Nigeria: Known For Beautiful Fabric: Have A Look at The Wonderful Work Of Flo Awolaja…

The history of Nigerian art, culture and textiles become hidden in industrial trade wars between India and China: wars that have made it impossible for the Nigerian textile industry to grow and develop. Developing a local supply chain as well as supporting artists as cultural ambassadors for gorgeous textiles across the sectors and the world is the way we need to go. Flo Awolaja is doing just that…


Above left and right Nigerian Aso-Oke Textiles, locally produced fabrics and poster for the very successful exhibition of the work of the British artist Flo Awolaja


Above: Nigerian Wax Prints: as you can see they’re rich and imaginative….need a home!

In Nigeria now, after thirty years of the same kind of warehouse capitalism that we have in Britain, importing cheap goods from China and India by containers which have prevented diversity in the economy, now there’s a renaissance of the Cotton Textile and Garment sector.

After a long period of mediocre, throwaway fabric which has resulted in the decimation of the garment industry (because fabric from China and India was often smuggled to ensure import tax wasn’t paid, often for years), so the  government couldn’t build infrastructure. When you think about the war on terror, perhaps the real war is the actual trade war against post colonial countries being able to build normative relationships where trade boundaries between countries can be respected and they can build the badly needed infrastructure.

1985-1991 25% of all jobs in Nigeria in textiles, over that period the number of textile mills in Nigeria fell in that period from 175 to 25. (research by Brookings Institution)  In 2004 there were just 10. Over the last five years, pressure from the Nigerian industry has resulted in Chinese investment pledge to build a state of the art industrial park

If you want to look at dress in Yoruba land here are some sources

and great Nigerian fashion designer Amaka Osakw Maki,

In the recent film, Black Panther, costume designer Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler and Walé Oyéjidé of Ikiré Jones created tribes, each with their own distinctive style. Ruth and Hannah were inspired by the wool collection of South African designer Laduma Ngxokolo’s Maxhosa range, the tailoring of Ghanaian-British designer Ozwald Boateng and the silhouettes and prints of US-based Nigerian couturier Duro Olowu, (quoted in The Atlantic) There were also nods to the dapper street style of Congolese sapeurs and the Afrofuturist originality of Afropunk festival-goers.


Above: Stills from Black Panther highlighting the gorgeous fabrics and clothes. The film grossed $700 million

Speaking to Flo Awolaja about her influences (she works in collage so I’ve researched some history, below):

opencity: What inspires you?

Flo Awolaja: What I see and feel, my heritage, my children, my parents work ethic and wanting to produce something for now.

opencity: What is it about your creative processes that differentiates you?

Flo Awolaja: I take a scholarly and reflective approach to art and work across media. Early training at home to draw to express and idea and graphic design has given me the confidence to work across media and disciplines.

opencity: What draws you to the different facets of your creative process?

Flo Awolaja: I think deeply: I’m convinced that through art and culture we’ll move forward.

opencity: Where do you find inspiration when creating these majestic works? I think you need to see them and almost want to touch them…

Flo Awolaja: I feel overawed by the tradition and history behind me and that I am impelled to communicate through art, collage, word and image, textiles, paint, graphic design, poetry. All of these are the strands that I continually weave, pick and unpick.

opencity: What effect has others appreciation of the beauty you bring had on you in your everyday life and when you are contemplating your next creative project?

Flo Awolaja: I feel grateful and inspired to reach more people with the next project…

opencity: How much time and effort does it take you to compose a written piece so that it continues to resonate in the reader…?

Flo Awolaja: I think in images, and sounds: so anything that touches memory and connections may result in different media to express it: all of the work I do seems to interweave and connect, so I will be making a collage and I will realise that I am growing a different project which could be poetry, which could be filmic…I’m planning to begin a doctorate which will look at the practice and transmission of art across cultures and history. Projects evolve over years.


Below, for those who are interested in collage, creativity and Nigerian cultural history and Flo, some interesting excerpts from research.

