design firms, including an Architectural Digest 100 Company. Her versatility as a designer is a testament to her eclectic roots and diverse life experiences, having lived in four major cities, namely Lagos, Montreal, Toronto and New York.
In this interview with Omenka, she discusses her work, challenges and recent showing at the inaugural edition of the Fusion of Real Estate, Industrial Design, and Art (FREIA)
Congratulations! Your work recently featured at the Fusion of Real Estate Interior Design and Art (FREIA). How was the experience and can you please tell us more about the pieces you exhibited?
The experience was good; it was nice to be a part of an event that brought various sectors of the industry together. I’m thankful for the positive feedback; the work was very well received.
I exhibited my latest collection, which included some sculptural lighting pieces and a coffee table. The talking table is called Dundun and it is an extension of the ‘Talking Tables’ series. Dundun derives its sculptural form and sense of rhythm from the talking drum. The silhouette of the drum is re-interpreted through the metal rods.
One of the lighting fixtures is called Sisi Eko, it celebrates the feminine aura, grace, and style. It exudes a timeless elegance, and its double light adds to its unique identity.
The lighting fixture, ITE (in Yoruba) means nest in English. It was inspired by the layered structure of a bird’s nest. The curved metal rods aim to evoke the embracive nature of a nest.
How has your training abroad impacted on your work, do you encounter a conflict in representing your roots and identity?
Actually, I believe it has done the opposite. When you are in a setting where you are the minority, you become hyper-aware of your culture and cultural nuances. I’m very proud to be Nigerian, so I’ve always had a strong sense of educating others about my culture and portraying Nigerians in a good light. Unfortunately, there are some negative associations that people have when they think about us. When you are abroad and perhaps the only Nigerian in an office you feel a heightened sense of responsibility to defend your people, by sharing more positive stories about your country. For me, design is my chosen medium. I am encouraged to be more reflective and take a more conscious approach when designing. I’ve exhibited the ‘Talking Tables’ collection in New York and Toronto, as I love sharing our rich and diverse culture with people from other parts of the world. In addition, there is often a monolithic idea of what design ‘out of Africa’ is supposed to be. There’s a misconception that our designs are simply always crude or simply bold and colourful. Although we do have that and that is beautiful too; when I look back at our past artifacts, I see a deep level of skill and technical prowess. It is quite incredible to see the detailed carvings and sophisticated sculptures. To me, it shows a certain level of finesse that is perhaps not always appreciated by the masses. With this collection, I wanted to showcase the beauty of the handmade and the power of metal craftsmanship. Metal is a strong material and we were able to create fluid, elegant forms and intricate designs with it. I am blessed to work with a talented team that helps bring the vision to life. It is a lot of work, it is an iterative process, and we spend a lot of time bringing each concept to life.
Please tell us about some of the themes that inspire your work.
Different things inspire me; it’s a combination of our culture, nature, and craftsmanship. For example, the talking drum is something that we are quite familiar with but I believe it is also quite iconic.
Your work merges craft and design. How do you create a balance between the two?
I appreciate both and enjoy being a versatile designer. Some collections would showcase one more than the other, depending on the purpose. However, I aim to create some form of synergistic relationship between the two when possible. There are strong benefits to working in each realm, and as a designer who consciously seeks to explore new territories, I enjoy exploring and merging both worlds. I was able to do this with the ‘Talking Tables’ by displaying a variety of pieces, some minimal and others more intricate, woven by hand. Each piece speaks to a different audience because they all work in various settings from minimal to eclectic.
Please take us through your techniques and working methods.
I sketch quite often; I like to have a sketchbook beside my bed. I usually find myself sketching en-route in rush hour traffic and so on. I also create many conceptual wire models by hand and use some 3-D modeling tools to translate pieces to specific dimensions. It’s quite an iterative process; it’s usually sketch, model, render, remodel, re-render and sometimes repeat. It’s a discovery process but I’m always working and learning.
Do individual pieces hold personal experiences for you?
Yes, I would say so, especially because so far each piece is handmade and I know what we went through to make it come to life. Some more than others, for various reasons. For example, I designed ITE lighting fixture about 4 years ago, but it was executed this year. The pieces are expensive to make and are quite large, so it just wasn’t feasible at that point. I focused on making smaller items that were more economical to produce. So it was special to finally see it come to life.
How has the reception in Nigeria been to your work and do you produce in limited editions or in mass quantity to reach broader audiences?
The reception has been great, I’m quite thankful! Yes we focus on limited editions, the pieces are handmade and the sculptural quality also makes it difficult to mass-produce it.
What can you say about the quality of craftsmanship in Nigeria with regards to building prototypes and large-scale production?
It is really difficult to make things here especially good quality large-scale items, but I believe we will get there if we continue to nurture our own. I’ve met a number of designers creating products locally like myself, we all face challenges but there’s a movement going on. It takes a lot of tenacity.
Furniture design requires much; inconsistent electricity makes it quite tricky.
You also have to be quite conscious about the materials you are working with; how they are treated would affect the quality and so on I focus more on metal right now and functional artistic pieces so we are able to manage our quality.
What are the challenges that designers working in your genre encounter in Nigeria?
Inconsistent electricity has been a challenge. And if the generator isn’t working, then a whole day can literally be wasted. I think also the structure within the industry; I hear many designers speaking about how to get their products in front of an audience. There are two local exhibitions that I participated in recently. It was the first edition for each event, so platforms like this will encourage designers showcase their work and engage with a wider audience.
What are the major distribution mechanisms for your work?
We literally just launched the collection, so for now they are made to order and people can reach out to us directly. This also allows for us to connect better with our clients, as well as manage our production and quality.
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