Aminata Alice Yajoh is a self-taught artist from the Gambia. She is in her early twenties and a School of Public Health graduate of The Gambia College. Aminata is one of the country’s few promising women in a male-dominated art community. Her paintings portray her life and experiences, feelings, and many more. She considers herself an all-rounder since she participates in a wide range of activities to improve her community and push for women’s rights. Her refusal to be constrained by her physical limitations was one of the many qualities that made her so inspiring.
Q: Can you introduce yourself to the Teakisi readers?
AAY: Aminata Alice Yajoh is my name. I graduated with a higher national diploma in public and environmental health from Gambia College. I’m a performer and a visual artist. I perform both singing and acting. I’m a painter and a laid-back individual. My father is from Freetown, Sierra Leone, and my mother is from The Gambia. I have two brothers. I’m the oldest and only female in the family from my mother’s side. I aspire to be the change that people with disabilities need and do big things in life.
Q: What is your concept of success when accomplishing tangible goals in life?
AAY: I define success in two ways: first, the obvious: being financially secure, being acknowledged for my ability and flexibility, and being a role model for hard work. Second, the less obvious way: helping others and positively improving their lives. To both inspire and be inspired by others.
I am a believer in optimism. I never tell myself or allow myself to believe that I am incapable of doing something. I’m aware of my limitations; I won’t be able to achieve everything. As a result, I make every effort to accomplish and learn as much as possible, particularly when it comes to things that I am passionate about. When I make up my mind on anything, I go all in. That is unaffected by negativity. I don’t set limits for myself based on my appearance or anything else. I have an optimistic attitude towards everything. Everything I’ve done thus far has been motivated by a strong desire to succeed.
Q: About your painting, do you have a signature style to distinguish your work? Because I’ve observed, you make a wide range of work, from murals to portraits, abstracts, etc.
AAY: I don’t yet have a distinct style or signature. I’m constantly learning new things all day because painting is such a big area with so much more than just taking up a canvas and starting to paint. The more potential I unlock, the closer I am to developing a distinct style that will eventually identify me and my work as an artist. Every artist’s work is unique, and it takes time to create a distinctive personal style that distinguishes you from the rest. Baba Njogu, for example, has progressively become a household name in the country because of his unique painting technique. One thing is for sure; I love incorporating patterns into my work.
Q: What are your artistic influences, and how did your journey as a visual artist begin?
AAY: I’ve always been aware of my artistic inclination and a desire to do things differently. I found my skill at an early age. I’m not just about academics; I’m adaptable and have other responsibilities. I’ve always been good at drawing, which helped me transition. Most of my drawings were done using a pencil, crayon, or similar medium. I met this artist who got me my first painting supplies and canvas, and he encouraged me to make my first paint stroke, which completely changed everything.
I pick up a lot of methods from other people’s work, especially on YouTube. I was also introduced to the Gambian painting industry. I had the opportunity to meet other artists, though I must admit that it is a male-dominated field. Women are seldom seen, and I’m grateful to be one of the few powerful women actively defying gender norms. The majority of my influences are almost entirely local.
Q: It is a well-known reality that bias exists in every profession. What challenges have you faced as an artist in The Gambia?
AAY: This problem has shackled women, leading some of us to feel that our gender determines what we can and cannot do. Try working on an art piece with a male colleague. Once it gains acclaim, people will say the male figure is the brain behind it, reducing the woman’s hard work to nothing. It wouldn’t matter if she had everything sorted out. The other gender gets all of the credit.
The job’s material procurement is also a difficulty. It is pretty challenging to obtain necessary supplies in the country, and when you can, the costs are absurdly high. People do not value, comprehend, or have the necessary understanding to appreciate a piece of art. Thus, nothing is done to help artists; we are left to fend for ourselves. So, we paint because we love the craft, and the terrible aspect is that we don’t have any assistance.
Q: Is there an artwork that you are really proud of? What’s the story behind it, and why?
AAY: It’s prevalent for an artist to have a favorite piece or series of works. The painting of a child in the womb is the one I’m most proud of. I wanted to highlight a client’s mother-daughter solid relationship that I observed during our first encounter. Her child’s birth was beautiful and nothing short of a miracle from conception to delivery, so I chose to transport her back to that experience and capture it on canvas. A screening of the child in the womb is depicted in the painting. That piece is so much more than words can convey.
Q: Do you consider yourself an activist? Because you appear to be deeply concerned about all issues concerning women’s rights.
AAY: If I may say so, I am not a professional activist, but one thing is sure: I enjoy campaigning for women, regardless of the subject. I attempt to fight for what I believe is correct, such as gender inequality in general. As frequently as I can, I utilize my voice and volunteer to campaign for women’s issues. I may not be the typical activist, but I’m all for social justice, particularly when it comes to women.
Q: Last but not least, you entered a beauty contest. Have you run into any stereotypes? Did you manage to win?
AAY: I uniquely joined the competition. It was never intended to happen, yet it did. No one wanted to participate, so they managed to persuade me to represent my institution in some way. I was hesitant at first but eventually gave in, and sure enough, I was victorious. I was the crown queen of Gambia College, also known as People’s Choice, and I felt very empowered after that experience. I was undoubtedly the only person with a disability on that platform, but it didn’t even matter. It was all about the message I was sending, and winning proves that you can be different and compete too.
(NB: Q: Question, AAY: Aminata Alice Yajoh )