You wouldn't describe Ini Archibong as a jack of all trades, because that could imply that he's not exceptional at any of them. This multidisciplinary designer has mastered different elements of design, using whichever practice he feels can help him best express his inspiration. He's created a monument called the Pavilion of the African Diaspora at London arts venue Somerset House; a collection for US furniture brand Knoll; and a watch for luxury accessories brand Hermès – all on top of the gallery work that he creates to be displayed in major museums like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Amid all of these different projects, he's kept his focus on a carefully curated approach to his career. ‘The reason I've been able to do so many creative things and make a business out of it is because, from the beginning, I treated my career like a business that has a goal and a mission statement,’ he says.
Originally from California, Ini is now based in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. He'd once planned to go to the University of Southern California for business school, but he then decided that he could have more of an impact as an artist. Realizing that a career as an artist isn't always the most lucrative, he chose to approach his practice a bit differently. ‘I determined early on that the most powerful thing I could do with my skills and talents was to provide the world with an outlet to escape the mundane with things that are magical,’ he says.
Most of the business owners and artists he looked up to from a young age were those who saw a gap in the market and set out to change the way things were. ‘Based on that mission, I set forth to really understand what creativity is and build up the skill sets that would let me express myself, no matter what the medium would be.’
A twist in his art that he didn't see coming was how big a role brands would play in the creation of his work. He doesn't shy away from working on commercial projects, but only when the connection is there. He approaches any brand partnership with the intention of saying ‘no’, and ultimately decides he would work with a business only if there's an incredible synergy and understanding of what the creative process and final product will look like.
‘There's a model of being a designer due to the commerce machine,’ he explains. ‘That your goal is to have as many products and sell as many as possible in order to collect a small percentage of each product sold. Because of that, the only logical thing to do as a business person in that scenario is to work with as many brands as possible and make as many products as possible,’ he says. Instead, Ini prefers to go the opposite route and does only what truly inspires him.
As someone who works across myriad mediums, his creative process relies on a large bank of inspiration. He's been training himself for years to notice how little, ordinary things are microcosms of very big, universal ideas. ‘Creativity is merely taking information as inputs and putting it into a novel output and presenting that to the world,’ he says. ‘When I switched my path to art, I still had every intention to be a businessman. The entrepreneurial spirit never left. I just put them both together in order to have an impact and leave the world in a better place than how I found it. Design proved to be the perfect combination of those things.’
This is a reason why he considers the photography of his work to be an important part of any piece that he creates, so that as many people as possible can see and access his work. ‘No one where I come from – my family, myself to a certain extent – can afford some of the things I'm making. So, if it doesn't carry that magic and express itself through an image in a powerful way, then I'm cutting out all the people that I know most intimately from access to the thing that I created.’ It's this principle of sharing his art with as many people as possible that has guided Ini over the years.
There's no telling what's next for Ini, but he'll see where his inspiration takes him and find some magic along the way.