Design and Higher Purpose

Ini Archibong, designer, storyteller and founder of the independent design studio Design by Ini, draws inspiration from sacral structures, craftsmanship, and the environment. As a son of Nigerian immigrants, raised in the United States, and living in Switzerland, his designs communicate his dual identity and unique experiences. In his work with marble and glass, Archibong merges materiality and spirituality, realizing at an early stage that design was both his gift and his calling, nurturing him into becoming a hero. His philosophy is “we are all born heroes, we have to simply figure out how.”

Your multifaceted background seems to be reflected in your design pieces. Is this why your design pieces resonate so well globally?

I live in Switzerland where my work is very well received. Yet to me, my work has a very African identity. And separately, an African-American identity. I think that there are some similarities and perhaps some differences. In the end, all of those identities and experiences blend into the things I create. I design as myself. Who myself is that is a combination of these experiences and identities. Ultimately, that’s why my designs potentially speak to more people. Physically, I perceive myself to be very homogeneous. I am Nigerian. But the fact that I grew up in America, gives me a dual identity. Multiple identities grant you a certain kind of fluidity, with regard to the way you navigate. I’ve had to learn from an early age, how to morph and adapt to wherever I am. In the end it made me more empathetic, because in order to navigate like that I had to understand where people are coming from. It helped me identify with them.  

You mastered merging light, darkness and heroism as a creative force. How does your spirituality influence your creative process?

My entry point into craft was a spiritual one. It was looking at cathedrals in France. I was inspired by the understanding that the physical structure lends itself to the spiritual elevation. Likewise, West African artifacts that people consider “African art” are often design pieces that are used as spiritual tools, for instance, a mask or a statute. Spirituality often causes hesitation, especially when you speak about the role of light, darkness, or purpose in your work. I think we have to understand that if everything is light, everything is comprehensible and clear. According to my philosophy, we live in a perfect system, created by a perfect creator. If you are in a dark place, yet understand the perfection of things, you may find a way to recognize how this particular dark place has the potential in building you up. That’s why heroism plays such an important role in my work. Heroes in movies, for instance, are perceived as heroes, regardless of the things they will have to go through. And because you perceive this hero as a hero, you already contextualize the hero’s triumph at the end. The hero's journey becomes a necessity to his victory. When you start to look at your own life that way, it reshapes those dark periods. You may face challenges, but there is perfection inherent in those challenges. It’s not about evading darkness, so you can feel more comfortable; it’s rather about learning lessons so that we can be better servants.

You believe in “perfect creation”. Does nature serve as a source of inspiration?

It’s a major part of my process. I spend a lot of time outside. I try to appreciate the different layers layer of things. It’s a different way of being inspired. I don’t want to establish what people must read into my creations, because I am not certain what people are taking away from these pieces. It’s an experiment for me as well. I don’t know what their entry points are. People with different backgrounds and experiences might take something completely else out of it. Yet, what they receive might carry the same energy. The chandelier, for instance, was inspired by flowers. I doubt that this is immediately understood. Yet, if I hint the source of my inspiration, people feel the floral essence. However, when you look at it, none of the glass shapes resemble flowers per se. The glass shapes rather carry the energy of flowers. When I am in nature, I try to pick up on those cues. If I execute it properly, then the pureness of the energy will be transferred to anybody that comes in contact with my designs. And that’s what I am working towards.