Valerie Piraino

Mbabane 2015

I’m a Rwandan-American artist and I spent my formative years living between Sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. Having a transnational identity has completely shaped my life as an artist… the flip side of that is that I’ve felt alienated because of my identity. Not everyone has the patience or interest in hearing a complicated answer to, “where are you from?” Art has provided a platform for belonging and expressing nuanced ideas. I want to give form to complex identity and experiences, in order to champion expressing difference. That’s at the heart of what I do. And that’s what I think is at the heart of cultural diplomacy - giving voice, freedom, and capacity to expressing multiplicity.

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Valerie Piraino is an artist from NYC who, in her studio practice, makes work that reflects how landscape, economy and history shape the African Diaspora. Piraino was invited to participate in an artist exchange in Swaziland in March of 2015, in preparation for a site specific commission for Art in Embassies. During her exchange, she was able to visit a variety of places where she could investigate some of these practices in more depth, and that included visits to a sugar plantation, a tour of a timber factory, a textile factory, a game park and basket weaving studio.
The itinerary for the exchange was developed in collaboration between the embassy staff, Art in Embassies, and the artist …. and left Valerie with a plethora of experiences and different perspectives of Swaziland. The overall artist exchange program made a big impression on me and I hope to reflect that in my work. ”. In addition to the visits to the commercial enterprises, Piraino visited a number of art and craft galleries, including the Ngwenya Glass Gallery, the Yebo Art Gallery-Guava Gallery, The Gallery.Com, and Indingilizi Art Gallery.

“I’ve been working as an artist in New York City for the last decade and it has become next to impossible to travel longer distances. The Art in Embassies program afforded me an incredible opportunity to travel to Swaziland to inspire this upcoming commission. Nothing can replace personal experience. Google Earth can only do so much! To be able to go on such a substantial trip, especially in my role as an artist, and to be completely immersed in a different culture and landscape is what I dream about.” After her successful Artist Exchange in Swaziland in March of 2015, the artist is now back in her studio, working on what will be her site specific commission for the new U.S. Embassy in Mbabane. Taking her cues from her recent trip and with additional research, her proposed sculptural installation will incorporate both modern and traditional materials, offering the future visitors to the U.S. Embassy, mirrored versions of Swaziland