How Printmaker Diyah Najah Gives Through Art & Special Education
“My mother gave me art. My mother used to go to my teachers and say, ‘she doesn’t learn just like every other student. You have to come at her from a different angle."
This is how printmaker and artist Diyah Najah describes her life as she struggled with school, but used art to better understand herself and the world around her. She used it to relate to a world that categorized her as disabled. But art as an outlet allowed Diyah to feel more than enough. And now she’s passing that on to a whole generation of students with disabilities.
Diyah is the newest member of TILA Studios. She calls TILA a safe space, where she can not only do her art, but also help others and grow. Because of her giving heart and desire to be of service to others, Diyah has decided to donate the money from a selected collection of her prints to our campaign to send 10 Black Women Artists to Art Basel in Miami.
I talked to Diyah about using art as a teaching tool. We also discussed why she decided to contribute her talents to the Art Basel campaign and why spaces like TILA and the Atlanta Printmakers Studio are important to her.
How does your art practice influence your work as a teacher for students with disabilities?
I am my students. I used to be an art teacher, but I decided that I wanted to work with students with disabilities specifically. In my classroom, my students get to see my art, touch my art, every day. And I want to tell my students, find that thing you’re good at and do it. Because we live in a world that is predicated by our disabilities. And there’s so many opportunities for us not to have that right fit, or not to feel good, or not to be successful. So I use my art as inspiration for my students. Because I am a teacher who teaches English/ Language Arts (ELA), I allow my students to talk about the art, critique the art, and write about the art. They hold it up; it’s the most amazing thing. And it’s really a real experience where they’re critiquing the art, sharing their feelings and having dialogue with each other. And so I use that to support ELA standards.
What made you want to contribute to the Art Basel campaign by donating the proceeds from your art sells?
I wanted to apply to go but I needed more time. I needed more time to get my mind together, and I needed more time to get everything together. And I said you know what, there are artists who have been out here, who deserve this opportunity, who have been working and putting themselves out there much longer than I have. I said TILA says, “TILA will go with you.” Well, I’m going to go too through them. So, I just moved myself to the side and said, let’s make sure the women can get there. And I wanted to feel like I was still going as part of TILA. I know that my art does sell and so I wanted to share the proceeds.
Why is it important to take on this philanthropist role, a role where you are seeking to serve others than serving yourself?
Because I believe in rock soup. My whole life, I’ve believed in rock soup. I think the original story is called stone soup and it means that if everybody gives a little bit, then everybody can eat. And so, I’m a teacher. I’m not rolling in the dough. You know, I do make my art sells. But I’m not here to sell art, I’m here to support my disabilities through my art. But I do know that if I contribute what I can, in any way I can, and if we all just did a little bit, then we can reach the goal. It wouldn’t seem momentous for us to be able to make the amount of money that we need to make. Just give a little bit.
Why is a space like the Atlanta Printmakers Studio important to you?
I came to the Atlanta Printmakers Studio because I was exposed to relief carving through Jamaal Barber. He held a solo exhibition “Bright Black ” at Southwest Arts center . And when I saw that show and when I saw the relief carving (he does wood cuts), I knew that was the medium for me. I went to his workshop. By the end of the workshop, I spent my savings and I ordered all the supplies to do this. And literally, it was that moment when you touch a medium and the medium touched you back. And I’ve been doing this particular art since January of 2018.
Why is a space like TILA Studios important to you?
Because I want to belong. I want community. I want to be in a community of Black Women Artists. I want to grow in community. Everything to me is about community; it’s about coming together and growing together; and I know it’s inclusive; so, I know that people from all walks of life, people from all different levels of abilities are welcome. I have neurological differences and I know that if I express that it’s a safe space. So I can do my art there, help others and I know that I can grow.
We appreciate Diyah’s transparency in representing for a group that needs their own voice too. Her story speaks volumes to how an artist’s work can affect others’ lives because Diyah was not expecting to fall in love with a new art medium after the encounter with Barber’s work. But it happened. And now we have her and her beautiful prints to thank for advancing our Art Basel campaign along. If you are interested in Diyah’s art then you can contact her via IG @artistdiyahnajah. And we are also still accepting general donations for the Art Basel campaign. Give a little and make a big impact!