A RECENT FASHION ILLUSTRATION by Diana Ejaita could easily serve as a graphic designed to promote the “Africa Fashion” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.
The portrait was not commissioned by the museum, however, but rather a magazine. “Lines of Beauty” graced the cover of the Sept. 25 issue of The New Yorker. The special Fall Style & Design issue coincided with fashion weeks in New York, London, and Milan.
Composed of dynamic planes of color and pattern, the cover illustration draws on African traditions and African-influenced Western art forms. The design calls to mind the modern shapes and blue hue favored by Matisse. The female figure is wearing a skirt that blends several African-patterned textiles. A crowning, sculptural hair style completes the look.
The portrait reflects Ejaita’s Nigerian roots, French fine art education, and fashion background. In 2015, the illustrator and textile designer launched a clothing line called WearYourMask. The collections feature African print-style fabrics with organic patterns, abstract motifs, and contemporary interpretations of West African symbols.
Ejaita has recently been in Florence, Italy, where she is an artist-in-residence at Villa Romana. The experience has encouraged her to return to mediums she has not pursued for some time, including printmaking and working with clay.
On the occasion of the cover assignment, Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, interviewed the artist about the latest developments in her life and work. She specifically asked Ejaita what the artist residency has been like. She said:
I have enjoyed being in Florence so far. It’s my first time back in Italy after seventeen years away. I am especially trying to use this time to get back into practices I had set aside in the recent past, such as working with clay and trying to put the subjects of my drawings into tri-dimension. I have also had the chance to get back to printing techniques such as etching. Il Bisonte, a very old printing laboratory, invited us to visit and practice with them; the last time I worked with the medium was more than thirteen years ago. I’m trying to un-digitalize my practice and myself—and to go back to more organic ways of creating art.
“I am especially trying to use this time to get back into practices I had set aside in the recent past, such as working with clay and trying to put the subjects of my drawings into tri-dimension. I have also had the chance to get back to printing techniques such as etching.” — Diana Ejaita
Born in Cremona, Italy, after attending school in France and Germany, Ejaita has been based in Berlin, but is eager to spend more time in Lagos. (Her mother is Italian and her father is Nigerian.) She said she plans to open an artist’s space in Lagos, giving other artists the opportunity to benefit from a residency experience.
“Lines of Beauty” is Ejaita’s eighth cover for The New Yorker. Her first was published in 2019, when she created a Lagos street scene focused on a mother and daughter on the occasion of Mother’s Day (for the May 13, 2019, issue). Other covers have represented the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday, Thanksgiving, and the welcoming of spring, which she illustrated with a layered image featuring a figurative silhouette referencing West African sculptural forms along with a spray of exotic flowers and leafy plants. CT
READ MORE about Diana Ejaita in an interview with Afriquette
Diana Ejaita illustrated “I Am The Rage: A Black Poetry Collection” and published several children’s books. She authored and illustrated “A Day in the Sun” and “Olu and Greta,” two recently published books. Also consider, “Let: A Poem About Wonder and Possibility,” which is illustrated by Ejaita. “I’ll See You in Ijebu” and “Kamau & ZuZu Find a Way,” are forthcoming in 2024.
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