Djibril N’Doye’s artwork reflects life, culture

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“My artwork is my life.”

World-renowned artist Djibril N’Doye meant these words literally and metaphorically.

N’Doye has an exhibit of personal works at the Dixie State University North Plaza gallery in honor of Black History Month called “Art in The Depth of Pyrography on Wood.” Dennis Martinez, a DSU art professor, reached out to N’Doye after being introduced to his work through Left of Center Art Gallery and Studio, an art gallery that commonly showcases work by women and artists of ethnic minority backgrounds.

“I really love his pieces,” Martinez said. “I thought they were different, more unique than others, and [he had] a nice, strong collection of work.”

N’Doye values his art strongly because he creates pieces with an unusual medium, the subject matter is sentimental, and because his artwork has helped him grow and become the artist he is today.

N’Doye’s wood burning technique is inspired by his home village. One thing N’Doye will never forget about his farming village in his home country of Senegal is the smell in the air, the nearby crops, the huts where they lived, and their traditional food cooking. 

One day, when his mother was finished cooking on an open fire, N’Doye observed a piece of wood that was still burning. He realized he could control how the flame burns the wood. Because he enjoyed drawing with a ballpoint pen as it didn’t allow for erasing of any markings, he decided to begin to practice with wood burning as he couldn’t erase it either. His method of wood burning would always remind him of the organic smell of his village — one he can’t get in any industrialized society.

“That was the birth of my technique,” N’Doye said. “To maintain my history, I picked a medium that people don’t [usually] work with.”

All of N’Doye’s pieces in the gallery at DSU are wood burnings, and some are framed by pieces of rope. When he was a child, N’Doye would help his mother cut pieces of rope so she could boil and dye them. She would then create intricate wigs with these fibers by braiding them with beads and shells and sell these wigs to other women in the village.

“I decided to incorporate this rope as a thank you to my mother,” N’Doye said. “I never studied art at school, so her affection is my school; the way she loved me, the way she respected me, the way she taught me, she was my school.” 

Along with the materials the pieces are made of, the images portrayed in the gallery hold meaning to N’Doye and all come with a unique story. One featured piece in the gallery entitled “Disparity” depicts a group of women some of which are holding bowls filled with seeds and others with empty bowls. 

This piece is meant to highlight the difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in the village, but also the camaraderie between all the women, regardless of what they have. For N’Doye, the piece emphasizes the fluidity of material wealth and how it can come and go unexpectedly.

Another piece, featuring a boy playing with a slingshot, serves as a metaphor for N’Doye: no one knows where they are going, but everyone has a purpose and a place where they are destined to land similar to a rock in a slingshot.

N’Doye’s artwork has led him to becoming a worldwide recognized fine artist. His pieces have been featured in various art shows around the U.S. and the world. They’ve also been featured in various films and TV productions such as the 2006 Doug Atchinson film “Akeelah and the Bee” and American drama series “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Through juried art shows, N’Doye is able to continually improve as an artist and share his view of the world with others. N’Doye believes his lengthy history in visual arts and experiences with art shows has assisted him in being as recognized as he is today.

“It’s always a real honor to have someone of his caliber, professionalism and skill level to display because it encourages students,” said Glen Blakley, professor of ceramics at DSU. “[His pieces] are rich with symbolism and emotion, and I’m really impressed with him.”

Blakley said featuring an artist like N’Doye will inspire students not only in mastering their craft, but in general.

“He’s a fantastic artist, and he’s one of the nicest, most pleasant people you’ll ever meet,” Blakley said. 

For N’Doye, art is something that is beneficial to the world as a whole, regardless of one’s background or nationality.

“I don’t do art just because I am black or because a black [art] event is taking place,” he said. “To me, I don’t want to lock myself to a culture or a race like I belong there. I feel that I belong to the world.”

N’Doye’s next exhibit will be held at Left of Center Gallery starting June 1.