Foundry Art Centre Artist Spotlight: Sofi Seck, Building a STEAM School
As you approach Studio 14 of the Foundry Art Centre, you see something completely different. Colorful, woven baskets sit on display and decorative bowls line the walls. There is a divider separating a portion of the room where the artist is at work.
That artist is Sofi Seck. Originally from Senegal, Africa, she specializes in basket making. Buying these baskets, however, make more of an impact than meets the eye.
An Excursion for an Education
When Seck was only 15 years old, she came to the U.S. to get a formal education. In the beginning, she struggled to find her place in America and consistently had thoughts of returning home to Senegal. After being in the U.S. for a few years, it was time for Seck to further her education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she was able to branch out into her newfound American culture.
“College is where I found my wings, but in finding my wings I went so far into trying to not be African that I lost the uniqueness that is being from Senegal,” Seck said.
Connecting Back to Culture
After college, Seck suffered a serious back injury from powerlifting that took her out of the gym and left her bedridden for months. The need for a change led her back to her culture. While bedridden, she wrote up her plan for her shop called Expedition Subsahara.
Her vision was to connect her American and African cultures through her art. Because education was highly valued in her home, Seck decided she wanted to give the option for young Senegalese women to receive a formal education without leaving Senegal.
Seck knew she needed to cater to Senegal’s needs and decided to base her business around building a STEAM school in Senegal. STEAM is used to describe courses that focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Each item bought from Expedition Subsahara helps Seck get closer to funding the dream of opening the school and creating jobs in both America and Senegal.
Seck believes that Senegal lacks this kind of schooling and hopes to create an all-women establishment with space for 100 students. Seck is choosing to focus on young women because she explains that many people in Senegal live below the poverty line. If a family has one boy and one girl, they will only pay for the boy to further their education, because the girl is seen to be able to help around the house.
“If a young Senegalese girl wants to be a scientist, she shouldn’t have to leave her country, leave her space, leave her parents, just to have a formal education and see if she even likes that field,” Seck said.
To get to the point of simply opening the school, Seck must raise $200,000.
With her mission in mind and years of experience in basket weaving passed down by her mother, Seck decided to create baskets in order to share her culture and begin her journey with Expedition Subsahara.
“I can connect with my culture in such a unique way, but then I can also connect with my American culture by being able to present these things that they don’t see every day, “ Seck explained.
Currently, Seck is partnered with four artists living in Senegal who work for Expedition Subsahara full time. The products have now expanded from just baskets to including bags, wallets and jewelry.
Finding the Foundry
When Expedition Subsahara started, Seck was working out of her home. At a local craft show, during this time, she met one of the Foundry’s studio artists, Lydia Crespo. Crespo talked Seck into applying for a studio artist position to get her studio out of her home, but Seck was still wary about her medium of art being accepted.
She applied on her birthday in 2019 and got just what she wished for. In February, Seck was officially a Foundry artist.
So far, the shop has raised $30,000 towards the school after nearly two years in business. In the future, she hopes to have a storefront for Expedition Subsahara and create more job opportunities for artists in the U.S. and Senegal.
“I want to be the change that I want to see in the world and I think that by creating a company that is culturally relevant, I can create a conversation that my culture desperately needs,” Seck said.