Aïda Touré, a Gabonese artist presents her creations to the American public.
She moved to New York in order to study music, a multidimensional artist, she published three collections of poetry. She recently had an exhibit at the Rio Penthouse Gallery in New York which was appreciated by the American public.
You moved to New York in 1995 to study music, how come you have opted to pursue painting?
my first passion was music, but I discovered that art concealed a vast universe. It is in this context that Sufi poetry and then painting suddenly were revealed to me, without having received any formal training. One day, in silence I was reading one of my poems and something happened: the verses of this poem turned into images of indescribable beauty; I got moved by their sublimity so this is how I started painting these images and that I labeled this art “Visual Sufi Poetry”. Later on I met Steve Adams, an artist from California, who observed my work and helped me understand precisely which equipment and materials to select in order to crystallize my art works. I had never planned to become a painter nor a poet, it just happened unexpectedly. I also am a music composer, my album will be released soon. I experience these arts as one reality that unfolds on different octaves and which reflects this incandescence that is present in us all.
Were you encouraged on this artistic career by your family?
It is thanks to the unconditional love of my parents, my brothers and sister that I was able to pursue my artistic aspirations. Without their presence, their sacrifices and support, I don’t think that I would have followed my inner voice in this way. Creative and spiritual activity can only manifest in stillness and peace, my parents did everything to create this peaceful environment in their household. Also the cultivation of wisdom, integrity, individuality and perseverance instilled by my father has played a decisive role along my journey. We all have innate capabilities that await to manifest yet it’s important that our environment nurtures this process instead of interfering with it. Encouraging the youth to express their full capabilities would contribute to the thriving of our continent.
How old were you when you painted your first piece, what did it represent?
I painted my first piece at 32, it was entitled “The Flamboyant”, it represented the cosmos, in its center was a divine attribute that exuded luminous rays. This painting is dear to me because it constantly reminds me of the unconventional aspect of my journey.
How does inspiration come to you?
my inspiration comes from Islam which is an inner state of being where the self humbly surrenders to its Divine Source. My paintings capture the movements inherent to the Sufi poetry I compose.
What is the particularity of your paintings?
my paintings celebrate the Sufi tradition, their themes revolve around the quest for the Divine, bliss as well as the total blossoming of the individual; they also are colored with my Malian and Gabonese cultures. Each painting is unique and possesses a universal sacred message to decipher. Actually my paintings are like mirrors that reflect who we are deep within. On my website visualsufipoetry.com, I explain the meaning each piece so that viewers may have a sense of the symbolism behind their conception.
You recently had an exhibit in New York, how did the public react to your paintings?
my exhibit “Inner Treasures” curated by Jose Reyes was an enriching experience for me. The audience was intrigued and very moved by this art and its origin. I got the chance to interact with people of all ages who could relate to the spiritual themes of the artwork and this beyond the differences in languages, religions and cultures. I marveled at the level of understanding art can create, it is a phenomenal experience!
You also are a poet and in your poem “Art in Islam” you refer to the virtues of prayer, what do you think of the medias who project Islam as a negative religion?
When it comes to the appreciation of religions, everything is a matter of perception, intelligence, interpretation, sensibility as well as research. I think that any form of information can be tainted, falsified, or misinterpreted so that the majority is conditioned to have an erroneous perception of specific phenomena. The stigmatization of Islam has been ongoing for centuries, it aims at maintaining an elite’s monopoly over the resources which normally belong to the planetary collectivity. Whereas Islam in its authentic form has always denounced elitism, exclusion, oppression, exploitation, it has always encouraged equality of all people, love, peace, justice, knowledge, respect for diversity and freedom of all. It is important to do research in as many fields as possible because knowledge illuminates, it allows us to make better choices based on what we truly know and not based on what is reported to us by the medias and other.
You paint women with graceful gestures, sumptuously dressed; does woman illuminate man?
I used to mostly paint abstract pieces and then two years ago I did the album cover for a jazz musician which was a painting with five African women holding instruments. During the conception of this painting, I saw my art evolve toward the celebration of the feminine principle through its original manifestation on earth, thus African. I then decided to conceive a series of paintings entitled “Luminous Dark Matter” that depicts graceful women sometimes in an ancient historical context. It was a way for me to celebrate, through my pen and brushes, the majestic octave of Africa which is oftentimes omitted from history. I also must stress that on my paintings, women symbolize the soul, therefore their sumptuousness evokes their spiritual essence that is transmitted through their progeny. It is the consciousness of this essence which illuminates not only men but all humanity as well.
Isn’t it difficult for an African artist to make it in the US where there are so many other talented artists?
I think it depends on the artist’s expectations as well as the specificity of her/his art. I believe that there is enough room for all artists wherever they are, with their different inspirations and forms of expression. We’ve been used to the culture of competition yet in a field like art whose true purpose is to uplift people, there shouldn’t be any competition. With the internet, the promotion of arts has become more accessible especially for independent artists whose innovative works defy conventional norm. I always encourage artists to have a web site/blog. African art is appreciated here, it is renown to have inspired movements like cubism for instance which actually comes from Gabon. Artists should dare to innovate and be fearless in honoring their own individual paths because when an artist has something truly unique and rare to express s/he must cease opportunities to share it with their fellow beings.
Do you have the sentiment that you are contributing to the promotion of African culture in the US?
yes I have this humble sentiment and even more so because Africa generates a particular interest in the fields of arts, fashion, history, natural medicine, spirituality. There is a real fascination for the immense potential that Africa possesses. As far as creativity is concerned, it is a universal experience where frontiers between people seem to dissolve; everybody just unites beyond the superficial considerations that can separate us. But considering that Africa is the cradle of mankind, isn’t it natural that it’s through her that we gather to reminisce over our common origin? It is in this paradigm that art created from an African perspective is essential.
What is your greatest wish?
in this world that is currently undergoing great upheavals, with the masses’ aspirations for more freedom, more equality, my greatest wish would be to see the institutions that govern the world finally align themselves with the authentic and urgent needs of humanity who is in constant evolution. It would be a great advent if the masses were more included in the shares of planetary resources. We already see that the old exploitative structures that interfere with the development of Africa are collapsing, these disharmonious systems must either vanish or adapt to the current reality that demands inclusion of the majority in the prosperity of nations.
Interview conducted by Ahmed Touré for Amina Magazine issue 495/July 2011.