Monday, 19 October 2009
BY CHUKS NWANNE
HER eyes were fixed on the flat screen TV set in one of the conference rooms at the Eko Hotel and Suite, Lagos, watching her own documentary, when I arrived. In her company was a young chap, who seemed to play a vital role in her Africa Design Expo (ADE) project. A colleague had earlier hinted on the project, so, I made out time to sound out the chief promoter.
From the arrangement of the room, I had a feeling she was about having a crucial meeting with her production team; calls were coming in almost every minute — the landline and her mobile phone were just ringing.
“This is more like my temporary office,” she quips. “When the management of the hotel saw how I was running up and down to attend to people concerning the Expo, they decided to give me this place to make things easier for me.”
HER official introduction gave an insight to her personality: “I’m Queen Ahneva Ahneva Adeniyi Adegeye,” she says beaming with smiles.
The name rang a bell, so, I probed her to know if she was related to the self-styled ‘King of African Beat’ and Juju music exponent, Sunny Ade.
“Yes, she’s my husband; we got married in 1984; many years ago. I’m originally from Chicago, but I’ve been based in Los Angeles for a very long time. Right now, I am back in the country.”
Ahneva recalls her first meeting with King Sunny Ade (KSA) during one of his music tours in the United States.
“He was in the US to do a show. I’m a fashion designer dealing on African fabrics. So, after his performance, someone called him (KSA) and said, ‘hey, come and meet our Queen Ahneva.’ That was how we met for the first time. At first, we were doing business together, and before long, we ended up as husband and wife.”
How has the marriage been?
“Fabulous,” she enthuses. “It’s been a wonderful relationship. I have two kids for him –– a boy and a girl.”
WITH a B.A. in Fashion Design from the Art Institute of Chicago, Ahneva’s love for African designs dates back to her high school days, when she was elected president of the Black Students Union.
“One of my responsibilities as the president was to make our members culturally aware of their heritage. So, at every event, I always encouraged them to dress African.”
Unfortunately, at that time, there were few African outfits in the US, until Ahneva discovered an African shop in her hometown.
“We were trying to get something to wear for the Black History Month in the US, so, we were at the shop to get some stuffs. Unfortunately, things were quite expensive there; as students, we couldn’t afford them.”
Seeing the level of passion Ahneva had for African designs, the shop owner made an offer to her.
“She was like, ‘why not come by and do a private training in African design.’ That time, I was taking home economics in school; I was learning how to sew, so, I took up the offer. After school, I would go to her shop for training on African designs. That was how I got my official exposure to African textiles. Being an African woman in my spirit, I was attracted to African fabrics; I love the designs, the colours… it was just amazing the kinds of fabrics available.”
Ahneva, who currently runs a show room in Los Angeles, where she showcases her designs mostly made of African fabrics, says, “I’ve been doing that for over 20 years. My line is cultural couture; I do wonderful works with hand-woven embroidery, tie and die, adire. I’ve been buying fabrics from Nigeria from such people as Chief Nike Okundaye and others for years. In fact, I’ve been designing for my husband for over 23 years.”
You design those outfits?
“Yes, I do a lot of them; though he has his own tailor in Nigeria. I used to do his crowns and anytime he’s on stage, I would go there and crown him; it was a part of our little dance on stage,” she muses.
However, ADE is not Ahneva’s first fashion show in the country; she had one in Lagos in the 80s, with designers such as Jimi King, Supreme Stitches, African Connections and others in participation.
“Chief Raymond Dokpesi was the chairman of the event; he sponsored me to do the show then,” the lady informs.
“So, over the years, I’ve developed my trade mark, using African fabrics. I saw a young designer here in Nigeria doing something I’ve been doing for years.”
“Her name is Deola Sagoe; it was so nice and refreshing, seeing a young designer using African fabrics that way. Prior to my doing it, I’ve never seen someone do that. I was happy to see how she took the application and developed it into her trade mark,” she retorts.
According to the CEO of Ahneva Ahneva International, the Africa Design Expo, which ended last Sunday at the Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, is aimed at defining what the African design market looks like and to show that Africa has a warm climate for producing furniture, household wares and other design products.
ORGANISED with the support of Eko Hotels and Suites, top designers at the Expo include House of Maufechi, Zizi Cardow, Yatts Collection, Colours in Africa, Serf Concepts, Design Union and others. There were also designers from other African countries, who showcased their works at the Expo.
“We just wanted to create a platform for African designers to show their talents to the world; the show is not about me, it’s about us. We had people from the National Black Arts Festival, from the Pan African Film Festival and the Essence Festival; they actually came to find new artistes to invite to the States to be part of the shows they produce,” she says. “The vision is to push the boundaries of design manufacturing in Africa into the lucrative world of luxury lifestyles and develop Africa’s unique style, artistry and creative potential not just by providing a platform for design manufacturing in Africa, but also by expanding the frontiers for cultural design consciousness and appreciation especially among Africans.”
On why she took up the project, Ahneva says, “oh, it’s about passion; it’s my dream. One of the things we have in Africa is a rich heritage. We are the first makers of wearable art, the first makers of fashion. We created the science of design –– beading, dying, tattoo and a lot of them. So, with that knowledge, I’ve always revered my heritage and appreciate it in a way that I always wanted it to reflect in all I wear.”
She continues: “People who know me would testify that I’m a true African woman; I’ve been wearing African designs for over 20 years. What I appreciate about African design is the creativity; everybody has his or her own technique and application. Africa Design Expo is about saluting African design, from interior decorators to lifestyles, people who make glasses, African architecture, 3D animation and others.”
According to the designer, Africa Art Expo is not going to be a one-off project. “We plan to take the show round the continent; it’s not going to be Nigeria alone. We will do everything possible to get this show to other parts of Africa. What this whole thing is about is that, we need an African design centre. We intend to institutionalise the project and create a world-class standard that will have immense potential of being an annual vehicle that will tour Africa and continue to represent Nigeria positively in the eyes of the world.”