Diana Ejaita discusses her latest collection, produced with the artisans and master dyers of Saint-Louis

Diana Ejaita is a true nomad. Born in Italy to an Italian mother and Nigerian father, her family travelled extensively during her childhood. She studies fine art in France and Germany and is now based in Berlin, where she established her ethical fashion label WearYourMask in 2014. The illustrator and textile designer developed her SS18 collection in the ancient city of Saint-Louis, Senegal during an artist residency at Waaw, and she now brings her special offering to the world. Driven by her passion for African textile traditions and minimalist designs, each handmade garment has a simple yet expressive allure. Nataal meets Ejaita to discover her journey.

What were your early art and fashion inspirations?
Besides artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, Chéri Samba, Yinka Shonibare, El Anatsui, Malick SIdibé and David Lachapelle, I’ve always been drawn to traditional handicraft. From South American embroidery to Nigerian adire, I am fascinated by decorating a fabric by hand through different techniques. Manually printed textiles are unique and precious. The African tradition of using textile as the pages of a book to tell stories has played a big role in my work, such as Adinkra and Nsibidi symbolism.

Please describe your practice as an illustrator and textile.
I love to observe and to reduce my observations to memory sketches, like quick visual notes. I work with images I find and alternate them to suggest their context. I prefer not to give too much information, just some directions. The themes that drive me are connected to Africa, my roots, race, black empowerment, animism and historical heritage, cultural loss through colonialism and migration, discrimination, religious control and cultural appropriation.

Why establish WearYourMask?
As a silkscreen artist, I like to experiment with printing on different surfaces and through researching textiles, I learned about using garments as a way to give messages. The name of the brand comes from the fact that I am interested in African cultures where masks play important roles in terms of representing a divinity, spirit or animal during ceremonies and rituals. The mask, as well as the costume, has the power to open a window to another dimension away from the daily reality we live in.

Describe Senegal Fall SS18.
I was aware of the textile traditions of Saint-Louis so I made an exchange with the artisans in the area. I gave silkscreen workshops while learning from old masters about the wax printing and dying techniques with the idea of mixing these methods. I was also amazed in Dakar and Saint-Louis to see so many tailoring boutiques in the markets. You could hear the sound of the sewing machines tapping day and night, so it was exciting to collaborate with these seamstresses too. I worked with local malikane and bazin cotton textiles and took inspiration from the styles of the Baye Fall brotherhood such as the thiaya and boubou. With the accompanying fashion shoot in Saint-Louis, WearYourMask is in conversation with the streets, mysticism and spiritualism embodied by the wind, sand and hot sun.

Who is your customer?
What I try to do with all of my collections is reflect my mixed origins by creating a dialogue between tradition with modernism and between European with African tastes. So I would say that the clientele I look for is also diverse and can combine each piece to create their own looks with self-confidence and consciousness.

Visit WearYourMask

Published on 22/08/2017