The colors are bright, the designs are capturing, and suddenly you are transported to a place of peace, tranquility, and the unknown although it feels so familiar while looking at Hawa Diallo’s paintings. It’s hard to believe she didn’t know this talent was inside of her for over 40 years.
The Mauritanian immigrant, Bronx resident, and mother of four would cry as a teenage girl while watching the other children go to school back home. She longed to be educated, but there was no room for education as a young wife and mother, but her natural intelligence got her by over the years. She owned several restaurants around New York City, but eventually they were closed and she became a caregiver.
“My restaurant closed so I went to take care giving classes even though I couldn’t read,” said Diallo.
As fate would have it she eventually began taking care of Charlotte Zolotow, a well known editor and children’s book author, after being fired when her previous employer found out she was illiterate.
“When the lady realized my reading was very slow she called the agency and said she didn’t need me there,” said Diallo. This made her afraid to let people know her truth. “I was shy about letting them know I wasn’t educated.”
Charlotte’s daughter, Crescent Dragonwagon, trusted Diallo because she worked so well with her mother and saw how quick she learned how to do things around the house over the two years she worked there. Once Dragonwagon found out she was unable to read she paid for her to take private classes, but one day unrelated to reading would open up Pandora’s box for her true talent.
While helping cater for a workshop Dragonwagon was teaching she was told to attend one of them about drawing. The class was showed how to draw a particular thing then given 15 minutes to replicate it.
“After, everyone was saying ‘oh Hawa you’ve been doing this before?'” said Diallo, as she explained her first time drawing. She didn’t think anything of it and left the paper on the table.
Soon after Diallo started to see pictures in her head and was compelled to get them out.
“Two days later after, not even, pictures start coming out of my head like opening a waterfall,” said Diallo. She felt like she was going crazy and was unsure of where they were coming from. Dragonwagon and her boyfriend gave Diallo a small, brown, spiral book and pencil to get the pictures out of her head.
“I was at Crescent’s house, I started at 10 at night and finished at 12,” she said. “I cried tears I didn’t know I could draw this beautiful.”
The pictures started off small but they grew larger than the spiral book she was given. “Then I found out I don’t like to draw small,” said Diallo.
Her drawings started off as patterns, but over time as they got larger her art became patterns, painting, abstract, defined shapes and images, and even 3-d to name a few. The ideas mix history, reality, emotions, texture, and her imagination making each piece very unique.
“I like to do different stuff,” she said.
After all the pain and heartbreak in Diallo’s life this new found talent has given her a second life filled with happiness and joy which radiates in her being and in her art. Even her paintings that represent sorrow are so vibrant that they make you want to smile.
During a trip to Guinea earlier this year she came across children that are hungry and created a painting of a boy crying while eating his shirt due to hunger. Her use of yellow, blue, brown, and red to create the image brings it to life in her own unique way.
Diallo also has a way of captivating your eyes with variations of the bright blue sky or pink and yellow sunset and painting water that looks real enough to jump in.
Since discovering her gift as an artist besides painting she naturally creates sculptures, clothing and bedding designs, and jewelry. As a fluent speaker of Fulani, Wolof, and French she continues to go to school to learn English and other subjects.
“I love to learn ,” said Diallo.
In the meantime the blue tarmac lays on her living room floor with her easel, paint brushes, paint, and canvas ready for when inspiration hits to create another painting or work on one she’s already started.