Under the fingers of Sarah Nsikak, each fabric is entitled to a new life, whether in the form of a garment or a textile painting. Yet it is with paper that the American-Nigerian artist born in Oklahoma learned, as a child, to handle the thread and the needle. Her grandmother, a Nigerian seamstress who emigrated to the United States, still hesitated to entrust her with what would soon become her favorite material.
“In Nigeria, the village seamstress makes costumes that accompany the major stages of life, from marriage to funeral wakes. It’s a prestigious role.” says the 32-year-old artist. Each member of a family also wears the same print, like an identity card on the skin. In this spirit, Sarah Nsikak thinks of her textile works as intimate banners and the dresses of her label, La Réunion, created in 2019, as almost sacred outfits.
Thanks to the advice of her grandmother, Sarah Nsikak learned to sew by reproducing the models from the catalogs that arrived by post. “I used old, worn, soft T-shirts, which I really liked to feel”, she remembers. Cleverly, the little girl understands that she can assemble small scraps of fabric together if she lacks raw material.
Celebrating its origins
“Quilting was far from fashionable and I found subtle ways to camouflage my craftsmanship, using patches inside the garment or sewing as cleanly and invisible as possible. Today, on the contrary, we like imperfections, so I am much freer. I have fun underlining the points using colored threads and I value a more raw aspect”, notes the designer who has made patchwork her trademark.
Influenced by the quilts (kinds of quilts, lined blankets) of rural and deeply religious America where she grew up, Sarah Nsikak’s pieces are above all a celebration of her origins and of the little-known African cultures.
“For those around us in Oklahoma, where I was born, Africa was all about Action Against Hunger campaigns, misery, villages without schools. We needed a lot of courage and perseverance to make our place and bear witness to the wealth of our country. »
If, for her mother, it went through the success of her business and the creation of a small Church, on Sarah’s side this pride is told with a thread and a needle, by returning to the sources. Inspired by the asafo flags, military artifacts from Ghana, Sarah Nsikak begins her textile paintings with a layer of fabric that serves as her canvas, a thick linen for example. On which she sews by hand, roughly, forms of fine cotton. These are simplified silhouettes and symbols that serve as reading keys: a bird for peace, a hut for the community… Her clothing line, La Réunion, draws on the history of Herero women’s dresses in Namibia.
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