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Having split her childhood years between Portland, Oregon, and Bamako, Mali, Penda Diakité, visual artist and award-winning author of “I Lost My Tooth In Africa” is accustomed to telling stories to a variety of audiences. However, the stories themselves remain rooted in Mali.
The Black Wall Street Times spoke with Bamako’s own about her striking artistry, the labor of love to create it, and how her Mali-inspired form of storytelling honors generations past, present and future.
Reflecting on her time as a child in Mali, Diakité fondly remembers, “There’s just another type of freedom especially as a young child. In the community, there’s just a lot of trust. If you’re out with other kids, you could always go to somebody else’s compound and you’re taken care of, everybody really looks out for each other.”
As the child of two artists, Diakité has seen firsthand how storytelling shapes imagination and perspective. “I grew up in the art scene in Portland. And then also Bamako because my dad is from Mali. So I lived in both very polar opposite places and just grew up dabbling in all sorts of different art forms. My background is actually in film and went to college for film. But clearly, this was my calling because I’ve been doing this mixed media technique ever since.”
Diakité honors “the women of West African history”
Diakité mentioned, “This one will be the fourth solo one in LA. My work takes a while. I’ve been working on this collection between a year and a half and two years. They’re larger pieces, like five, six feet pieces, so it’s taken a very, very long time.”
She continued, “The show is all about women in West African history. They’re really the backbone of helping to create West Africa as it is today. So each piece is in essence a portrait of them in their own lifetime and they all have these really beautiful stories behind them.”
The Art of Storytelling
While her creations are now lauded for their detail and definition, Diakité says her real-life training began long ago when she was the one admiring artwork and soaking up game. “Mali is where the beginning of my art training began.” She furthered, “I learned Bogolan, my aunt does traditional Batik and wax-resist, also I spent a lot of time with a Grio family, that’s where my interests developed in storytelling. Besides the fact that my dad is is a storyteller, as well.”
Diakité elaborated, “I find a lot of inspiration from my culture, so just every day life in Mali, because the whole culture is very centered around the arts. From the things that people wear to the traditional music, the art of storytelling is very relevant.”
Speaking on the unifying themes of what she creates, Diakité states, “The language of art is universal, there’s really no barriers. Anybody in the world can see these stories and get something from it.”
“Art is very subjective. I don’t even expect to be fully embraced by everybody, and that’s okay. I’m not doing to be accepted or validated. I’m doing it because the stories are really important. It’s more spiritual than anything,” she stated.
Diakité creates masterpieces for Mali’s next generation
“I’m constantly evolving into my purpose as an artist. I’m telling stories that I know need to be heard through a medium I’ve developed that I’m fully confident with,” says Diakité.
While GOP politicians ban and replace American history domestically, the accomplished and evolving artist hopes her works will help to fill in the gaps to educate our future.
“I’m also realizing, speaking to the newer generation back home in Mali, these stories are really becoming lost,” explained Diakité. “They’re really kind of disappearing and I don’t want them to be extinct. So part of my artwork is preserving the history and stories that are so important.”
Diakité’s next exhibit, Mansa Musso (She Is King), opens on May 19 at UTA Artist Space, located at 403 Foothill Rd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, lasting until June 17.