Mariama is a self-taught Nigerienne artist hailing from Azawagh and specializing in multicolor folk abstract paintings. Her work is the representation of the free woman she is and the way she feels. I had the chance to conduct an interview with her recently, we talked about her work, inspiration, her people and home country. Enjoy!
Mariama, you describe yourself as a self-taught artist, when did you find the passion to become one? what was your motivation?
In 2000, I suffered a stroke. When I recovered, I couldn’t stop wanting to make stuff constantly. I tried many mediums. Then I found oil paint. The love of painting and the need to tell my story is what motivates me. I need to say something, and painting is how I’m going to say it.
Which Artist do you admire and how does he/she inspires you?
I admire Frida Kahlo, and I am inspired by the way she showed us her life, through her work. Seeing her work made me realize that even the sad stories should and need to be told.
Your artworks are extremely colorful and — in my opinion— full of lives. Does your work reflect your personality?
Yes, my work reflects my personality.
Please give me five words that come to your mind when you think of your Art.
Strong, unique, recognizable, life, love, and truth.
Do you visualize your work before or do you just start and wait for the result? Are you an impulsive artist or do you make sure to coordinate, organize things before?
I do visualize a painting according to a title I have in mind, and then I paint it without further coordination or planning. I’m an impulsive artist, as I have no control over the craving to paint, or how much time I spend painting. But I always have the title of a painting first before I start a painting.
What is the greatest compliment someone has paid you regarding your artworks?
The greatest compliment someone gave me was one of the collectors of my work, when he said to me that: “your work is so unique, that if you put one of your paintings among 1000 paintings from different artists, you will still be able to recognize a Mariama painting, apart from other artists.” This uniqueness, he said, is what makes Van Gogh, a Van Gogh”.
Do you think that your personal paiting style has evolved since you first started?
Yes, my style of painting has evolved in many ways, in the use of color, the time it takes, and the subjects. It has become easier to do.
I particularly fell in love with this artwork of yours , can you tell me the story behind it, what is the woman supposed to represent?
This painting represents the unknowns of life and love. A beautiful woman who is lying in the desert alone, peacefully waiting for something. What is she waiting for? Did it ever come? How long did she wait? How long should she wait? Did she give up too soon or too late?
You Art is called African Tuareg, how does this continent and maybe its people inspire you?
I think that art brings out the honesty in every one. If you give an African person some colors, most will pick the brightest, happiest colors. This is because that is what is in their hearts. African people inspired me and taught me that life is life. We know the starting point, but we don’t know the finish line. Be kind today, laugh today. Live, and be everything you can be and want to be today. Happiness is not something we should look for out there, it’s already inside us. African people have great wisdom that is built from experience.
As a painter, what other form of Art and self expression do you feel is close to yours?
Other than painting, I love writing poems and stories.
Do you, as an artist, gives the viewer the freedom to interpret your work?
Yes, I give the viewer the freedom to interpret my work. My work is a bit emotional, many people find their own stories in it, but many people do ask me to explain it, and I don’t mind doing that.
Many people are unfamiliar with Tuareg people, can you share something that is specific to your ethnic group with them? What would you say about the Tuareg woman in particular? Do you think being a Tuareg woman has any influence on your artistry?
A Tuareg woman is a very free soul. She could let you take anything from her except her freedom. Our love for freedom is our will to live. A Tuareg woman has all the positive rights in the home and in the society. She is free to do anything she wants, without asking anyone one. As a woman, she is trusted to make her own decisions. She has the right to demand respect, and accepts nothing less. There is a saying in Tuareg. We say, “You can’t marry a Tuareg woman, she marries you.” In our society, women have huge respect, and they are protected by our culture. Tuareg are very proud of being who they are. We guard our identity, our culture, and we respect ourselves. We have a huge, unbreakable self-steem. Something specific to Tuaregs is their essence. If you grasp that essence, you will not confuse it with any other people. Yes, my work is influenced by who I am. Every painting I make comes from my heart and soul. It has the heart of a Tuareg, but you can also find every woman in my work.
You are from Azawagh, Niger. How often do you return home? And when you are abroad what do you miss the most?
I return home every 2 to 3 years. I miss everything, my family, my Niger African food, and I miss the smell of the desert after it rains. I miss being awakened by a baby goat jumping on me, and being all mad at it, then realizing that I’m actually mad at a goat. I miss things that I never thought I would miss.
What advice(s) would you give to an aspiring artist?
Believe and trust your own self first. Keep doing what you love and trust that everything is possible, and there is no one better than you in any way.
Pictures courtesy of Mariam’s Arts Gallery.