Ubuntu: I am because we are, an installation that explores the vital and significant role of women, especially the lives of immigrant women, whose daily labor and work, necessary to their families and livelihood, often goes unnoticed. In this sense, Ubuntu is a group portrait, celebrating the familial and societal impact of their lives and work. 

The installation consists of Ankara fabric scraps (African wax print) collected by the artist from seamstresses across Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, and New York. The collected scraps symbolically represent the shops women traditionally visit to buy special occasion clothing, such as dresses for weddings and funerals. For his installation, Tijay trims the Ankara fabric scraps into rectangular shapes and pastes them on yards of stiff fabric with a white glue. The swaths of thick fabric create a sort of wall that can suspend in and cover an area, transforming space and surrounding the viewer. The sense of total immersion created by the fabric, mirroring traditional brick arrangements, highlights the beauty of Ankara fabrics and symbolically emphasizes African heritage and shared immigration histories. The dynamic installation also highlights the traditional arts found in Sirigu, Ghana – a village known for murals created primarily by women and a lively arts community. 

Another component of the installation are portraits of women created using an airbrush application technique with black and white acrylic paint on stiff fabric. In 2013, the artist solicited a call for portraits of women on social media – this collection of images comes from this call and depicts real women from a diverse range of experiences and lives. The artist states that his use of online imagery as source material for these portraits “breaks the shackles” of traditional portraiture that typically uses a live model. He rearranges the ears, nose, and mouth in the portraits so that a new image is created. There is a universal undertone to the installation through the collected fabrics and portraits that highlight the commonalities of all people and our shared experiences.