A Conversation with Igi Ayedun
1 Jun 2020, 9 am
Igi Ayedun is what can be called a polymath of humanities. The artist, who, despite her young age, has accumulated almost twenty years of international career, has a finger on everything: fashion, art, communication, education – always in a position of conception and leadership, applying a deep interdisciplinary vision to all her works. In 2010, she took over the co-direction and internationalization of the digital magazine U + MAG; and in 2018, together with Samuel de Saboia and Lucas Andrade, she founded the Escola Efêmera AEAN (Ambiente de Empretecimento da Arte Nacional) [Blackening Environment for National Art], a free school for black and LGBTQ+ artists that offers classes of performance, visual arts and others subjects, always with decolonial perspective as a starting point. She currently is the head of MJOURNAL, a monthly mobile publication that analyzes and reports events that impact the creative industry, and HOA Art, an interdigital cultural center focused on the promotion and sale of Latin American artists. In parallel to her personal projects, Ayedun started a successful career as an editor, style consultant and photographer for fashion magazines such as L’Officiel Brasil and Bazaar Art. All this without ceasing to produce her intermedia work that took her to carry out research across different countries. Check out our interview below.
You explore plenty displacement techniques in your work, whether by studying the displacement of the textile trade route between the South American, African, Middle Eastern and Asian continents, or in a more physical way, letting the very material of a work evolve and transform, eventually reaching its final form. What attracted you to this research?
Igi Lola Ayedun: Gosh! Many things that even transcend the fact that I consider myself a traveler. I think the starting point comes from the genealogical investigation of the African diaspora. Over the years, I ended up structuring my research based on elements that predate colonialism in the Americas in order not only to get closer to my genetic history, but also to build other imaginary references of what makes up my existence. Through this, I arrived at the universe of organic and mineral painting in addition to the relationship that nature has with the arts, especially when we talk about these territories. Thus, when I learned to look at Indigo and Lapis-lazuli – the two key elements of the construction of my work – I understood through these materials and nuances a testimony of a large part of the history of humanity invisible in the studies of the history of Western art. Testimonies that report not only aesthetic constructions, but chronologies that range from data on economics and organization of nations to pillars of non-Western mythology that shaped many of the world’s cultural values. I also think that in addition to all the richness of knowledge that I discover every day as I develop my work, this journey has a lot to do with identity processes and with the foundations of my being. It’s more than searching, enjoying, going crazy or loving the blue world. I am blue, this is my ancestry, this is my story.
In your texts you use the term “cultural capacity of colors”. Can you tell us a little more about it? I also take the opportunity to relate it to your exploration of ancient dyeing techniques. And, finally, one of the recurring elements in your work is spirituality – how does this relate to your understanding of colors?
IA: I think that cultural capacity has a lot to do with what I mentioned in the previous question. Basically, colors are testimonies of social transactions in the history of humanity and investigating them is a very deep way of understanding the history of the world through several aspects. In addition to being an essentially poetic path, it is also an awakening to decode facts that make the world what it is today. The relationship between colors and colonialism is fascinating, for example. Thence, to understand decolonial possibilities of existence is a great provider of new breaths. Textile in my work has to do with that too. Color took me to textile, as a more peculiar way of experimentation and learning. I couldn’t just mix pigments with that boutique acrylic paint, I needed to get involved in processes where the organic reaction of the colors of nature could be watched at a noticeable speed and with great assimilation power. I think millennials have a lot of that, right? Around time and the ability to watch things transform around the clock and enough patience to contemplate these processes. In the case of my work, I started to learn techniques like Bogolan from Mali, Adire from Nigeria and other Berber tannery practices aimed at preparing and finalizing the materiality of the textile object. From the exercise of interflow and everyday life discoveries, I developed this nameless thing that allows me to paint – yes, to PAINT (part of my job is also to recognize these techniques as pre-colonial non-Western painting) with the body in water pools colored with so many liters that I don’t even know how to count. Regarding spirituality, my relationship is totally turned to blue. In the Yorubá tradition, Waji, the pigment of the lapis lazuli, has a vital protective power over our souls during some initiation rituals. It also runs in other Egyptian African indigenous traditions and extends geographically across Afghanistan, my current territory for supplying this material. As Lésè òrìsà since I was born, I went through a lot of these rituals, and blue was the pigment that protected me. I was, literally, painted with this pigment during some rites. And, today, after forgetting for a long time and remembering, I understood the power and the essential meaning that blue has in my life. It is very beautiful, very intense and also very fortifying and soothing. I thank the Gods almost every day for allowing me to rediscover this magic dust during my travels around the world.
