Nigerian-American artist and designer Sarah Nsikak is ebullient yet deeply thoughtful as she moves through her Brooklyn-based studio, awash with light, flitting amongst the floor to ceiling shelving stacked with vibrant fabrics — all rich with narrative potential. She’s been exploring deeply rooted themes both in society, culture, her personal life, work, and where they intersect.
In her work as founder and creative director of beloved women’s wear brand, La Réunion, which repurposes strictly deadstock, antique, and vintage fabrics from around the world, she draws from many influences including the vibrant stories of the African diaspora, post colonial art and photography, reclaimed beauty, identity, color, joy, and inviting oneself back to what’s been central all along.
Nsikak has recently emerged from the cocoon of new motherhood, the all consuming nature of being both designer and business owner and held space for her work and identity as an artist. Utilizing her primary medium, recycled fiber, she’s compiled a body of work that offers, in her words,
Drawing from African proverbs and idioms, Nsikak borrows romance folkloric imagery from the many cultures she calls home. Below, she shares with us 5 themes she’s explored deeply as a part of this show, Luck Comes Before Love, on view now through March 27 at Ace Hotel New York.
African Proverbs & Idioms
Across the diaspora, proverbs, idioms, and ancient stories are like compasses for life. The passing down of sacred wisdom preserves a culture and tradition that I’ve always found relevant to my life and work. I grew up in a deeply spiritual household, and in childhood I held on to stories and prayers as if nothing else in life carried any semblance of truth. It’s a delicate thing to confront belief systems that color the way one views the world, but I see it as invaluable and incredibly refining to have an evolving approach to belief systems. These days I take my proverbs and ancient teachings with a grain of salt, respecting the value that it adds to our culture and with a sense of gratitude for the humor, wisdom, warmth and balance it lends in any given moment.
Symbols have a way of bringing a feeling or memory. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes something lucky, and why someone can decide to invest emotional energy in a symbol or object.
For me, it’s more often that I give an object or a symbol the credit for my good fortune, and the thing then encapsulates a positive thought, moment, or energy that can live on. My work often plays with the idea of symbols as omens or conductors of good fortune. I always hope the viewer can extract a sense of luck, the kind of dumb special luck that happens before something disarming like love.
Softness + Vulnerability of Black Women
This idea that black women are strong, unbreakable, steely fortresses, has been used as a tool to dehumanize us. It’s meant to take away any approachability and leave us alienated, fending for ourselves in a world that sees us as the lowest tier of society. On a personal level, I’ve been called “angry” in moments when I couldn’t have been farther from that feeling.
There’s a lens that white supremacy has placed onto the initial perception of black women, and we are always in the position of debunking stigmas to earn access to base level humanity.
Like all people, black women are dynamic, ever evolving, and entitled to our moods and emotions. I made a body of work that subtly speaks to that in my own voice, acknowledging that not all fellow black women will relate and that we are not a monolith. Hearing and sharing different perspectives of blackness works to dismantle the many tropes that speak before we do when walking through doors.
I’m new to this title, and in many ways I don’t know what it means for me yet. I do know that it has unlocked a connection to the softer side of my sensibilities. I know this sense of softness may have been there, but I really wasn’t giving it permission to a defining main character. I feel softness is so important when moving through the world with my daughter. Not because she’s a girl, because she’s a human. Because the world is hard and tough and sees her as something before she even knows how to speak the beginnings of who she actually is. Softness gives her a constant landing pad and a safety that is literally a part of her, coming from the person that made her, the person that truly has no idea what could be more life-preserving than this armor of softness.
I built a chair as a part of this show, and on it rests a ritual that is meant to symbolize cutting ties. This isn’t only used in romance, but ties of all kinds. I find heartbreak to be the most tragically painful thing we go through, and its frequency being the only thing that makes it less jarring and scarring (or maybe not). It is proportionate to the amount of deep love one can have the privilege of experiencing on their journey, and the hope is that we all get the chance to experience both.
Some of my most intrinsically pungent and realized work has come from that place. The candle ritual is powerful for me in its brevity. Two flames burn and the tie is broken, done. If only heartbreak’s lifespan were as punctuated.
Ace Hotel | August 12, 2023
For the first time since 2019, New York City based Printed Matter’s beloved LA Art Book Fair has returned — gracing the opposite coast with its eclectic cohort of zine-makers, artists, collectives, and more. For those who crave full immersion in Printed Matter’s boundless galaxy of niche publications, rare books and work from international galleries, this summer’s offering is akin to an art-filled, literary state fair — where the grounds are the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Sonel Breslav, Director of Fairs and Editions for Printed Matter Inc. shares a cheat sheet of 5 Things to know about this year’s LAABF.
Ace Hotel New Orleans | April 27, 2023
Six of Saturns is our annual ode to the sounds, visions and fabled collaborative spirit of the Crescent City. For two weeks during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival we gather to revel in the beats of the bayou, its musical legacy and commune with stage legends + artists of every feather. No two artists could be more reflective of this spirit than Nola born Teedra Moses and The Artist Jade who share the stage on SoS’s inaugural weekend.