Rebecca Varley-Winter (Cambridge), ‘Collage love affairs: Mina Loy’s “Song to Joannes” and Marianne Moore’s “Marriage”’


Above: Mina Loy and Hannah Hoch in the 1920’s and 30’s, crossing poetry, image and painting.

Mechanism of collage
A ready-made reality, whose naïve destination has the air of having been fixed, once and for all (a canoe), finding itself in the presence of another and hardly less absurd reality (a vacuum cleaner), in a place where both of them must feel displaced (a forest), will, by this very fact, escape […] into a new absolute value, true and poetic: canoe and vacuum cleaner will make love. The mechanism of collage, […] is revealed by this very simple example. – Max Ernst /

The term collage, describing artworks created by cutting and pasting, comes from the French coller (to paste), but also has a double meaning: collage or ménage à colle was slang for an illicit relationship. Surrealist artist Max Ernst winks at this through his allegory of collage as an unlikely romance between a canoe and a vacuum cleaner, likening the meeting of incongruous objects to a love affair. /

Mina Loy’s ‘Songs to Joannes’ (1917) and Marianne Moore’s ‘Marriage’ (1923) both centre on relationships between men and women, and have been described as ‘collages’ due to the radical juxtapositions within them. Both poems place emphasis on material objects and the meeting of opposites, and arguably use collage-like techniques. However, Ernst conceives of collage as liberation, an artform akin to free love; Loy and Moore set this liberating potential against the strictures of established gender roles, both invoking and questioning the ideal transformative encounter that Ernst claims to find in the material act of cutting and pasting.


  • Mimi Yiu (Georgetown): ‘True stitch and false loves: blackwork as texts of feminine desire’
    Blackwork, one of the most popular types of needlework in early modern England, consists of a double-running stitch that creates the same design on both sides; hence, the alternate name “true stitch.” Typically worked with black thread on a white ground, this Moor-inspired embroidery assumed a text-like quality to the English eye. Reading blackwork became a means of reading feminine interiority, since the mysterious workings of a woman’s heart took material form in her needlework.

    Playwrights repeatedly employed blackwork as both a trope and a staged object to make manifest an otherwise inaccessible interiority. Yet even as the female author of blackwork gained a medium for subjective expression, inscribing a semiotics of desire onto cloth, her needlework problematically adopted an exotic aesthetics and technique.

    Through the back-door of feminine crafts, critics believed, blackness infiltrated the very heart of English homes. I have argued elsewhere that Othello’s handkerchief demonstrates the disastrous consequences of a woman’s “unnatural” desire for blackness.

    In this paper, I, (Rebecca Valley Winter), wish to expand my argument to examine a cultural anxiety over whether a woman’s hand and handiwork can ever reveal a true heart, or whether her embroidery channels “blackness” coursing within.

    (and I have to laugh, what does this woman mean?)

    By examining pattern books, rhetoric from the querelle des femmes, and a literary sampler of blackwork—likely including Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Love’s Cure and Ben Jonson’s The Case is Altered—I trace a running association between reading true stitch and reading a woman truly, between textual falsehood and textile authenticity.

    Can blackwork serve as an inscriptional ground for early modern female subjectivity?


    Mmmm…who knows?

    About Nigeria

    Nigeria’s linguistic diversity is a microcosm of Africa as it showcases as many as 520 living languages. Of the living languages, 510 are indigenous and 10 are non-indigenous (Blench 2003, Blench, 1992, Blench 2011, Campbell and King 2011).

    Nigeria’s active major languages are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfulde, and Kanuri. Hausa as one of the most spoken Nigerian languages by 18.5 million native speakers are found in Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Bauchi, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Gombe States. It is also the second language of about 15 million more people in Nigeria making it the most spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa (Ethnologue, 2015). In Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States, Igbo is the principal language spoken by about 24 million people. Igbo is also spoken in some parts of Akwa Ibom (Ika LGA), Delta (Oshimili, Aniocha, and Ndokwa LGAs) and Rivers States (Ikwerre, Bonny, and Ahoada LGAs) (Blench, 2016).

