I was recently interviewed by Tribune2lartiste, which is a web magazine about African cultures and arts. Below is the English translation of the interview.
Jean-Jacques Dikongué | Tribune2lartiste.com
When you have thoroughly uncovered her artistic world, heard her or read her words, there is the question of whether there is an area or topic that Aïda Touré would address without displaying such ease, lucidity, serenity and above all with so much humility as when she speaks of her activities for which I wanted to learn a little more. Discover and be seduced by this young woman whose depth is about the size of her talent.
Who is Aïda Touré?
I am a Gabonese-Malian artist who lives in New York, I work in the field of sacred arts. I am the author of three books of Sufi poetry entitled “Unmanifest Poems”, “The Sublime Sphere” and “Nocturnal Light”. These books are studied in schools in the United States and Canada. I also am a painter, music composer and I conceived a jewelry line that actually carries miniature versions of my paintings. My works have been published on four continents.
When does the origin of creation was a matter of questioning for you?
From an early age, I wondered from whence came this immensity around us: the sky, oceans, stars, mountains, nature in general, all this spectacle fascinated and intrigued me.
Is it this intrigue of the creation that led you to paint?
This intrigue first led me to an introspection that was imperative because I had a certain detachment from worldly expectations, I did not experience them as priorities, they seemed totally alien and even oppressive to me. It is when I aligned myself with this contemplative disposition I have that I discovered my voice under different artistic activities based on spirituality.
“Visual Sufi Poetry”: Can you explain it?
“Visual Sufi Poetry” is the term I attribute to my art because it took form from the Sufi poetry I write. I was reading one of my poems one day and it inspired me imagery of indescribable beauty, so it is in this context that I started to paint without having received any formal training. So it is this Sufi poetry that my paintings portray. Sufism is the spiritual dimension of Islam, it calls for the quest of the Divine within self. This tradition of light, which is the essence of all religions, manifested initially in Kemet Africa and over the centuries, it spread in different cultures and nations through the message of the prophets (peace be upon them) and sages. Sufism is known for the sublime beauty of its expressions that celebrate love for the Divine. Sufi poetry to date is the most widely read poetry in the world, by its depth, it transcends all differences erected between men, it gathers us all in its essence, in unity.
Is there a link between your religion (Islam) and your work as a painter?If so, how does it translate?
My work as a painter blends with my experience of Islam which is an inner state where the self surrenders to its Divine Source. Creativity itself is an extension of this state because to fully live it out, you must know how to self-efface.
You are a singer, painter and poet?How do you manage to make live all three activities?
I am a composer of instrumental meditative music. Poetry, painting and music came to me naturally, so they breathe on their own, they are an expression of the same reality. They also reflect my love for harmony, beauty and wisdom.
Is it the same idea behind your work in the three arts you practice?
Yes these three arts unravel to express the same idea of rapture that is continuous, timeless; through my artistic activities, I aspire to honor it and to share it with my fellow beings because it emanates from this luminescence in us all that unites us in the same Source.
Do you think we can have the path that is yours by staying in Gabon, Mali, or even in Cameroon?Or should we necessarily get out of Africa and even leave France to grow artistically.
We are part of the same Universe, borders disappear when it comes to creativity. So it is not in itself the location of the artist that matters, but more so the awareness of his intrinsic identity that shines through his art. If the artist works on himself, cultivates love and masters his ego, this wonderful experience will be palpable through his art that will be unique, alive and incandescent. It is this inner work that is most important because in this context, opportunities to share one’s work come naturally to the artist wherever he is for beauty is universal, everyone recognizes it, appreciates it and invites it. I always advise artists to have a website or blog on the net and to exhibit their art, to share it despite the difficult conditions in which they might work, regardless of the indifference of the institutions that should support culture, do not be discouraged, rather these obstacles must be used to grow, to overcome and to transcend these structures that fail to respond to the real needs of the people. It is through creative expression that authentic value is created; the richness and advancement of civilizations always manifest through inspiration, through high ideas, therefore we must create, innovate and celebrate this process which has always had a particular intensity in Africa. Despite the systemic confiscation of its resources and the lack of development it causes, the Motherland still carries the spark of ingenuity; natural resources are not just material, they are also spiritual yet we must vehicle them so that that which has been taken from us by force returns to us through love; this is imperative for the future generations so they can freely benefit from these resources. This is one of the important purposes of artistic expression, so we must support and promote our culture for the empowerment of our progeny.
What is your view on the interest that is given to culture in some French-speaking African countries?
I think there is a sort of awakening, people are getting more and more interested in the richness of their ancestral culture that was demeaned by colonization, they fervently reclaim their rights to be free, to prosper, to be respected, they do not want to be treated as excluded citizens on their own land so they demand that the representatives of institutions harmonize with this momentum instead of attempting to suppress it. People are revolted by the confiscation of their resources, and even culturally this sentiment is increasingly expressed by African artists and it will intensify until there is real change.
I wasn’t aware of this situation but if it turns out that the works of artists who participated in the festival are really sequestered, I hope that they will be returned otherwise this could tarnish the prestige of the festival and the reputation of those who organize it. It would be a shame because this kind of initiative that celebrates the Black Arts should be encouraged.
What is your definition of success? Do you have it considering the recognition your work has received so far?
My perspective on success is somewhat unconventional because I evaluate it according to standards of timelessness. I am grateful for the attention my work has received but I will have a real sense of success only if over time these creations help to instill reverence for the divine spark in my fellow beings, this reverence which is denied to them by an inharmonious and unequal global system.
What is the formula to have in this business?
It takes a lot of patience, perseverance, devotion, no fear to innovate and to be oneself. It is equally important for an artist to learn about his rights and to enforce them by demanding fairer contracts that would allow him to benefit from future sales of any original artwork he ever sold. Over time the value of the artistic work increases therefore it generates greater revenues, the creator should also benefit from the increased value of his work in time.
Will you choose two of your paintings and comment them?
This painting is part of a series entitled “Luminous Dark Matter” which celebrates the attributes of the feminine principle in its original manifestation on Earth, therefore African. “Amina~ Disamu” evokes the sacred role of the feminine principle in developed societies. In my work, the woman is a metaphor for the soul, so its lavish ornaments and clothes reflect the innate richness that we all possess as human beings that descend from the highest sphere of existence. On this painting, the grace of the subject shows that life is a natural resource with the capabilities that lie dormant in us, it is upon reverence for this life and encouragement of these capabilities that society blossoms. The subject on this painting exudes all the subtlety and gentle force that woman can hold, as physical manifestation of the soul, she is thus a vessel for divine attributes. Her Harp in this context symbolizes life that restores truth, love and justice on Earth.
2. On the Edge of the Union
This painting shows the interaction between the feminine and the masculine principles, which when enlivened by Divine Love leads to unity and complete balance. On this piece, the right side reflects the male principle which looks after the sacred activity of the feminine principle to its left. When balance between the two principles is manifested, harmony triumphs and thus radiates in our environment as well. You see, all the chaos on Earth is due to the imbalance between these two principles that are present within ourselves and in all that exists. Only the complementarity of these two principles triggers the development of our innate capabilities.
We leave you the last word, and wish you to carry even higher the colors of Africa.
Thank you to Tribune2lartiste for giving a voice to artists from the continent, it is very important to support art and artists because through artistic creation, we converge with our fellow beings toward a reality which elevates us, which magnifies what we have been, what we are and what we will become through the total emancipation of future generations.