Arlette is a textile artist inspired by tradition and sustainability. She teaches African Vegan Art workshops throughout the city, which encourage visual story-telling and human connection. As her artistic career continues to grow, she hopes to make art more accessible in schools, hospitals, and other community centres.
What is your artistic practice?
My artistic practice as a visual textile artist is to create cultural and educational art programs by up-cycling fabrics or using natural dyes on fabrics to create sustainable art.
One of my focuses is devoted to preserving and reinterpreting traditional African Textile Art and natural dyes techniques, to protect the historical heritage of an African Art which is where my inspiration comes from.
My background plays a tremendous part in the work that I do, from the colourful prints and cultural history of beautiful Eastern and Central Africa. I believe that using a visual literacy approach with textile as a vehicle to tell a story is a great way to explore the world and create social change.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently facilitating my African Vegan Art workshops in several locations in the city: the iconic Aga Khan Museum, Toronto public libraries, Ellesmere community Centre, the Jumblies Theatre and at the exhibition place (for the Centre Francophone de Toronto closing event in celebration of Black History Month).
My African Vegan Art Textile workshop series is influenced by the Bogolanfini art (a handmade cotton fabric traditionally dyed with fermented mud and natural dyes). This art is one of Africa’s most unusual and unique textile art originated from Mali, West Africa. The fabric is hand painted with patterns and symbols using a variety of natural dyes, including river mud that has been aged up to a year.
I offer a space where participants are able to blossom and create human connections through a series of hands-on textile art activities which engages conversation and discussions. Together we travel back in time to learn and experience textile-dyeing techniques. We combine old and new approaches to create personalized and unique pieces. This is a fun way to explore textiles and related techniques, that have begun from a necessity to fill basic needs, which have been a fundamental part of human life since the beginning of civilization.
What accomplishment are you most proud of as an artist?
I feel most accomplished as an artist when I have the opportunity to have a positive and emotional impact while sharing my artistic practice.
I was approached by the Project Sunshine, which is an international non-profit organization that provides free educational, recreational and social programs to children facing medical challenges. Their programs include arts and crafts, reading, caregiver wellness and special events, which provide children and their families a much-needed break from the daily trials associated with medical issues. They reached out and asked me to create a Surgi doll for an auction fundraising at the Textile Museum of Canada. These Surgi dolls are used in pediatrics by medical staff to demonstrate what will happen during an upcoming procedure. They can also decrease patient’s anxiety and serve as surrogates and friends. Knowing that my doll has contributed to help raise funds to support programs for sick kids was an accomplishment in itself for me.
Another achievement was my collaboration with the Toronto Ward Museum at the iconic Aga Khan Museum featuring the Caravans of Gold, Fragments of Time exhibition. The theme of this exhibition was to shed light on Africa’s role in the Medieval Art History, its splendour and influence to Europe and the Middle East and back to Africa.
It was a pleasure for me to facilitate my African Vegan Art workshop At the museum and take part of this exhibition that is travelling across North America (from the Block Museum in Chicago, to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and now the Smithsonian national museum of African Art in Washington, DC).
During my workshop, I gave participants the opportunity to create their own visual artwork reinterpreting one or more aspects of the art trade network across the Sahara from the exhibition, using ancestral natural dyes techniques on fabric that have originated from Africa. This was a great way to tell a story that is 1000 years old. A story that still has powerful meaning and resonates with everyone who participated.
How did you first connect with Art Starts?
I connected with Art starts when I participated in their Arowana program. This training helped me implement and evaluate my art project and gave me tools to develop partnerships, manage budget and plan my workshops. In addition, the program provided me with a graphic designer who supported and helped me create visuals for marketing outreach, as I was also mentored by a project manager throughout the program.
As an artist, how do you define success?
Success to me is making a living doing something you are passionate about while having a positive impact on the people around you. Because sharing my passion with others makes me happy, my goal is to continue to impact people one workshop at a time by sharing my knowledge, teaching and educating through art.
How do you seek out opportunities?
I usually seek out opportunities by networking and word of mouth.
What can we expect from you in the future?
My goal and vision is to offer more cultural and educational programs and make learning through art accessible to schools, community centres, museums and hospitals, as a support to their existing Art and Community Development programs.
And I plan to partner with community engaged organizations helping vulnerable communities in Africa, to improve the lives of women and girls in need.
I would also like to work on a curated exhibit on the origin of African Textile Art and its influence today with an artistic and sustainable component. This will be a unique opportunity to travel the world by attending textile exhibitions, and discover, learn about new cultures. This cultural exposure will be an opportunity for me to change the narrative of what it means to create valuable African Art and showcase its influence throughout the world.
Arlette’s passion for tradition and sustainability, weaving together both old and new practices, is inspiring. To see her workshops continuing to expand and reach new communities is homage to African Art and its rich history. You can see more of Arlette’s work and book a workshop on her website: www.ambusdesign.com. You can also connect with her on Instagram: @ambusdesign