Travel is at the core of Tereneh Idia’s work in art and fashion, so it may just be fate that her next project will be assembled in an airport.
Idia, the founder and creative director of Idia’Dega, a collaboration of women artisans from around the world, will spend June at Pittsburgh International Airport as the artist-in-residence, designing clothing and accessories inspired by and created for travelers.
“Traveling has been a big part of the way that I create art,” said Idia, who got her master’s degree at a Kenyan university and taught in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for two years. “For me, doing something with the airport made sense.”
The Pittsburgh native will spend two days a week at the airport talking to travelers and staff while cutting and sewing the pieces she’s envisioning. And she’s not just bringing in boxes of materials (although she’s excited about 30 yards of vintage felt she found at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse) – she’s relying on travelers and the airport to contribute.
Along with some abandoned objects from PIT’s lost and found, Idia is hoping visitors will pass along items common to air travel – such as neck pillows, eye masks, earbuds – that she can turn into something else entirely.
“It just fits in perfectly with my fashion design philosophy, which is kind of, ‘What can you make out of something you already have? Can you repurpose something you already own before you buy something new?’” she said.
Everything will be made by hand and guided by anecdotes she hopes people will share as they pass by her custom table in the Airside Terminal. In fact, Idia might even give away some of her work to visitors who stop by to talk to her.
“I want to create something that would be relevant for travel, so I’m going to be creating pieces that you can wear on the plane that would make your flight hopefully more enjoyable,” she said, citing slippers, fashionable earplugs and scarves as possible examples.
Idia’s residency is special for another entirely unrelated reason: Her father previously staged an exhibition of his own work at the airport.
Wooden sculptures created by Thaddeus Mosley were installed at the airport for a few months beginning in October. And while the reception for the unveiling of that exhibition focused on his world-renowned art, it also sparked his daughter’s idea of a travel-inspired fashion line.
“I had no idea how much art was at the airport until that night,” she said. “And I didn’t know that there were residencies. I didn’t know anything about any of it. And just walking around and looking at all the art, I thought, ‘Wow, you know what would be really cool …?’”
That idea was strongly embraced by Rachel Rearick, arts and culture manager at PIT, so she took it to the Art in the Airport Advisory Committee.
“When Tereneh submitted a proposal to the airport, our team was immediately intrigued,” Rearick said. “And in working with her over the past few months to prepare for this residency, it has become increasingly clear what a thoughtful artist practice she maintains, with her global perspective shining through.”
Idia is the latest artist to collaborate with PIT and the Office of Public Art, which helps operate the Artist-in-Residence program, following a yearlong project created by Blaine Siegel, who expects to unveil his final work this summer.
“The Artist-in-Residence Program at PIT provides a unique opportunity for artists and the airport community to collaborate in finding creative strategies to connect visitors, travelers and staff to the rich cultural assets of the airport and the Pittsburgh region,” said OPA project manager Derek Reese. “Tereneh’s practice as an artist using fashion as her medium will be a fresh and unexpected approach to exploring those connections.”
The committee has already chosen the next artist-in-residence, master puppet maker Cheryl Capezzuti. Details on her project will be released in the coming months, Rearick said.