Penda Diakité

2 October 2018

Penda Diakité

Penda Diakité speaks to WE THE OUTLIERS about her powerful mixed media works inspired by her bicultural perspective

Where did you grow up?

I grew up between Portland, Oregon, and Mali, West Africa, where my father is from.

How did you get into art?

Both my parents are artists, and I spent a lot of my childhood in their studio working alongside them. I was always drawn to creating; it’s always been a part of my life.

How would you describe the content of your work?

I create from my feelings and experiences. A lot of my work has to do with lessons I learned in Mali; the contrast between Malian culture and traditions and my upbringing in the United States; my experiences being bicultural in both worlds; my take on how people of colour are portrayed in both worlds; and how that affects our world as a whole and as individuals.

What message do you want to communicate to your audience through your art?

The job of an artist is one of the most powerful jobs because we have the ability to transcend language barriers. Images are a form of communication that forces one to think critically and that evokes emotion in a way that words cannot. I always aim to create work that pushes one to be introspective and that creates an opportunity to see through another lens. There is only one us and millions of others, so it’s an important skill to be able to step into someone else’s shoes in order to understand one another.

Where does your creative inspiration come from?

My culture and upbringing are my number one source of inspiration. As a bicultural woman, I have a unique perspective and so much to say. Sometimes words aren’t enough, so I speak through my art. I try to use my creation process as a meditation, so when I work I try to focus solely on that. I make my favourite and most honest work when I’m most in tune with my emotions. Whatever I’m feeling fuels my creativity.

What’s your creative process?

My work is mixed-media, so I work with spray paint, acrylic, and collage mainly. I always create on wood board. I’m usually working on multiple pieces at once that are all in different phases. I guess that speaks to the fact that I love every aspect of the creative process. When I’m working, I’m extremely in tune with how I’m feeling at that moment, and I will focus on whichever piece draws the most passion out of me in that moment, regardless of the phase of the process it’s in.

How do you know when your artwork is finished?

Half the time I never feel like my pieces are finished. I’m a perfectionist, so I always want to add or change certain things. I’m constantly learning how to take a step back and let the pieces breathe.



These two pieces speak on lessons that were instilled in me at a young age in Mali. They are about symbiosis and how all living beings depend on one another to exist. It’s important to recognise this and to love and respect not only each other, but the plants and creatures around us. At the end of the day, we are all one.

What new projects are you working on?

I’m very excited for my upcoming exhibition, ‘Made in America’, at Substrate Gallery in Los Angeles (3rd November 2018). It’s being funded by The Dean Collection St(art)ups grant, a new art grant launched by husband/wife team Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys.

Thank you, Penda.

Check out Penda Diakité’s website for more information on upcoming shows, including at Substrate Gallery and Junior High. You can also follow her on Instagram.

The interview was conducted in English and has been edited for brevity and clarity