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Mama Africa By Sarah Drake

ST. CLOUD MINNESOTA:  The words of C.S Lewis echoed, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”---this is what embodies Sarah Drake. When we met at Brooklyn Park’s first primary candidate forum, there was something special about Sarah but I did not know why. Two weeks later everything made sense when I was introduced to the real Sarah Drake; international artist, humanitarian, mother and advocate for social justice. She invited me into her world of arts, humanitarian organization and the fight for social justice.

Al Hussein and Sarah Drake at the Exhibition
When I arrived in St Cloud that Wednesday, the town seemed so lively and diverse. I pulled up at my final destination, the Great River Regional Library, and was a little nervous because I did not know what to expect since this was my first time covering an art exhibition. The library is where Sarah had launched her new art collection titled, “Inspired” and they were still on display. This trip was not only to interview her; it was also to view what made her great even though she would not want such an elaborate title. She was at the front entrance of the Library smiling, waiting to usher me into the exhibition hall.

The “Mama Africa” sculpture on display was the first art that caught my attention. What amazes me the most about this statue is the way she graciously brought to life a distinctive African mother--The statue said a lot about her passion for African arts.

Sarah had organized the exhibition for a noble cause. She partnered with and featured Burkina Faso mixed media artist Harouna Ouedraogo to raise money for couple of humanitarian causes. Both artists planned on donating 25% of sales to herARTS in Action’s water project, the Kofa Sawyer Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and Mary Bruno, a local artist recovering from breast cancer.

After touring the exhibition, Miss Drake and I had an exclusive interview. In the transcript posted below, Sarah opens up about her arts, humanitarian work and trip to Africa.

Al-Hussein:  Please tell me about your trip to African and how it inspired the water project in Burkina Faso.

Sarah Drake: Ummm so, water and air are the very basic things that we need to live. And so, while working with a couple of women in the village, we have decided that we need access to clean water---And again that is the basic things we need to live. But also, I think the statistic is that across the globe, there are 152 million hours per day that women and girls spend getting water, instead of being employed and educated. So that is a huge step... Also, I got sick while I was in the village that is another reason.

Al-Hussein: So, did you sleep in the village, or  just came to visit and later return to the city?

Sarah Drake: (Smiling) Yes, I slept in the village. Ummm I slept in the hut and one night when it was not raining, I slept on top of the hut, which was very cool. Once I got sick, I did not care where was and so I was lying on the ground and chicken was running over me because I got close to their nets. Um, I got sick, and it was because of the poor sanitation there. So it became even more personal to me.  I did not know anything about toilets and well, Ummm but, we are working on it. We now have a 501c3 status and so we can do fundraising to do that... I have worked with interns that do community development, and they have done some of the research. The reason that I chose to do this is because, I did the research first, and there aren’t any organizations that are in that part of the country doing well and toilet. There are organizations like WATER AID, and I cannot remember the other name, that does this in Burkina Faso, but not in that region. That is why we decided to do that water project.

Al-Hussein: So how did you get sick, please tell me what really happen.

Sarah Drake: This is how I got sick. While I was there, I was painting the huts with the women and I didn't know that the sliding that we were putting on the huts at first had cow manure in it---And so you have your bare hand in there and then you are using dirty water with no soap to wash your hand and then you are eating with your hand. So that is how I got sick. However, it was very cool because the elder woman was using chicken feather and rock and things that I would normally throw away. But it helps because when I came back to the US, it made me think outside of the box. I did not have to have a traditional paint brush or canvas in order to paint. Now, I use material that would have ended up in the garbage or goodwill and use them in my creation...

Al-Hussein: How did you receive treatment when you got sick?

Sarah Drake: I am fortunate because of my skin color and my citizenship that when I got sick they decided that I could not just go to a traditional clinic, and they took me to a hospital that foreign diplomats go to. So first, I thought that I had malaria and they never really did figure out what it was. But it was something that moves fast because just before being transported to the hospital and taken to the hospital bed, I was almost just delirious. I could not really think. I was in what would be an ICU here for 24 hours and had a nurse in my room, and it cost only 700.00 Dollars. I had access to that because of my status; when others people do not have access to that.

Al-Hussein: Who paid the hospital bill and how did you get back into painting?

Sarah Drake: Yes, I paid for it (smiling) or my parents actually. When I went, I had left art for many years and going there, I had no money to contribute and so I told the women that I would start painting. I also went with my painting that inspired me to go there, and I had never tried to exhibit my work or sell my work and so I told them I would do that and dedicate the money to the water project… I was very, very, shy... I know some people do not believe this when I tell them because they know me now... But the idea of putting my work out there scared me to death. It’s a very vulnerable thing to put yourself out there like that.  Also, when it came to the first show, I was like no, I do not want to do this but was motivated by the women.  I was like wow! You are really selfish; You are so scared to put yourself out there but if you do not do this, the women are going to die because they do not have access to clean water.  My being into art is different from other artists.

Al-Hussein: How does it feel being an artist?

Sarah Drake: It feels really great. I did not go into it for the glamour, the name recognition, the prestige or anything like that; it was totally the motivation from the women in the village. Within the first year of being back, I enter something in New York City Manhattan; I got in and won an award and that got me invited to an exhibition in Moscow and we are the first American to have our exhibit there .. Now I have a piece their permanent collection. That also got me invited to another exhibition in London.

Al-Hussein: did you go to those exhibits?

Sarah Drake: No, I do not’ go there but my art work did, to London and Moscow. I have had nine solo shows in the last year and a half. I took myself out of the picture, so it is constantly growing. I took myself out of it because I am doing it for them, so it really motivated me to try constantly to improve what I am doing to attract people to support my work.

Al-Hussein: Have you had any formal training as an artist is that why you did in school?

Sarah Drake: No, I have not had any formal training since high school. It has all been self-thought. I do not usually even know what I am going to create before I start painting. Sometimes I may have an idea but I do not’ sketch it out. Even myself, I do not know what it might end out being. Even if I start with an idea, I do not know what it might end up with. 

Al-Hussein: What inspire you as an artist? I know you said that the women in the village played a part. Can we say that they are the reason behind your arts?

Sarah Drake: The women in Burkina Faso got me out of my little bubble…As far as the work that I am creating is concerned; I do a lot of social justice work.  So it has always been things like that that inspire me. It could be things that I see because I am very visual; I see a lot of colors.

After her trip to Africa, Miss Drake founded “herARTS in Action” now a 501c3 (non-profit) and Sarah Drake LLC (for-profit) where she is an artist, conducts teaching artist residencies, facilitates training and coordinates projects/events. Sarah has a beautiful daughter called Tabara who is also an inspiration behind some of her arts.

Besides her water project in Burkina Faso, Sarah has also joined the fight against Ebola in West Africa. The native from Long Prairie, Minnesota seem always to have her eyes out to help others.

Sarah has exhibited her artwork internationally in New York, Moscow and London, received awards and has a piece in the permanent collection at the Marina Tsvetaeva Museum and Cultural Center in Moscow.

She has a Master’s of Science degree in Social Responsibility and her undergraduate degree focused on Ethnic Studies and Geography, both from St. Cloud State University, and design diploma from St. Cloud Technical & Community College.


Discussing with Sarah Drake
Sarah Drake Art
Sarah Drake Arts
Tmz Liberia Magazine
Sarah Drake and her daughter Tabara
Sarah Drake Arts
Sarah Drake Arts
Chatting with Sarah Drake

For more of Sarah's work, visit her websites @ http://www.herartsinaction.com/  http://www.sarahdrakeart.com/news


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