Full of color, depth, and texture, the work of Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya — brush name Akirash — seeks to dance, pull viewers in, and let them connect with the work and the world around it. Akirash, a recent recipient of the 2019 Dallas Museum of Art Travel Grant, works fluidly across mediums: installation, sculpture, painting, video, and performance. All of his works operate in three dimensions, differentiated by how far they extend into the viewing space. “I am not a fan of flat works,” he says. “I am interested in allowing the audience to see beyond the canvas. I want to make these works feel alive. I want to blow breath into them.”
Akirash, who has studied biochemistry and art, was born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the United States in 2011. He now maintains a studio in north Austin, living in Pflugerville, splitting his time between Texas and Nigeria. A world traveler, he’s journeyed to more than 50 countries researching, exhibiting, and pursuing (far too many to name) distinguished residencies. “Where I find myself is home, at that moment. I will do anything within my power and knowledge to see that I am part of the voice that creates change.”
Akirash is inspired by the craft and history of traditional textile weaving; he expands the concept of the loom into an original and contemporary experience. His tapestry paintings, woven from paper patterns cut into the simple shapes of male and female, surge forward, gently rippling in the room. These patterns are dipped in paint, becoming a thread that can be woven. Seen from afar it is like a quilt, sewn and embroidered with vibrant colors, a sophisticated design made through the extension of this simple pattern. His works are full of information. Like the finest traditionally weaved textiles, each piece has a striking effect as a whole and upon closer inspection is full of fine detail, technicality, and intricacy.
His sculpture works pull his tapestries farther off the gallery wall. The Wrinkle sculptures gather fabric, crumpling it, molding more complex three-dimensional objects, full of curves, depth, shadow, and lines. This process creates a series of irregular forms, like a frozen moment of fabric that, if normally crumpled up, might then lose its shape, returning to a flatter surface. The pieces are listed as mixed media. He approaches his tools and materials as a partnership. They form an alliance in order to solve the difficult challenges his work creates. He works on several pieces at a time, waiting patiently for the right materials to come to him. If the material hasn’t revealed itself, he moves on and, eventually he finds what he’s looking for and can return to the work.
Other sculptures are embroidered in ways that suggest garments. “I was born in an environment, society, and culture of people who use symbols and color as tools of communication,” says Akirash. “The color of clothes and dresses they wore, the colors of shoes, bags, jewelry, the color of their home both in and outside.” Through color, fabric, and texture, the meaning of these objects from his origins are threaded into his works.
His 2019 show at Lawndale Art Center, Ara Oru Kinkin (Masquerades Mythology), featured elaborate costumes, masks, and Igbale: Temple, a huge hut made from a cardboard net. In his netting installations, thousands of strips of recycled cardboard boxes are glued into squares that are linked together into a large piece of fabric. For Akirash, netting represents connectivity. We are weaved into the world together, and he has his vision for bringing us together. Igbale is a sacred place for those who practice egungun, a West African masquerade practice that features brilliantly colored masks and costumes. In the hut, participants pray, meditate, dress, and prepare for egungun. His temple, where people gather sitting and laying on the floor, is transparent. You can always see in and out of it.
Driven by contemporary social issues, his practice grounds itself in social interaction; work begins with primary source interviews. He reads, researches, travels, and asks questions, all to better illuminate the materials, process, and form the work requires. His conception of art is universal: it should reach out and touch anyone, regardless of their language, background, or social position. “It’s very important to me to choose issues that concern all of us,” he says. “I always do my best to reach larger audiences.”
Akirash’s body of work is full of extensions and links between pieces; it’s full of family resemblances. His performance and video work contain the same potent alchemy that brings elements of tradition into a contemporary world. He seeks connection, within the works and in the world. “Art is a tool to give us hope and strength and to bring us together,” he says. “This is the power of art, and this is the calling of artists.”