Fabric work on migration displayed in Jamaica shows interwoven motifs signifying shared cultures

Wearable “art” by Anthonia Akinbola


It’s a culture of migration.

And globalism defines today’s world. Its multi-ethnic appeal is interwoven into everything from contemporary artwork to the food we eat, the clothes we wear and even modern home décor. It’s as evident in the arts as it is in our sizzling political climate.

Nigeria native and Queens-based textile artist Anthonia Akinbola, got the help she needed so she could pursue her artistic endeavors, thanks to Queens Council on the Arts. Her incredible, 90″ by 45″ framed batik direct application fabric painting, on the “Culture of Migration,” is a must-see and will be presented by Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) – at 161-04 Jamaica Ave. – on Aug. 30 and can be viewed through Sept. 7.

Indian novelist Salman Rushdie has written a lot about “The whole story of migration and what that has done in interconnecting the planet.”

His global sensibility is something that Akinbola seems to share as a tough immigrant and an artist whose work tells the story of migration – from her point of view.

“Migration is the movement of people from one place to the other for the reason best know [sic] to the migrants… mostly to seek a greener pasture. Basically, I choose this theme to educate people in general, many attributes brought by the immigrants in making America an enviable place that people [want] to migrate to,” Akinbola explained. 

“Also, immigrants should not see themselves as usurpers but to see themselves as part of good things in the development of their new abode. I also seize the opportunity to appreciate our African brothers and sisters who were brought 400 years ago. Reading the stories and the endurance taken to be part of building this beautiful country, I raise my hat.” 

She continued: “Above all, the attributes brought by immigrants making America an enviable place to migrate to should be preserved, and let it overshadow the not too impressive attributes that gives immigrants bad names.”

Describing her artistic technique, Akinbola said, “I basically paint with dyes not only as wall paintings but also on wearables. To start, I pick my fabric which is natural fiber. I then make a sketch before transferring it on the fabric. Now, if am using silk, I may choose not to use wax; instead, I can settle for water soluble paste which I often use for workshops, especially if am working with seniors and kids because it is odorless and safe.”

For this project, she worked with 100 percent middle weight fabric and paraffin wax. “After the transference of the design on the fabric I melt my wax in a temperature-regulated skillet. The purpose of using the melted wax is to resist some area from dyes penetration [sic]. After that, I apply the dyes according to my color study as mistakes are not easily reversed,” she explained.

“When it’s dried, I ironed off the wax into the newsprints. Several [stages of] ironing is needed to take out extra wax. After that you steam to finally bound the chemical used with the fabric.”

She added: “JCAL is encouraging me to display my wearables made out of the same technique with cultural motifs signifying shared culture, so I will be exhibiting them in the same space.”

Before coming to NY, the artist lived in Columbia, Missouri, with her family where they “engaged in empowerment programs,” and opened a wearable art store (which is being moved online). Upon arriving in the Big Apple, Akinbola said that she hooked up with different art organizations then finally got involved with QCA and became a new recipient of their Arts Fund Grant.

“When I got to New York, I had a culture shock,” she recalled. “Definitely it was different from Missouri in terms of space and serenity, but it has proven itself as a place of opportunity!”

And isn’t that why so many immigrants have come to America?

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