Throughout his life and career, Saihou Omar Njie, aka SONJIE, has been educating and inspiring people with his craft. Known for his use of Batik-style art, dance, and mindfulness movement, he has developed his craft over the years in order to encourage and inspire others to be creative and innovative in their daily lives.
Batik is a fiber art method that is native to Java, Indonesia. It is a process in which cloth is colored and decorated with wax and dyes. In West Africa a similar process is employed, but instead of wax the artisans use mud as resist; hence the name, mud cloth. Batik became very popular in the United States during the 1960s.
Originally from the Gambia, Saihou immigrated to Pittsburgh, PA while he was still a young man. It is in Pittsburgh that he raised his family, launched his artistic career and achieved great success and recognition. He graced the cover of Pittsburgh Magazine in an article covering seven designers in Pittsburgh; was one of the Pittsburgh Courier's Fifty Men Of Excellence in 2013; Pittsburgh Circle of Courage Awards recipient; The Sankofa Keepers of the Flame Award winner. He was one of three jurors for the 2014 Three Rivers Arts Festival of Pittsburgh. Saihou also travels nationally to exhibit his work and has taken home a few Best of Show Awards over the years.
In 1997, Saihou guest-starred on an episode of the critically acclaimed PBS show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, in which he demonstrated how to create Batik art and sewed a vest for Mr. Rogers in the process! “That episode was very special to me,” Saihou recalls. “It was about sharing, and it was the only episode in which Mr. Rogers did not wear his signature cardigan. Instead, he wore my vest! What an honor!"
Saihou is a photographer, an accomplished clothing designer and tailor, a musician and dancer/choreographer. As a photographer, he received funding from the Pittsburgh Foundation for a portraiture project called Twinning. He travelled to The Gambia, Senegal and Ghana to find and match up one hundred people from these countries with their African American lookalikes or “twins.’ The project was completed in 2012.
Saihou especially loves being a Teaching Artist, a job he has been doing for over two decades. Through the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and ArtsErie, he does artist residencies in Elementary Schools, High Schools, Senior Centers and Community Centers in various counties in Pennsylvania. Most recently, he has completed work in Crawford County, at First and Second District Elementary Schools and Cambridge Springs Elementary, where he worked with students on a series of projects involving dance, movement, mural painting, and Batik artwork. At Wayne School, in Erie, Saihou completed a residency with the 6th grade in the school's Medal of Honor Program. The goal was to build among students a sense of mutual respect for diversity and for the contributions of others in the school community, by encouraging creative thinking and selflessness. The students used their artwork and apps on the iPad to express the values of sacrifice, courage and citizenship.
On reflecting on his life and career, Saihou says, “Everyday I wake up, I’m in school.... School of Life, in which I am constantly learning something new about life and myself. And my experiences inform my art." In other words, the teacher is also a student, but he has been able to take the lessons he’s learned over the years to help inspire his own students in their creative endeavors.
Saihou's purpose in life is to uplift the human spirit and to right wrong at every opportunity.