Penda is a visual artist with Malian roots and she’s proud of them. With her art coming in the form of artwork pieces, film and clothing she’s a talented black woman and the world can never have too many of those. Ahead of her “Made In America” exhibition, I emailed her to talk about her roots, her creative process and her message to the next generation.
Paul: Does your name have a significant meaning?
Penda: Penda means ‘love’ in Swahili.
Paul: What made you decide to choose visual arts as your form of communication/commentary on political issues?
Penda: Because art is my life’s work. I’ve been creating for as long as I can remember. It’s always been a natural thing for me. One of my earliest memories is helping my father and brother paint traditional bogolan (mud-cloth) as a child in Mali: learning how to create the designs and read their meanings. I also spent a lot of time in my parents’ art studio, creating drawings and clay sculptures alongside them as they worked. For me, it was always a given that I would be an artist.
Paul: When do you find yourself most productive in your artwork? Do you only create a piece when you have something to say or do you enjoy crating pieces “for fun” as well?
Penda: I’m very passionate about my work. As an artist I’m automatically an entrepreneur as well so I don’t have time to pick and choose when to create- I’m ALWAYS creating. I have an endless amount to say through my work; as a bicultural woman I know I have a unique perspective and a voice that is not heard enough in this country and this world, and I am constantly working to bring volume to that voice.
I think it’s a big misconception when people assume artists are creating ‘for fun.’ This is our work and our livelihood just like any other job. It’s just a bonus that we are blessed to be able to work in a field that we love.
Paul: When you hear the phrase “Black Woman” what images and words come to mind?
Penda: All of the beautiful strong women in my family back home in Mali.
Paul: What’s your favorite piece that you’ve created?
Penda: I find a beauty in each piece because with each piece I’m imprinting a part of myself. It’s a healing and self love process as I create and share.
Paul: Do you want to collaborate with any other artists or activists in the black community to do something similar to your Made In America exhibition?
Penda: I’d definitely be open to working with other artists if the time place and vision is right.
Paul: Would you say that you see yourself as an inspiration to younger black female artists? If so, what advice do you have for them?
Penda: I hope so. My advice is always to work hard and be self dependent. I do know I have lots of young girls that look up to me back home in Mali- not just for being an artist, but for being an independent woman that sees so much potential and value in our youth. My family and I run an educational center in Bamako, Mali called KoFalen tutoring center (kofalen.org) to ensure that our youth gets the education they deserve and can be on that path of being self dependent.