Tajah Olson was born in Lilongwe, the capital of the African country of Malawi. “My artwork is inspired by my memories of home and my maternal grandmother Aswesi: strong, tough, yet kind-hearted,” says Olson. “Most of all, my art celebrates the strength and beauty of tribal African women.”
Eventually, Tajah left Malawi and travelled to Canada, to live with her dad’s family and attend high school in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Her Canadian aunts and grandmother encouraged her creativity, plying her with paints and art supplies while pushing her to try new things. She found inspiration in fashion, bright colors, and the beauty of nature.
In Victoria, home to the iconic 20th century Canadian painter Emily Carr, she started taking her passion more seriously. She experimented with fabric and painting outdoors. She began making self-portraits, which helped her express her identity issues as a young African woman dealing with a new life, Western family, and culture.
Like many young women the world over, Olson thought she would like to be a model, but her Canadian aunts persuaded her that fashion design was a better option. She studied fashion design at a private college in Victoria, and then found work in a screen-printing shop. Olson later went on to complete a degree program at the prestigious Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. Since graduating, she has spent years developing her art practice while working a wide array of jobs (including teaching African dance and working as senior care taker).
She appeared on Canada’s Got Talent in 2011, showcasing her dance, body paint, and costumes. ”My body is my canvas,” she explained during an appearance in 2015 on the Canadian reality show Crash Gallery. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/crashgallery/tajah-olson-turns-her-body-into-a-remarkable-living-canvas-1.3280556
A big break came when the City of Seattle bought Three of Tajah’s works for their Municipal Tower Gallery. By then, Tajah was working with large-scale photo-based images using herself as the model and her own body paint and costumes to depict powerful icons of African womanhood. She currently shows her work in Vancouver and New Orleans, and continues to develop her art practice. She hopes that her message of strength, beauty and positivity resonate with women everywhere.
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