    Yoruba is the native tongue of the Yoruba people and is spoken by approximately 18.9 million people concentrated in Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Kwara, and Lagos states and parts of Kogi State.


    Adebola Adebileje 3 Adebola Omolara Adebileje. Profile: Professor of English Language. Her areas of interest are Applied English Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, English Grammar


    In addition, about 2 million people speak Yoruba as a second language. Yoruba has over fifteen dialects including Awori, Ijesha, Ilaje and Ila (Ethnologue, 2015).

    Another thriving language in Nigeria is the Nigerian Pidgin English which is a blend of English and ethnic Nigerian languages spoken operating as a kind of lingua franca across Nigeria. Although, it is a second language for at least 75 million Nigerians, it is the native language of 3 to 5 million people mainly concentrated in the Niger Delta region (Ethnologue 16th ed., 2009). On the whole, the unifying language in Nigeria for a long time has been the English language (Adebileje, 2002). It is the language of commerce, education, politics, technology and religion. Some scholars are of the opinion that while English has come to stay in Nigeria, it constitutes a great threat to the development of our numerous indigenous languages (Fishman, 1997; Wurm, 1998; Woodbury, 2012).

    Cultural origin of a process at the heart of word and image


    Nsibidi (also known as nsibiri,[2] nchibiddi or nchibiddy[3]) is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern Nigeria that is apparently an ideographic script, though there have been suggestions that it includes logographic elements.[4] The symbols are at least several centuries old—early forms appeared on excavated pottery as well as what are most likely ceramic stools and headrests from the Calabar region, with a range of dates from 400 to 1400 CE.[5][6]

    There are thousands of nsibidi symbols, of which over 500 have been recorded. They were once taught in a school to children.[7] Many of the signs deal with love affairs; those that deal with warfare and the sacred are kept secret.[7] Nsibidi is used on wall designs, calabashes, metals (such as bronze), leaves, swords, and tattoos.[2][8] It is primarily used by the Ekpe leopard secret society (also known as Ngbe or Egbo), which is found across Cross River among the Ekoi, Efik, Igbo people, and other nearby peoples.

    Outside knowledge of nsibidi came in 1904 when T. D. Maxwell noticed the symbols.[4] Before the British colonisation of the area, nsibidi was divided into a sacred version and a public, more decorative version which could be used by women.[8]

    Aspects of colonisation such as Western education and Christian doctrine drastically reduced the number of nsibidi-literate people, leaving the secret society members as some of the last literate in the symbols.[9] Nsibidi was and is still a means of transmitting Ekpe symbolism. Nsibidi was transported to Cuba and Haiti via the Atlantic slave trade, where it developed into the anaforuana and veve symbols.[10][11]


    The origin of the word nsibidi is not known. One theory traces the word to the Ekoid languages, where it means “cruel letters”, reflecting the harsh laws of the secret societies that hold nsibidi knowledge.[12][13] In Calabar, nsibidi is mostly associated with men’s leopard societies such as Ekpe. The leopard societies were a legislative, judicial, and executive power before colonisation, especially among the Efik who exerted much influence over the Cross River.[5]


    Nsibidi has a wide vocabulary of signs usually imprinted on calabashes, brass ware, textiles, wood sculptures, masquerade costumes, buildings and on human skin. Nsibidi has been described as a “fluid system” of communication consisting of hundreds of abstract and pictographic signs. Nsibidi was described in the colonial era by P.A. Talbot as “a kind of primitive secret writing”, Talbot explained that nsibidi was used for messages “cut or painted on split palm stems”. J.K. Macgregor’s view was that “The use of nsibidi is that of ordinary writing. I have in my possession a copy of the record of a court case from a town of Enion [Enyong] taken down in it, and every detail … is most graphically described”. Nsibidi crossed ethnic lines and was a uniting factor among ethnic groups in the Cross River region.


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