How do you think the city/country you reside in can affect your creativity and production?
IA: Gosh, in many ways. I didn’t think about it much before, I found myself very creative in São Paulo, but life on the other side of the Atlantic made me realize that creating is about transcending. I wrote that once on Instagram. I think the scene interferes a lot in the connection with our work because in my experience it is more difficult to be viscerally me. There is a very absurd social relationship with expectation, within an immediate reaction of hunt and reward, very characteristic of large cities in post-contemporary times. And this is not just about São Paulo, when I am in Paris or Barcelona it is not very different. But also, I don’t believe that everything is limbo, you know? I think there are different ways and methods of work. Big cities make me hyperactive so these are the moments when my practices are more focused on the media, which is also a passion. Videos, 3D, texts, sounds, voices … I see in communications my possibility to be an artist 100% of my time. Because it is different from these rituals of waking up very early with the sound of the Mosque and walking through the Medina until you reach the tannery to work with the Sun. It is about experiencing things, people, interacting … I am very media-led and I believe that communication is also one of my most beautiful ways of making art. Even though I think that people don’t grasp much that it is art. But it is. It has a process, narrative, aesthetic experience, me and the whole world. It can only be art.
You were recently in a residence in Marrakech, Morocco. How was the experience there?
IA: Morocco is a serious relationship, right? And I still haven’t met the whole family. Laughs. For just over a year I have been groping in this incredible country and Berber culture and I am still in the phase of dazzling love. The real thing is that I travel a lot but I like to live places and since the first time I set foot there I decided to stay and build things. I passed through several cities, in different ways until I decided that Marrakech was a place to stabilize myself a little more. I already had the project for my first institutional project in Europe and part of this research was being developed, but I felt I should look for more, so I decided to self-intern in residence. The first days were a catastrophe, because I applied for a residence that looked super cool but when I got there, on top of not having painting studios where I could make a LOT of mess, there were a lot of gringos traveling to photograph poor people of color and set up an exhibition or image database. I was frustrated, because in addition to wondering what moved those people, I have a great aversion to the practice of capturing narratives through the image, especially in photography. It is a very complex compulsory European system that should not make sense. Studying in the libraries and museums there, I began to understand logically the dyeing processes and then I started looking for people in Medina (the place where I live/used to live, I don’t know) who mastered these techniques. I came across a lot, see? And the wool cooking pots are wonderful, but the work I did needed a lot of sun and as I was already investigating leather, wool and cotton techniques so I decided to knock on the door of a tannery. I got there, talked to the guys, said I wanted to do business and asked to work there, learn, develop my own pieces and rent two pools indefinitely. They laughed at my face, said that I looked like a local native. Berber and not Arab. And they accepted. I was accidentally the first woman in Marrakech history to work at a Berber tannery. There were more than thirty men and I, a great paternal energy that reminded me of my late father in many ways. I learned a lot and my pools are there, for when I can go back. Basically, I left the residence. I went my own way, I went to live at the grandmother’s house of one of the boys there, I met another Marrakech, I started to deal with silk threads too, in short, a lot of peace, couscous, joy, learning and pure art.
In addition to being an artist, you have worked in several fields that combine creativity and research, from working in fashion magazines as an editor or acting as creator of fashion image. In each work you do, you take a critical look at contemporary culture and how we choose to build our practices and their sustainability, environmental, political and economic. Can you tell us a little about the way you conceive your interdisciplinary practice?
