1-54 Spotlight | Dina Nur Satti

1-54 Spotlight, our captivating video & interview series that delves into the extraordinary stories behind our remarkable artists, returns. This unique series showcases the creativity, innovation and personalities of some of the most dynamic and meaningful voices operating within the contemporary African art sphere; offering a close-up look at the passion and dedication that motivates their work.

This short documentary (realised by Karim Hapette) features Dina Nur Satti, a Brooklyn-based ceramic artist and designer originally from Sudan and Somalia. It explores the captivating narrative behind her work, and her very intentional use of clay, shedding light on the artist’s profound connection to her lineage, which only deepens the resonance of the already highly impactful and grand sculptures she creates. Diving further into her creative landscape and methodologies, be sure to read the unique written interview conducted by Shaakirah Sivardeen, which further probes the array of nuances and motifs inherent to Dina Nur Satti’s coherently envisioned, and ever-evolving, artistic world.

You talk about your art being a reflection of your own personal development and self-work. Does that imply a correlation between your ‘best self’ and best work, or are you sometimes surprised? 

I absolutely feel like my work thrives when I’m taking care of myself. The way I experience it,  the creative act is a type of transmission and part of it is to take care of all the parts of you that are involved in bringing that transmission through. 

The personal development and self-work aspect is necessary in the framework of my practice because it is through this that I identify all the parts of my being that are getting in the way of the clarity of what wants to come forth and be expressed. 


As a child you would spend summers in Sudan visiting your grandparents and engaging with objects and rituals. How formative were these years in cultivating your artistic inclination? To what degree do these memories still imbue your work?

Spending summers in Sudan surrounded by my grandparents and extended family created a sense of identity that I didn’t fully become aware of until I started my ceramics practice. Growing up in the West and in globalised environments you learn to assimilate externally but the memories of my childhood with my family in Sudan speak to a much deeper part of myself that is the essence of who I am and not who I ‘appear’ to be. 

There is a beautiful interweaving that happens when people co-evolve with land over millenia and the music, objects, adornment, food, language, and customs and rituals that create a culture are a reflection of that intimate relationship. 

Through my research and relationship with clay, I have been able to come back to the rituals and celebrations I witnessed and took part in as a child and understand them from a more informed lens. This has also launched me into the study of mysticism and indigenous animism across the continent and diaspora, and an interest in the common thread that runs through all of these traditions. 


Despite your bachelor’s degree having had a focus on African and Middle Eastern culture, you acknowledge that it is objects that have taught you the most about pre-colonial Africa. What do objects encapsulate for you that academia does not? What does clay say about identity that people cannot?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that objects have taught me the most overall, but it was during a course in African Art History at the age of 20 that I learned more about pre-colonial Africa through the objects we were studying than I had in my education thus far. This experience is one of the experiences that  launched me into my journey and led me to eventually connect with clay. 

I became fascinated by the context in which these objects were used and wanted to understand why rituals and ceremonies were so important in every  indigenous tradition considering that they don’t make up a large part of today’s Western society and culture. I made friends with people who were learning directly from indigenous elders and who brought me into their  rituals. It was from there that I started to study the highly refined and evolved technology of indigenous rituals. And I say technology intentionally although it is not technology in the way we know it in the West—  it challenges our perception because it deals with the unseen. 

What I can say is that there is a type of knowledge that exists in intergenerational transmission, lived experience, and communal rituals that academia cannot teach. This is also where we can learn the non physical role of objects. 


You refer to clay as a medium that connects you to ‘a time before things were the way that they are’, also referencing your own lineage to be deeply rooted in ‘the mystical’. This feels highly evocative of other worldliness, spirituality, nostalgia and a deep respect for the past. How do these themes presently operate in your life and works?

One of the reasons I feel so drawn to mysticism is the depth of the understanding it has of the human experience. Mystical traditions around the world have a way of acknowledging collective themes that have multiple layers and meanings. 

One of the themes that I explore in my work is the longing for home. So many in the global South have either been forcibly displaced from our ancestral lands or have people in their lineages who were denied speaking their mother tongue and had their culture erased, at times in just one generation. 

The ripple effects of this trauma travel down through generations and express themselves often in forms of anxiety, depression, addiction, autoimmune diseases and other ailments. We might not even be aware of the source of this longing inherited as a result of generational trauma. 

This theme of craving for home or grief for something lost is one layer of the feeling that we seek. But on a deeper level, I connect to the Sufi concept of longing for the divine that is also reflected in the longing one feels for the beloved which can be divine or romantic. 

It’s a bittersweet feeling of pain  woven with nostalgic desire that is universal and that speaks to everyone in one way or another. 


You have ventured throughout Africa, from Morocco to Ethiopia, meeting the communities who still uphold ancient craft methods to research their use of objects in ceremonial traditions. How important is this experiential research to your creative practice? And how do the visits impact you on a personal level?

It’s really important for me to leave New York City in order to disconnect from one reality and reconnect with another. What I find impactful about these trips is that they are a time I dedicate to not being driven by deadlines and commitments but to follow a guidance that comes from not forcing any outcomes. A lot of the time on these trips I might have one idea of how things will go and I am pleasantly surprised with where the unexpected connections and people I meet lead me. 

These trips are very dear to me because I spend the better part of the year researching and learning, but the research must be done in conjunction with felt experience which is a completely different way of learning. On a personal level, these trips are alway deeply transformative and always result in a more focused and expansive practice when I return to the studio. 


You beautifully described how the chaos and vibrance of New York City both shapes and hones your craft, ironically facilitating stillness amidst the noise. Do you see any parallels between the daily Western culture you are surrounded by and the ones that your work reflects? What are the most notable differences?

A city like New York has so many cultures and subcultures. I think of them as multiple realities co-existing and overlapping with each other. The reason why I have been able to find such peace in the chaos is due in large part to the people I have encountered and with whom I have built a creative community over the past 19 years of living here. 

There are many artists and creatives in New York City that are exploring their art through the lens of ancestral spiritual practices and mysticism. We have such a diverse immigrant population in this city, with so many people from the African diaspora making home here that it makes sense that they seek each other. 

Many of us have been able to create a life that has one foot in the mainstream of society and another in the underground where we are building relationships rooted in mutual care, communal support, and ritual as a vehicle for honouring our ancestral lineages. 

Unfortunately, we are living in a society that has forgotten the importance of providing its members with the tools and context to navigate through the obstacles and challenges of life, while maintaining a healthy relationship with oneself and others. These tools and context are what our indigenous and mystical lineages can teach us. 


What is next? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? 

I just recently came back from almost two months in Kenya and I’m going back into the studio after a few months away from my practice. I’m really looking forward to seeing how my research over these past few months will translate into clay. I often come to the clay with no plan and allow what wants to come through the clay to shape itself into being, which is such a wonderful surprise every time.

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