Kachi Irondi started out studying art at the University of Worcester. In her second year, she decided to focus on ceramics design and later enrolled at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London. Her signature design, Sekho meaning spider web is an aesthetic of carved repetitive patterns and perforated interlocking bricks for walls and external spaces. Here, she talks about her passion for incorporating traditional African patterns and need to preserve culture in her unique pieces.
Your background embraces varied experiences including sculpture and design. You’ve also entered for a jewellery competition but today, your practice is almost entirely focused on ceramics. How did this evolution take place and how are you able to blend these experiences in your current practice?
Coming from an art and design background, I had the opportunity to experiment in different subject areas and most experiences informed my practice. For instance, my use of African patterns began whilst taking textiles at the start of my second year during my BA. After learning a few basics in ceramics the following semester, my use of African patterns continued naturally. Applying patterns to ceramics is a means of challenging my creative capabilities and a representation of my culture in a different way.
The Duffs of London jewellery competition occurred whilst taking my Masters in ceramics at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. It was an exciting prospect firstly because it was a group project that merged the ideas of designers from different practices, as well as a chance to learn the different factors to jewellery making. I found that during the design process, I automatically started looking for indigenous patterns from the country where the client had sourced gems for the project and developed subtle forms from there. That subtlety fed into the next project, where I chose to design a model of a column with developed motifs sourced from records of architecture stored in the Blythe House, which is in the archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
It’s a learning experience with every new venture. It’s taught me to embrace the unknown because the outcomes are always valuable. For this reason, I’m always open to new experiences in and out of my field because I’ve learned it usually unlocks ideas I’m eager to explore thereafter.
You draw inspiration from the Basotho people of Lesotho in Southern Africa and have been successful in creating a new aesthetic you also christened “Sekho”. What informs this choice, and is the name derivative of this tribe?
Sekho, named after its inspirational motif meaning spider web, is a design of carved, interlocking and perforated clay bricks for walls, interior elements and external spaces. The key aspect of this design is the functionality of the perforations, which provides natural ventilation in buildings, paired with the complex aesthetics that meld cultural references. Sekho is a rich mix of ceramic traditions, painted motifs from the vernacular architecture of Lesotho’s Basotho people in Southern Africa, historic methods of hand making bricks, and different styles of architecture and traditional, functional details.
The choice to name the design after its inspirational motif was purposefully intended because of the objectives of the project— being to invite the world to African cultures, bringing consciousness and challenging misconceptions. With this name in place, it encourages a flow of information. Furthermore this project seeks to revive fading traditions and begins the preservation of the rich African ceramics culture by making it accessible and adaptable to a globalized world.
What is your underlying philosophy?
My underlying philosophy is never limit your ideas to what you can make or because of how crazy you think it is. It’s easier to scale it down than it is up.
You describe your work as “a rich mix of ceramic traditions, historic methods of hand making bricks, different styles of architecture and traditional functional details.” Please expatiate on this. Were some of these influences drawn from your experiences growing up?
My work so far has been heavily influenced by experiences growing up. Too often we leave aside the intelligence of our ancient roots for a bastardized solution using inadequate materials, reductive aesthetics and inefficient engineering. Recalling childhood memories of naturally fresh homes prompted me to research the engineering of natural ventilation in architecture before everything became ‘modernized’. We went from having both functional and aesthetically pleasing architectural elements such as breezeblocks to having nothing or four square meters of empty spaces in the middle of the few homes that could afford to do so. Homes then were less fresh, and air conditioners were brought in. However, this proves to be more than inadequate when we don’t have the pleasure of having electricity 24/7 in countries such as Nigeria.
Your methods involve carving and perforation with your resultant output, blurring the lines between ceramics and sculpture, and often incorporating bits of African fabric. What is your thinking behind this?
I began carving organic forms of clay and it commenced with transforming 2D patterns found on African wax print fabric to 3D, then incorporating bits of the fabric that inspired the design, which represented the start of the process. Thereafter the context developed to studying the decorative and functional aspects of African pottery, as well as how women carried pots filled with water on their heads in the past with rolled up traditional fabric beneath the pots.
Whilst looking in-depth for the origins of those fabrics, I came across architecture with hand painted patterns on houses in Zaria, geometric intricate repetitive patterns in the Almoravid Koubba in Marrakesh and the Tolek in Cameroon made from compressed earth. All these sparked my interest in architectural features and fuelled my passion to create new aesthetics such as Sekho.
What’s next for Onyekachi Irondi?
I am looking to raise funds to start up a brick factory in Nigeria, which will eventually evolve into making tiles and panels in various materials for architectural elements.
A lot of buildings have lost their character for the sake of modernity. I’m seeking to push those boundaries , make use of Nigeria’s local materials, as well as skills to help reduce the amount of imported ceramic goods to help preserve our fading culture.