IA: Yes, I have had an editorial career in the fashion industry for a good fifteen years. I went through many stages of an editorial board, between content and image production, and this is what polishes my commercial career. I still do both in different ways, whether through commissioned actions, market analysis or the development of strategies that go through aesthetic experience and critical thinking. I am passionate about fashion because it makes my research accessible and, also, because without it I would not be able to communicate my work to so many people. In contemporary fashion, there is a popular mobilization gene that ended up getting lost in art and I feel good about being able to relate to both because one thing makes the other feasible. There are two arms and a body, right? But, I think that a vital point of this whole experience is the fact that I know a lot about market logistics. I worked a long time in Paris, focused on the luxury industry. I dialoged with dynamics of haute couture, haute jewelery, haute horlogerie, haute design and, even, from the art market working behind the scenes of events, organizations and features. This experience helped me a lot to carefully structure my artistic work within more bureaucratic perspectives, for example. I always tell my fellow artists that I love the luxury industry until today because for me it denounces the direction of the art market in different ways. I don’t think I’m super amazing because of that, but this experience between circuits of many digits made me see calm within my processes and pragmatism in relation to the market. I’m not in such a hurry to happen, to be discovered, to break through because… you see, that’s not how things really work. Not when you have to make history. But lately I’m very focused on transferring my skills to my community and artists that I believe in, so that’s why I’m creating an independent interdigital cultural center (because there is also a physical headquarters in São Paulo) where I exhibit, work on profiles, catalog, communicate, host in residence and commercialize the work of young Latin American artists linked to the wishes of the new world. HOA ART is the first step into the career world for many people of the new generations. I love the internet, and I know it can go beyond Instagram. You know, I often perceive a whole young and Brazilian art scene needing more calm to develop their own work in a sustainable way, without excluding the financial needs of our class and the digital sphere can be a great ally.
Have you encountered a lot of resistance when implementing your vision in more old-fashioned professional environments?
IA: Oh, yes, right? I’ve always been an alien in those environments. I bring in my body representations, narratives and repertoires hitherto unknown in very elite circuits. Besides the fact that I understand very well a type of dynamic that people assumed to be foreign to my spectrum of knowledge. And to finish I do not trade at a disadvantage – it’s shut up or abort. So the (pre-necessary) parity processes for those stuck in the past can be very disconcerting. Ah, and we can’t forget that I’m an artist, right? Every day, 100%, laughs. So, yes, I give the old world a hard time.
You talk a lot about the question of the image. What are the impacts that the construction of images can have in our collective environment, and how can we use it in a more plural and conscious way?
IA: Look, I come from the base, right? I have a history of schizophrenic ascension considering my family background, but I come from the base. So I am very connected to its issues and I understand it as one of my most powerful senses of priority. And I see in the image everything (absolutely everything, especially in the circumstances in which we currently live) that the world needs in order to work on the basic issues at all scales of existence, function and power. I think that’s where my flirtation with art education comes from. In 2018, I held with several friends (Lucas Andrade, Luiz Felipe Lucas, Felipa Damasco, Samuel de Saboia and thirty other artists who deserve to be mentioned but do not fit in the space we have) a collective where part of it was structured in educational training, the AEAN . We did a performance at SP-Arte in 2018, remember? Curated by Paula Garcia, where we presented a resistance exercise ove 1h20min falling and raising as a way to propose reflections on the genocide of the black population in Brazil. It was beautiful! But unfortunately, a month later one of our members, Matheusa, died in a brutal way and it made me create a strange feeling toward the image too, in addition to the will to overcome it. But, basically, I think that the image has an outlet for the processes of repoliticization of society, which is very fundamental because it governs not only an archipelago of the imaginary, but also that of communication. And all of this is crazy, because when I look at a part of my research that talks about the history of the image as written in pre-colonial African civilizations… I fall even more in love with my ancestry. I hope that one day this charm will spread to many of us as well.