Water Carry Me Go Artist Profile: Nkwo Onwuka (Nigeria/UK)

In anticipation of the fashion-art exhibit Water Carry Me Go, we’ve created a series introducing all of the designers involved. Read the rest of them here.

Nkwo Onwuka – Nigeria/UK

Designer profile image

It all started with an obsession with dolls and a mother who taught her how to sew. Nkwo Onwuka earned a degree in Psychology, but her love of making pretty things has turned into a thriving fashion business. Her label, NKWO, debuted at the prestigious Kulture2Couture in 2007, where it won the coveted Phoenix Award presented by the Mayor of London’s office in conjunction with the V&A museum. After several years of working in the UK, NKWO is now based in West Africa and focuses on creating collections of womenswear, jewellery and accessories. The clothes are free-spirited and nomadic, inspired by the lives of the wandering people of the African deserts and the great plains. Nkwo is devoted to promoting a positive image of Africa and creating meaningful change on the continent by involving as many parts of the expanding fashion eco-system as possible. Her unique interpretations of the rich history, culture and traditions have seen Nkwo Onwuka emerge as one of Africa’s leading fashion designers as she champions the African renaissance. We’re proud to introduce Nkwo as one of the featured artists in Water Carry Me Go.

How did you approach the theme of water for your piece in Water Carry Me Go?

As soon as I saw the project title, Water Carry Me Go, it brought to mind one of the biggest stories of the summer—the migrant crisis. So many men, women and children were drowning as they got into unseaworthy boats and crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better life. I decided to name the piece BOATS TO NOWHERE and create a literal interpretation. The garment is white, the colour of new beginnings, safety and hope. Using aso oke, a locally woven fabric, I created a modern structured version of our traditional dress, called ‘iro and buba’ (pronounced ‘ee-roh and boo-bah’) with 3D wave panels and origami boats.The piece was further embellished with pearl and coral beads that form an underwater seascape and wooden ‘beads’ that represent those unfortunate souls who never made it to the other side.

What motivated you to be involved in this project?

A few things motivated me to get involved in this project. The great theme, the fact that the piece would be auctioned off and the proceeds put towards supporting charities that deal with water scarcity/immigration challenges and the fact that I had the freedom to take the piece in whatever direction I wanted to – I could challenge myself, thoroughly enjoy the creative process and for once, not have to worry about wearability or production costs.

What does your workspace look like right now? Is there anything else you want to add?

Apart from a few stray bits of wood, my work space looks as if there has been no chaos here for the past month! I finished my piece last night,  so all the mess got cleared up this morning!

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