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“Working with bronze offers a chance to engage with a time-honoured material that stretches across millennia, cultures and disciplines,” says architect-turn-jeweller Ifeanyi Oganwu. Sitting down with writer Mazzi Odu, Ifeanyi traces the foundations that lay beneath his work to reveal a design language informed by a deep respect for material history and urban environments.
‘A lot of work carried out in the studio focuses on the human scale with furniture and spatial installations, jewellery offered a way to extend that way of working,’ says Ifeanyi Oganwu with characteristic understatement about the scope of his ambitions and its knack for exceeding objectives. Oganwu’s studio, Expand Design, certainly lives up to its name. An architect by training, Oganwu is equally known in design and art circles for his furniture with the Crater Side Table shown at London’s 1:54 Art Fair, the Splice Chair Shown at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany and an installation shown at TEFAF, Maastricht in partnership with Tafeta Gallery. His first foray into jewellery design is his Cityscapes Collection that was shown at the Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery to critical acclaim, a collaboration which he modestly describes as a case of “the right project coming along where I felt I could make a worthwhile contribution or at least give a different and meaningful perspective”.
Oganwu was born in Nigeria, but his jewellery design practice is not a visual paean to his cultural roots, “I’m not really driven by narrative and try as much as possible to offer a viewpoint which is driven by technical parameters,” he says of his practice, although he notes that having an architect father meant, “I was lucky to have a foundation before my formal education in architecture kicked off in the late 1990s.” Oganwu has embraced the benefits of cross-cultural fertilisation without allowing it to govern his interests adding: “My past experience made for a strong connection with the continent and the Diaspora, while my practice also intersects with multiple lines of thought.” In many ways his method is contrary to the contemporary trend to place lived experiences as the best fount from which good design and art can flow from.