Diana Ejaita’s second cover for the magazine arrives on the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and its attention to pattern and texture echoes the artist’s work as a textile designer. Ejaita, who was born in Italy but now shuttles between Germany and Nigeria, created her own fashion label, WearYourMask, in 2014, and she recently talked to us about her method, the challenges of depicting King, and how she mines inspiration from different places.
You’re drawing people drawing King. How did you land on that concept?
I wanted to create a monumental portrait of M.L.K., so I thought about a statue or a big poster. Initially, I thought I’d place it in a city landscape and have kids hanging out around it. Then I thought, Why not make the kids actively work on the portrait? It gave me a chance to create a relation between young people and the legacy of M.L.K. They have him in their mind as an example, but they also have to create their own version of him.
King is obviously an icon, and a frequent subject of portraiture. Do you feel any pressure to distinguish your image from those that have come before? What are the challenges or opportunities that come with depicting him?
I love how King is celebrated by so many people in so many different ways. Interpretations of him will naturally change from artist to artist, and according to the times. But his legacy is universal, and it’s important that he keep being celebrated as a human and a political mode. Culture changes constantly, but some ideals need to stand strong as pillars.
Color is such a central part of your work. How do you decide what your palette will be for a given illustration?
I am in love with the color black and used to dislike the use of other colors. But I progressively started to introduce primary colors, shades of blue, red, and yellow. This process creates the feeling that we’re only dealing with what’s essential. The black is still dominant but the color lends an image all the tones of life: warmth, cold, depth, and light.
Where do you create your pieces?
I used to be based in Berlin, but I just created my second studio, in Lagos, Nigeria, and I’ll be going back and forth between them. Moving to Lagos is the best thing that could happen to me right now. It’s so vibrant, alive, and full of contradictions. It’s very different from Europe—people have to organize their lives without any support from the state. Compared to Berlin and Germany, where the relation between citizen and state is intense, Nigerians are alone and have to create their time and space by themselves. They are the ones who make the city work.
But I feel like both Berlin and Lagos are essential for my artistic progress. Also, moving to different parts of the globe is a good way to live in summer throughout the year!
In her second studio, in Lagos, Nigeria, Ejaita has been working on a series of posters for a dance company.
For more covers celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., see below:
“The Dream of Reconciliation,” by Barry Blitt
“After Dr. King,” by Kadir Nelson
“In Creative Battle,” by Mark Ulriksen