Ebenezer Akakpo: Art that helps us live interdependently

Every month PelotonLabs co-founder Liz Trice interviews a local community member. This month, Liz caught up with Ebenezer Akakpo, an artist and entrepreneur who takes inspiration for jewelry and houseware designs from the ancient Adinkra symbols of his boyhood home of Ghana. 

What is the meaning of the Adinkra symbols you work with? 

The symbols are from my native country. Depending on the symbol, they can represent what’s most important to a person, such as friendship, hope, or endurance. These ancient, Ghanaian symbols have appeared in cloth, architecture, and homes for centuries. In fact, architects and graphic designers in Ghana still use these symbols in their work today. 

For me, the symbols often reflect how I’m feeling or what’s happening in the world around me. For example, when I was working on designing the Metro bus shelter across the street from Maine College of Art, I was impacted by the chaos happening in our country, so I decided to use the symbols for friendship and hope. It’s these large-scale, visible projects that I believe can truly make an impact. 

I also notice that my customers are also attracted to different symbols based on what’s going on in the world. For example, when our new president was elected, the hope symbol was especially popular. More recently, likely due to the effects of the pandemic, people have been attracted to symbols representing endurance and unity. 

How did you end up in Portland? 

I was an apprentice jeweler in Ghana, and my father had expressed an interest in me studying outside of the country. While researching options, I visited the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) in Ghana, where they ran weekly workshops about how to apply for scholarships to American schools. I narrowed down my choices to art schools in Maine, Texas, and Indiana. Based on the student advisor’s advice, I decided to apply to the Maine College of Art in Portland. While I was waiting for a response, I studied jewelry design and stone setting at a trade school in Italy. I moved to Maine in 1998.

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on my website, Akakpo & Company. I want customers who come to the site for the first time to understand the meaning behind the symbols. Adinkra, and its personal connection to shoppers, can be a challenging concept to communicate. It’s important to me that first-time customers understand their meaning, and how it’s reflected in my designs. 

I’m also thinking about larger-scale projects, much like the work I did at the bus shelter. I enjoy blending elements of technology and design for a sculptural effect. Right now, I’m playing with the symbols and their movement in a larger format. When I work with Adinkra in this way, I see the symbols differently. I’m really inspired by challenging, sculptural projects, and my hope is to do more public pieces in the near future. 

As I continue to look ahead, my hope is to one day have a chain of stores that sell home goods, such as glasses, pillows, curtains, and more that highlight the Adinkra symbols in beautiful and meaningful ways. For now, I’ve been running small batches of screen-printed glasses and pillows, but I’m continuing to explore options that will help increase production. 

Source : The Westend News



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