Art and Design are Siamese twins and even the Lagos State government now tows the path of deliberate design to reinvent the aesthetics of Nigeria’s ‘Center of Excellence’.
Design is quickly becoming palatable across board as laws demanding local content inspire the birth of a new body of artists, feeding a market that has nowhere to look but inward.
This new trend brings back a drizzle of Nigerian designers who are trained abroad but are hungry to bring their talents home. One such designer is Ayodeji Ajidagba otherwise known as the Design Extrovert.
As the year ends, Ayodeji emerges from the cocoon of his studio to present the best of his creations to anxious design enthusiasts in Lagos. His preoccupation is designing interior spaces and the details within them.
Ayodeji studied Psychology at the University of Jos before relocating to New York in 1997. It was in New York that he began collecting ideas that formed his genius expression of fashion and interior accessories. He honed his passion further by enrolling for Design at the Centennial College Toronto and then the prestigious Etobicoke College of Art where he studied Interior Design.
Today Ayodeji is one of the leading talents of interior designs in Toronto. From floor planning and interior detailing of colours, lights, textures to product designs, Ayodeji lives for his Art. His work is fresh every season, constantly challenging convention, pushing boundaries to create matter in spaces where void once existed.
The designers’ bold medley of aluminum, wood, leather and crystals are characteristic elements in his designs of lamps, t-shirts and Art installations.
Ayodeji exhibited his latest collectionDecember 5-6 at the Artistic License Gallery on Sandiland Arcade 230 Muri Okunola Street, Victoria Island Lagos.
Ahead of his Lagos debut, he gave Ebun Olatoye an exclusive on his journey as a designer and what makes for a good design.
How early in life did you identify your interest in design?
Straight after secondary school. I used to take things apart and put them together. I remember trying to fix a wobbly wooden stool and doing it successful. It wasn’t a great design, but it stood. I also loved clothes. I would look at things, a bottle, a glass and think, how could this look better. I’ve thought, why should a bottle look cylindrical only, what are the other options. I’ve just always wanted to make things look nice.
What inspired you to pick up interior design?
It’s my love for products and solutions. When you look at the interior of a house you have paintings, colours, The details of an interior space interest me. So studying interior design was a natural progression.
Did you have a clear idea what you wanted to do when you set out with interior design?
I studied psychology at UniJos. But when I went to North America the creative part of me got unleashed because I encountered so many things that inspired me daily. I knew I wanted to be in the design business. If I want to categorize myself I would say I design products i.e fashion products and interior accessories. Look at Roberto Cavallier who is known for designing. Let’s use Armani, he does clothes, furniture and he does hotels as well.
What mission do you have when you are creating your pieces?
First of all when I start designing, a lamp, for instance, I have no preconception before I start, I start tabula rasa. Most times, I work from my head through my hands. It’s almost like I am just being guided by something that transcends me. In my head I see colours, shapes, patterns. I remember I had as stool back in Canada in our living room, and I bought it from a regular store and I took it home and I didn’t even know why I bought it. It took me a while to realize that I bought it so I could redesign it. I changed the colour and gave the legs woven leather. On the sides of the stools, I put swarosky crystals and completely changed the colour. It was a horrible natural wood and I changed it to a mocha colour. By the time looked like a $10, 000 stool. But what I want from a finished product is personal satisfaction and fulfilled.
What canvas, or subject works best for you?
I don’t prefer one specific canvas; I’m a multi media designer. I work with leather, fabric, ceramics. The first real design that I started was leather bags just after I graduated from the University of Jos. I started by making one for my Mom and everyone kept asking for them. I made more for her friends, they paid and it just exploded. People would come to our house in Lagos from Abuja and Kano back in 1994. My problem is that I get bored with one medium easily. I am constantly thinking of the next canvas to use for my work. I could be talking to you and I’m thinking of a design or I want to do this fantastic painting and the colours are jumping at me in my head.
If you were given a choice between a formal education in your chosen field of design and an apprenticeship, which would you choose?
