Onome Otite is a London-based artist specialising in figurative textile collage. Her exhibition, Cirque, is at The Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, London from 7th-10th October 2021 and Harrogate Convention Centre from 18th-21st November 2021. We caught up with her to learn more about her work…
Onome, we can’t wait for visitors to see your wonderfully vibrant life-size 3D collages in London and Harrogate this autumn. What is it about fabric collage that you love working with as an art form?
Apart from enjoying the craft element of embroidery and dressmaking, I love that textiles hold stories. All the fabric I use is recycled and my textile collection includes fabric donations, off-cuts from seamstresses, clothes outgrown, out-dated or just rejected – that someone once owned, wore or used in a particular way. Stories at my fingertips! The fabric design could also have a meaning or the craftsmanship specialised – the list is endless! My skill is to rework the fabric as well as those memories, meanings and stories into a beautiful collage.
Please can you give us a little insight into your making process? Where do you find inspiration for your hand-drawn figures and how do you choose the fabrics to decorate each piece?
My life-size collages explore costume in contemporary circus, in particular the performers clothing in Cirque Du Soleil and Cirque Nouveau, where costume plays an integral part in the theme and storyline of the performance. I also studied how the performers interact with their costume to convey narrative to the audience. My use of wax print fabric pays homage to both my Nigerian ancestry and the colour and design patterns of contemporary circus costume. Fabrics with similar shapes and motifs were sourced in London and Ghana. The vibrancy of the textiles lends itself well to the collages’ buoyant circus theme.
For example, ‘Untitled iii’ pays homage to my experience in Makola Market in Accra, Ghana. Shopping for art materials in Makola was hectic and hot! The material I purchased included a patchwork design ‘nsasawa’ featuring many patterns, shapes and bold colours. A popular style to wear by the street performers in Ghana, this was the perfect material to inspire the development of this collage. Like my experience in Makola Market, this dance-like figure is animated, open and inviting, and full of life and I wanted to reference this in the fabric.
Your pride for your West African ancestry is clear in your work through your use of batik and waxed print cloth. What is it about those fabrics that appeals to you as an artist?
I’m naturally drawn to bright colours and patterns, but my use of batik fabrics and recycled materials helps to weave a cultural narrative into my work. Traditionally the colours, patterns and symbols of the fabric design suggest stories and emotion, which inspire my designs. I like to experiment with collage and create various textural combinations. Growing up within a Nigerian community, I’m also influenced by women who use traditional colourful clothing as a means of empowerment. Women using textiles to celebrate their womanhood and heritage resonates with me and is a subject I’m excited to explore. The manipulation of pattern and the prints’ vibrancy adds to the celebratory mood of the artwork.
In 2016, you won a Cockpit Arts Prince’s Trust Creative Careers Award, have been mentored by the British Fashion Council, took part in a British Council Cultural Exchange Programme in Ghana, and have exhibited your work all over the world. That’s a phenomenal CV for such a young artist. Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give other budding young artists hoping to achieve commercial success with their work?
I have been creating artwork for the best part of 8 years, though I launched as a business with the Prince’s Trust in 2016 and it has been a really exciting experience. As part of The Prince’s Trust Business Enterprise Programme, I completed a business plan and was also awarded a studio space at Cockpit Arts – a business incubator for craft and designer makers, where I was provided with further creative career development and design direction. Previously working from a home studio, I was finding the lack of space difficult to manage, yet the cost of a London studio was too much to afford at the early stage of my business. Having supportive mentors (both in business and art) helped me to focus on my creative practise and growth. If there is anyone considering using their ideas and creativity to start their own business, I would say go for it 100%! There are so many initiatives and schemes in the UK to support emerging creatives and I would advise to focus on these opportunities rather than let doubt hold you back.
The collection you are bringing to The Knitting & Stitching Show is Cirque, a series that explores costume in contemporary circus, and specifically the role of costume in conveying the theme and storyline of a performance. Is costume design a possible avenue for you in the future?
Working with a costume designer would be a wonderful collaboration – never say never!
What are you working on currently and what’s next for you?
Currently I’m working on a new series ‘Bahia’, inspired by Brazilian ‘Baiana’ costume, which launches this October, and I will be hosting a special event in London to mark the release. Details of the launch will be shared exclusively with my mailing list, so I encourage signing up via my website (www.onomeotite.com) to be in the know. I’m also preparing for a group exhibition with the Craft Council in November 2021 where I’ll be showcasing a very special collage celebrating black female artists in the UK. Again, all information can be found on my website and social media pages. This year is definitely going out with great events.
To see more work from Onome Otite, click below.