Diana Ejaita’s first New Yorker cover, a vibrant ode to Mother’s Day, reflects the artist’s strikingly interdisciplinary method. Ejaita is an illustrator and a textile designer based in Berlin. She was born in Italy, but her family travelled extensively during her childhood, and her work—both the clothing and the illustration—flows from a fusion of European and West African influences. We recently caught up with Ejaita to talk about what she tries to accomplish in her art.
You design textiles and started your own clothing business. How did you get into that?
I wanted to use fabric as a medium and as a way to reconnect to my Nigerian heritage. But I like to mix methods, aesthetics, and styles. Through textiles, I can keep telling stories of my experience as a kid of the diaspora.
An early sketch for the cover; Ejaita conducting a silkscreen workshop in Saint Louis, Senegal.
What draws you to Nigerian textiles and symbology, in particular?
West African textiles use fabric as a tool to narrate stories, give life advice, and transmit status and information about genealogy. Garments are an open book; they help people learn and remember. I appreciate that. It’s an unconventional method of communication, one that’s no longer present in European clothes.
I also like that, in Nigerian visual culture, the symbols work both as decorative elements and as a way to connect with the spiritual world. I look for simple forms and feel that with them I can convey universal messages.
What differences do you see between the African and European influences in your work?
Rather than keeping an eye out for the differences, I mostly focus on the connections. Art, and in my case clothing, can be a space to talk about specific social issues. Recently, I made an art work about what I found in the trash in Senegal. For example: lots of empty bottles of skin lightener. But we should value everyone’s story and experience, regardless of race or gender. I want to tell stories of the African diaspora, especially in this weird political moment, but I hope that my work unites instead of divides.
Ejaita painting a mural on the side of a community center in Bodrum, Turkey, in 2016.
You were born in Italy, spent extended periods in South America and Asia, studied in France, attended workshops in Africa, and now live in Berlin. Do you feel that any one place is home?
I’m lucky enough to have both a European and an African passport, so travelling is very easy—which is great, because it really means a lot to me. The transition between one place and another is where I collect my thoughts. But each country I’ve spent time in has shaped me as a person. I like to say that I feel at home where the people I love are, and they are all around the world.
For more Mother’s Day covers, see below:
“May 11, 1935,” by William Cotton
“Lunch Breaks,” by Art Spiegelman
“Here’s to You, Mom,” by Harry Bliss