You can’t beat real life experience of actually working with a material or medium. Formal education refines you. But if you have a natural talent, whether or not you go to school, it will always be there. Formal education enhances that natural talent. You build on what you have learnt in the real world and it gives you some credibility as well. Why would I pick one when I don’t have to. Don’t forget I studied interior design as well as design.
Which of the two skill acquisition methods have you gained from the more?
I have learnt more from hands on more. A hands on experience has definitely added more value to me as a designer.
What most inspires, your space or the works of others?
Probably other people. I’m an avid reader of design magazines; I attend and participate in design shows and festivals in New York, London and Montreal. I participated in the Montreal Design show- SIDIM in 2005. I showcased interior accessories — pillows, leather lamps, single leather chairs made of buffalo hide. We were very well received. We were in the category of new and emerging designers. We didn’t win but we were short listed for the award.
How do you as a designer draw a line between inspiration from works of other designers and the violation of copyrights?
Everybody feeds off everybody. No one is an island. Even in school you feed off others. A writer is someone who reads a lot. As a designer you cannot be inspired by your own ideas. You have to go out there and experience things and recreate your own take on what has been done. Or someone’s work might trigger a new creation of your own. Innovate don’t imitate that’s my watch phrase but when people start copying you, you know you’re on to a good thing.
What is a good design? I believe that a good design must be beautiful to look at; it must be functional, and it must be different from anything else. I like individuality.
What is your favorite space/building in London, Lagos and Toronto?
In Lagos, it’s my studio in Ikeja, because there I get away from everyone. I can think, I can create. In London I like the train in canary wharf and the beams and bolts of the industrial look. It’s very modern, very imposing and hard. I like the Tate Modern Museum. In Toronto I like the art gallery of Ontario. Its fantastic and was remodeled recently. There’s a place called the Yonge-Dundas square that I absolutely love. It’s an open space recently remodeled where artists come to perform. It’s very funky, very open.
Which space in Nigeria would you like to contribute your design to and how would you reinvent such a space?
In Nigeria, the Murtala Muhammed airport. First off, I would expand the arrival area where passengers meet immigration. It should be expanded and needs better lighting. It’s not at all befitting of Nigeria. It’s the international airport and the first point of call in Nigeria. I would add some nice lights and some installations. Right now it feels cold and unwelcoming. It’s not wide, not friendly. It’s unpleasant. I would change the colour scheme, make it happy, and give it the energy that Nigeria is known for.
Which design landmarks do you think of in Nigeria?
I think the National Arts Theatre is a fantastic piece of art. The design is fantastic but it’s grossly overlooked.
Do you agree that design is moving from being global to being local?
There is a saying: act local, think global. Your products, design, style and materials should be sourced locally but always have an eye to providing for the world. Designs from Mali are on the catwalks. Karim Rashid is from Iran and his work is world class. He brings his Middle Eastern background into products and today he designs for big firms across the world. His influences were shaped by his childhood and the people around him. He did a chair once, a normal plastic chair designed in such a way that it was almost ethnic. But the material was ethnic yet modern with an eye for the international market. Well designed products will always find an international market, whether made in Lagos, Paris or Senegal. I believe in acting local and thinking global.
If you could live in any city in the world, which would it be, and why?
I like so many cities, it’s hard to choose, but my favorites are: New York for its energy and inspiration; Montreal, for its European and North American blend of charm; and Milan for its Fashion and chic. Even the dogs in Milan are trendy.
If you could spend one day with any one designer in the world, who would it be?
Karim Rashid. He is fantastic and remarkably talented. In the design world, he is a living legend and has won countless awards. He has also designed for varied clients such as Audi, Bernini, Alessi etc. the list goes on and on. To spend a day with him to exchange ideas and pick his brain would be absolutely brilliant.
Is Deji Ajidagba here to stay or are you going to be going back to Toronto?
I am in the process of moving back, but you know it takes time, it’s not a one day affair.