The Intricate Portraiture at the Heart of Our Mandabi Release
Ify Chiejina is a Nigerian American artist from Queens, New York, with a multifaceted process that incorporates drawing, painting, collage, and pattern design, resulting in a distinctive approach to portraiture. Her work speaks to themes of family, identity, and a complex interplay of modernity and tradition. For our recent release of Mandabi, she created four new pieces that beautifully capture the humanity at the heart of Ousmane Sembène’s second feature, a scathing, Kafkaesque satire set in postcolonial Senegal.
“I am inspired by artists who are visual storytellers,” Chiejina tells us. “I aim to be more conscientious of how my art connects with the viewer, and I know that developing a narrative helps with that.”
A former philosophy major, Chiejina relished the opportunity to think deeply about a single film over the course of several weeks. Her impression of the movie—which follows a man whose life is turned upside down after he receives a money order from a nephew working in Paris—changed and deepened as she worked. “My first reaction,” she says, “was a bit of sadness for the main character, Ibrahima. But it definitely changed as I engaged with the film. Watching him being so self-righteous and yet incredibly trusting of different people was an odd pairing. The film for me is still tragic, but it became more comical too.”
Chiejina’s visual ideas evolved, too, as she moved from the initial sketch to the final cover artwork, a portrait of Ibrahima flanked by two hands, one representing giving and the other taking. “While I liked how the sketch came out, I wasn’t thrilled that the line work I had done for the face was competing too much with the skin complexion I had completed with markers and colored pencils,” she says. For the final piece, she switched to a transparent acrylic wash, which allowed the details of her line work to shine through.