Ndidi Ekubia

ndidiportrait.jpgFlamingo Vasewine cups Ndidi using hammer
Tall drinking vessels

Manchester-born silversmith Ndidi Ekubia is absorbed in every stage of her work, from the design to patterning the finished piece. She creates innovative, yet functional silverware by raising sheets of silver to form vessels shapes which she then manipulates using hammers and stakes to create organic patterns giving the vessels a sense of fluidity and movement. She says, ‘My method of making is based on the idea of pushing the metal to its limits, yet allowing it to retain its natural fluidity.’


Why did you choose to become a silversmith? What attracts you about the material?

I was first drawn to metal when I was studying 3-dimensional design at the University of Wolverhampton where the course covered wood, plastics and metal. I became fascinated with how metal moves as you work it – after stretching and pushing it metal, especially copper, almost becomes like skin. And silver is particularly beautiful as it is so clean and pure and I love the way it reflects the light. At the moment I work mainly in sterling silver which is a great material to work with as it is quite springy and holds its structure so you have quite a lot of control over the form. I find creating a 3D object out of a flat sheet of metal very satisfying and love the way silver allows you to create a simple form which you can then pattern by pushing the surface in and out to create a sort of endless journey round the vessel.

What do you get out of your work?

I have a great passion for my work. The joy is in the making and seeing people’s reaction to it. I really enjoy making commissioned pieces as the commissioning process involves talking to people about how they plan to use the piece and live with it. You have to relate the object to them and so it makes it more personal and more rewarding.
I also do quite a bit of teaching and even though it requires a lot of energy, I do get a lot out of it. Last year I worked with Haggerston School for Girls in Hackney through my Crafts Council residency and I really enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm with the girls. It is hard for teenagers to understand why you might want to become a maker - rather than doing something more profitable - but when the girls visited my studio it was great to be able to show them why I do what I do.

How do you hope to develop your work in the future?

If I had more time I would try and develop work in different materials like copper. The problem is that it is harder to sell things in a base metal as they are difficult to price – they take just as long as silver to work so the cheaper cost of the material is irrelevant but the buyer doesn’t necessarily understand that. Another material I would like to work with is glass and my ambition is to try to marry glass with silver.
I would also like to do some more adventurous pieces and maybe get involved in some public art projects. I would love to create a piece of metalwork you could walk through. I have visions of making a type of dark cave in an interesting coloured base metal which would be frightening and at the same time exciting to enter – but I’m not sure how to do it!

Which contemporary silversmiths do you admire?

I really admire Rod Kelly. I worked with him for three days when I was at Bishopsland learning how to raise silver, and watching how he worked the metal was very inspiring. He is a real master maker. I also like Michael Lloyd as his work is so delicate, almost poetic in feel and I admire Malcolm Appleby’s engravings – and the patience required to produce them! I spent some time this summer working with Hiroshi Suzuki and I found it very inspiring watching how he works and seeing how he has developed his career.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Throughout my schooling/education we were given a good art history background and I find this very useful. I spend a lot of time looking at paintings, especially cubist and surrealist pictures, and I find them more inspiring than other smiths’ work which can often be distracting. I went to New York last summer and really enjoyed visiting the museums there, particularly the Frick Collection where I found the whole environment of pictures displayed in a home very inspiring. I also look at organic shapes such as plants, insects and animals or naturally formed patterns like crystals, landscapes or waves which help me create patterns that have a sense of movement.

Do you see your work as purely ornamental?

No, not at all. Function is a really important part of my work – I want it to be functional as well as visually stimulating. The fact that you can use my pieces justifies the use of silver which is quite a luxurious, expensive material. When I start work I often start with the function of the piece as I was taught to start with a design first and think about what the object is going to do before actually doing any making. For example if I was commissioned to make a small table vessel to hold flowers I would start on the drawing board thinking of different shapes and sizes to wrap around the flowers before I started working the metal. I only work in a freer way - going straight to the vessel - if I am working on a form I have worked on before.

I'm also a silversmith/jeweller in the making, working mostly in PMC clay. Do you have one piece of advice you wished someone had given you when you first started?

At the beginning of my making career, I was given a lot of advice. I wish more advice was given about the balance between work and personal life. You can concentrate on one more than the other. The best piece of advice I was given is to persevere and never give up. If something is not working seek advice or change the way you do things.