Art is a method of inspiration, it shares stories and connects with audiences. Its presence is something deeper than ourselves, which creates emotions and discourse. As a Cameroonian-American, Akwi Nji incorporates her ancestry and cultural experiences into her artistic expressions, including performance, words, textile narratives and visual arts.
Currently based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Awki has made incredible strides in her journey — her art has appeared in California’s Wine Country Festivals to New York’s Fashion Week. Through Akwi’s multidisciplinary art forms, she explores the reflection of cultural issues and their relevance to our society. Awki feels that art in its true sense opens up opportunities for learning about others' experiences, and looking forward to action in terms of “what's next”.
Akwi’s art is important now more than ever, in a time when not listening and engaging with the voices of others is unacceptable.
*Uprising Magazine’s interview with Akwi Nji was conducted virtually with a journalist and was a question-and-answer based interview.*
Noelle Sampson: How did you discover your love for art?
Akwi Nji: I’ve loved art since I was in high school, but the moment I discovered I wanted to create art? Oh, man. It was a really specific moment. I’d made my way, solo, to the local theatre […] Most of the production didn’t resonate with me in any especially strong way, but then there was what I still think of as “The Bojangles Moment”. Two performers […] mirrored each other in dance […] so hauntingly and exquisitely, the classic “Mr. Bojangles”. The performance hit me hard, rocked me, knocked me down, and then took me somewhere else entirely. I wept. And I hate crying in public. Then the weeping turned to sobbing. Everything in me said, “This. Art. This is the thing you’re [I’m] supposed to do.”
Sampson: What inspires you to create?
Nji: Trauma, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion. I wish that light, airy emotions inspired me. But they don’t. Heck, I wish something bigger than my own emotions inspired me. But it’s the completely tangled up ball of yarn (that’s how I imagine it) that sits in my belly and that I have to unravel, straighten out, and make sense of through my art […] being not only creative but an artist is a thing. It’s possible and it’s necessary.
Sampson: What does art mean to you?
Nji: It’s activism. Even when a creative might not interpret it as such or desires it to be for themselves, it’s such a powerful force that it can’t be innocent in its impact. Art absolutely changes people, reflects and impacts culture, it’s an invitation into expansion. It’s a gateway to understanding the why of our worry, the what next of our actions, the I see now of another’s circumstance/culture/voice/life/humanity, the more intimately present of being, the open door into feeling more alive and not numbed. It’s a living, breathing thing that fundamentally impacts who we are and how we navigate our world.
Sampson: Describe a time your art succeeded.
Nji: I think any moment when someone views my work and sees something resonant to their own life, their own experience, or even a glimmer of what I’d intended feels like a spark of success inherent in the art. When it feels like it’s in conversation with someone and, thus, the world, is when it feels to me like the art succeeded […]
Sampson: Describe a time you overcame an obstacle in your artistic journey.
Nji: This spring I finally gave myself permission to create completely unleashed from my own restrictive notions of what kind of artist I have permission to be. It’s been a journey, for sure, with swooshes of energy and productivity throughout the last two decades and then obstacles or blocks that force and foster growth […] Reading and working through The Artist’s Way* was exactly what I needed to overcome the obstacles and get moving again. These textile narratives I’m creating right now are fueling me so deeply right now!
Sampson: How do you hope your art evolves?
Nji: I’m looking forward to more research-based creativity in the coming years, digging into my ancestry, better understanding the role of textiles and beads in Western Africa and particularly in Cameroon where I grew up. But, generally, I just want to continue to grow, take risks, trust that the art finds its rightful place in the world — however intimate or grand that place is — and let go of my tendency toward perfectionism in order to keep creating it.
Sampson: Where do you see yourself in the future?
Nji: On NPR! That’s seriously a goal. It’ll be a nice nod to myself that I’m getting something right. But, in the meantime, there’s so much I’m looking forward to! I’m researching MFA programs right now and I’m hopeful that the right path will emerge. I’m currently working on marrying my textile narratives with other art forms to create a sort of conversation between the work. And I’m also eager to continue collaborating with other artists and designing multidisciplinary projects which integrate music, film, dance, and spoken word.
Sampson: What advice would you give to budding artists?
Nji: I wish, when I’d first started creating, that there were more people in my life who encouraged outside-the-box-thinking. They encouraged creativity, but within established boundaries […] I wish I could shout from the rooftops to any creative: Just keep at it! Keep trusting your inner compass and you’ll find the way! It sounds silly, but I wish I could put that energy out into the world every day all day.
As Akwi continues on her artistic journey and advances to her vision for future projects, follow her on social media to keep up with her work. In addition, consider supporting Akwi through the purchasing of her art via her website.
Connect with Akwi!
Instagram: @akwinji or https://www.instagram.com/akwinji/
Facebook: Akwi Nji or https://www.facebook.com/akwi.nji/
Twitter: @AkwiNji or https://twitter.com/akwinji
*The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity is a self-help book by Julia Cameron, written to help with artistic creative recovery, teaching techniques and exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills.
Words / Noelle Sampson
Photography / TINT
Graphic Design / Isaac Hackman & Grace Riesing