From the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, COCA has looked to our artists to foster connection in a time of distance and uncertainty; their work essential—now more than ever—for creating community and envisioning our future.
So when it came time to mark the completion of our brand new Ferring East Wing, along with the conclusion of COCA’s Create our Future campaign, we asked artists from across the region to submit proposals for Common Ground: A large-scale, site-specific, participatory installation celebrates our community and extends our reach as an arts hub for all generations across the St. Louis region.
After rounds of review by a panel of St. Louis artists and community members, Olaniyi R. Akindiya, aka AKIRASH, was selected to create the Common Ground exhibition. At a time when separation and uncertainty tempt us, AKIRASH encourages us to listen to our shared humanity and remember that we are stronger when we come together.
We had the pleasure of asking AKIRASH a few questions about his work.
What is the title of your piece and what does that name mean to you?
Title: Ilọsiwaju – Work in progress, still constructing #2. It means unfinish, undone, correction are allowed, making mistake is part of the process, failure is the way to success, perfection is not required, teaching and learning is the key, it will get messy, process will be tough and it will get better day by day if we don’t giving up.
What inspired you about the theme of Common Ground at COCA?
Common Ground to me is a place to be together in this moment: an opportunity for us all to forget our differences, what positions we hold in society or any of the other cultural forces that push us apart. For this one moment, in this space, let us be one, be equal, be brothers and sisters, remember we are all from one family tree. From that vantage point, there is much more that unites us than separates us.
Your proposed work relies on that community , those who visit this work to connect to the past and hope for a future generation – how will you incorporate this into the audience’s participation with your piece?
We are the stories that we hear: What we are told, what we read, through the languages we speak, the diversity of foods we grow and eat, the way we dress, our religion, and the color of our skin. All these cultural and societal stories link us to our past as they shape how we grow. When we become adults, we start to choose what stories to listen to, and what stories to tell. Our story may blend with other cultures, as we leave home, traveling to see the world or even just to see a new part of town. Those cultures that we come across start to grow on us, they start to burrow and then blossom into something new, forming our future.
The piece is composed of many small, abstract human figures. They become the tools for all of us to tell our new stories of today and what we hope tomorrow should give birth to. This piece gives us the chance to rewrite the wrong, to understand we cannot do anything about what has happened, but we can make tomorrow a better place for the next generation. Resiliency lies in us coming together to honor and celebrate our differences.
What can we expect the installation will look like in the beginning? At the conclusion of its time in exhibition?
The beginning of the installation is not going to look like other installation artworks when you walk into a gallery. My job is to lay down the foundation and patterns upon which visitors to the installation will build. On opening day, the installation will start more like a sketch, draft
or work in progress. It may feel like you are walking into and artist’s studio at the start of a new project. Then it will progressively change, day by day, with the collaboration of the community of people that walk into the COCA. You will shape the piece as you decide where to place materials provided for you. You may add, move, or subtract. The piece will be ever changing throughout the exhibition, reminding us about the moment as it changes within seconds and is beyond prediction as to what will happen next.
I hope COCA and visitors will document the progression, and I encourage everyone to visit the COCA as often as to see how the piece develops and changes.
You’ve shown work all over, from Texas to Nigeria, and in your artist statement you say, “Ultimately, my work is designed to create comfort, peace, and solace. I believe that art can be a balm to the soul, revealing a quiet inner truth. My art is a reflection of the joys of life, directly inspired by rhythm, harmony, and the movement of daily existence.” How does this sentiment vary based on the location of your work?
As I travel from country to country, continent to continent, every community has different challenges. As an artist I have the power, gift, and responsibility to be the voice calling attention, to question what is not clear, to create conversation, and start dialogue. I use art to bring people together and working with whatever medium best illuminates the particular issue that is dear to the society I find myself in at that particular time and moment.
What do you hope this piece inspires in its audience?
I want this work we were about to create together to bring us closer to one another. I hope it will give us a chance to pause for a second to see that we are all responsible for our neighbors, and that we cannot do it alone. We are strong when we come together.
Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya aka AKIRASH, was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He earned his first BSC degree in Biochemistry from the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta Nigeria (1991), before going on to study Fine and Applied Art at Institute of Textile Technology Art & Design Lagos (1995). He now lives and works Austin Texas. His work focuses on moments of time, fleeting moments that can be easily forgotten or transformed; reflecting on rural versus urban life, the accelerated pace of development and social infrastructure. His works and performative activities play around social subjectivities of identity, Health, education, equality, gun violence, races, religion with dramatic components, breaking down conventional barriers.