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Adebisi Akanji was born in Nigeria in the 1930s. He began his career as a bricklayer, a job that taught him to build with fired mud brick, cement block and mud walls coated with cement. His transition from craftsman to artist began with a contest to sculpt cement animals based on the heraldic animals found on the balustrades of Afro-Brazilian style Yoruba houses. This competition led to commissions and the development of his cement screens, which may form a wall or stand free as in a fence.
Although best known as a sculptor, Akanji is an accomplished textile artist also. His textiles show the same interest in curving lines, expressive forms and size to express importance as his screens. Although the individual figures show similarities, the textile figures float, their arrangement liberated from the framework required by the structural needs of reinforcing cement. His subjects often include characters or themes from traditional Yoruba art and oral literature, such as the drummer and the sacrifice. While some works include brilliant jewel tones, most of Akanji's textiles rely on indigo bluethe resist-dyed technique used in traditional Yoruba adire. Akanji's free-hand figural style, however, is far removed from the repeat geometry or stenciled figures most associated with older adirecloths.
Akanji also collaborated with Susanne Wenger for 10 years on the Oshun shrine, building and sculpting many of the shrine's major elements.
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