Ife Piankhi: A Language and Grammar of Healing
By Erika Holum
Ife Piankhi is a recent artist in residence at 32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust. Working as a performance artist, singer, poet, and creative facilitator for over 30 years, Ife has recently ventured into a creative practice where her craft has taken visual form through a textured, multi-media approach to papier mâché and collage work, and the creation of bright and colorful mandalas. The material and spiritual elements embedded within Ife’s work create a semiotic grammar and visual language with symbols and metaphors that unfolds into a space for peace, calm, and healing.
Ife grew up in London with her Caribbean-born mother who took Ife and her siblings traveling from a young age. She describes her experiences in the U.S. as the time when her “politicization as an African began.” As a young adult, Ife stayed in the U.S. as an exchange student where she began learning about the Civil Rights Movement, and leaders like Marcus Garvey who advocated for Africans to return to their ancestral home. Never feeling like the UK was her place nor home, Ife returned from the U.S. and began traveling to Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Zambia, before making the decision to repatriate to Uganda. Ife has been living in Kampala for over eight years, and uses live performances, poetry, creative facilitation, and visual art to fuse her work into different mediums.
Through a process of re-education, Ife ventures into unwritten histories of the continent to reveal contemporary and contextual meanings of a hidden past through poetry, music, and art. Ife believes that Africans of the diaspora have important contributions to bring back to the continent, and engages specifically with mass healing after mass trauma, with a focus on the collective memory and collective consciousness among descendants of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Healing for the future
During her time at 32° East, Ife used multi-media art forms and natural materials to create papier mâché collages and mandalas from newspaper clippings, beads, shells, and cassava flour. Ife weaves together these materials to create a visual language with beads and shells, and writes text-based poetry with newspaper clippings on papier mâché made from cassava flour. The materials symbolically illustrate ancient history and the decomposition of the pieces made of organic materials denotes the passage of time, a process which critically engages with the maintenance of art, the legacy of an artist’s work, and the temporality of embedded meaning on objects. The process of creation, engagement, and deterioration of the work represents a cycle from a traumatic past and healing for the future.
Art in public spaces
Ife believes in taking art to public spaces and using her work to bring ideas, methods, and approaches to that public that are not the norm. Her work pushes back against institutionalized methods of artistic production in favor of public engagement and discussion of her work. Ife has held community conversations surrounding the formation of identity, self-liberation, and mass healing, which has prompted personal stories and revelations from participants on these vital, yet contested matters. Following her residency at 32° East, Ife continues to explore the creation of paper, collages, and mandalas, hoping to expand her installation work, broaden and diversify exhibition platforms, and increase audience engagement.