Akwi Nji, a full-time Iowa artist and writer, recently launched a “nationwide visual and audio storytelling arts initiative to tell the true stories, inspired by the keepsakes in our houses that are made of fabric, of who we are in our everyday lives.” Each US state and territory will be represented at the project’s completion in 2024. Learn about Akwi Nji…
Hometown: I have three locations I consider my hometowns: Dschang, Cameroon; Springville, Iowa; Cedar Rapids, Iowa
First job: As a teen, it was selling doughnuts at Donutland on Mt. Vernon Rd. in Cedar Rapids. I gained 25 pounds the summer before my junior year from eating all the broken doughnuts that would have been thrown away. My grandpa was so disappointed when I quit because it meant I wasn’t going to be bringing dozens and dozens of the doughnuts to him every week. His deep freezer was stocked with boxes of Donutland donuts for a while.
Favorite ways to spend your free time in IA: I love an afternoon on the bike trails. I usually use the trail from Czech Village to Solon. A hike, kayaking or a short camping trip at one of our state parks and experiencing the difference seasons that way is also something I really value.
Your biggest accomplishment and why: Celebrating the incremental accomplishments each day is really important to me. I mean, I’ve founded a nonprofit, taken significant professional risks and have a few things up my sleeve that will launch in the fall if all goes well. But nothing comes to mind as a particularly noteworthy accomplishment that stands out from the rest. I just work really hard to be intentional about choosing courage each day over fear. Usually that shows itself in really small, incremental decisions that lead to something more over time. The small decisions I make that feel authentic creatively, personally and professionally–even if they seem odd or nonsensical to the outside world or are a real financial risk–I celebrate those. Today, my biggest accomplishment was finishing my spreadsheet for my 2021 creative goals…but I’m already two and a half months into the year, sooooo…LOL.
The biggest obstacle you overcame: I think I’m looking it square in the eyes. Continuing to make a living as an artist, through the pandemic and the years that will immediately follow will be the biggest obstacle I’ve overcome. Only one percent of artists figure out how to make it full time. I unwittingly and unknowingly started this journey at the dawn of a global economic crisis. But being a full-time artist has been my dream since high school. That dream, as it turned out, came wrapped in pandemic. Who am I to turn the gift away because I don’t like the wrapping paper? Regardless of how the future plays out, I know I’m committed to art-making, arts advocacy, and creating opportunities for other artists to thrive.
Someone who inspires you and why: My two daughters. Oh, my goodness! One of them teaches me how to lead with my inner ears and eyes. She’s so intuitive and sees people deeply–beyond what the physical eye sees and the ear hears. She’s so in tune to people. It’s almost a sixth sense for her. My other daughter’s super power is to challenge every rule she thinks is arbitrary or behavior that is inconsistent with social and environmental ethics. She’s rational, inquisitive, a true innovator, fiery and almost always right. She makes me rethink often.
Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: Turn down the volume–turn it WAY down! — on self-doubt. Artists are really good at getting in our own way because we’re afraid of public failure. But it’s like riding a bike. You’re not going to get good without first wobbling down the sidewalk for a bit.
Favorite quote: “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” –Duke Ellington
Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: When I grocery shop, sometimes I buy two cans of whipped cream. I eat one of them on the drive home.
What makes someone fabulous: Authenticity and trustworthiness.
Photo credit: Amanda Dee