The Atlanta Artist Building A Visual Language Of The Diaspora

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Ato Ribeiro sits in a room filled with his artwork Represented by Lisa Sette Gallery, Atlanta artist Ato Ribeiro maintains a studio spacious enough to accommodate areas for both assembly and showcase.

Born in Philadelphia, raised in Accra, Ghana, and now based in Atlanta, Ato Ribeiro’s entire life has mirrored the history of the Black diaspora in the United States. It’s an eternal dialogue embedded within the artist’s patchworked wooden mosaics: a creative series that masterfully merges narrative-rich emblems borrowed from ancestral textile traditions. Among these: Ghanaian kente and adinkra symbols espousing age-old proverbs and African American quilting patterns originally used to record history and send covert messages.

Ribeiro’s intention? To build a shared Black visual language that transcends continents and centuries. “I want to celebrate the stories of our people,” the artist explains, “and the ways we’ve always talked to each other through textiles.” 

Ato Ribeiro working on his art

Working in the natural sunlight Ribeiro employs a Dremel tool to carve into sections of his wooden mosaics. This process removes any visible glue from assembly while creating additional textured areas and depth.

Ato Ribeiro stands in front of a patterned wood wall holding one of his wooden sculptures

The posterior of the artist's sculptures reveals the intricacies of his process—melding nearly two dozen wood species.

a man's hand spreading glue across a small wooden panel

Preparing to adhere finished wooden tiles, he uses a squeegee tool to spread wood glue across plywood backing.

Tabletop scattered with notebooks, inspiration drawings, tools and small wooden mosaic tiles

Ribeiro's work table displays a vast array of creative plans.


Exploring this diasporic dialogue since 2017, Ribeiro’s practice emerged when he was a graduate student of printmaking, increasingly frustrated by the field’s singular focus on European lithography. “Judging from the curriculum, you would think that Africans never participated in print history,” the artist reveals. “I wanted to show how we’ve always been part of those conversations, using textiles to communicate in similar ways here and in Africa.”

The artist chose his medium while working as a woodshop technician during art school, suddenly finding himself surrounded by scrap planks. In a nod to the ingenuity of Black artists who repurposed discarded fabric, he transformed these cast-off materials into something beautiful and new. 

His process begins with collecting, sawing and gluing wood strips together, then slicing the assemblages into 1/8-inch components. Sanded to an impeccable smoothness and preserved with oil, the resulting cross sections of contrasting wood grains and species (whether purpleheart hardwood or pine plywood) reveal complex messages. 

Taken together, these emblems collectively build meaning. Visually similar shapes—such as the Nsaa adinkra (a squarish symbol originating from a West African proverb) and nine-patch quilt—tie diverse traditions together, revealing “a conversation across millennia,” Ribeiro explains. Others, like the Nkyinkyim (which represents life’s twisted journey) poignantly resonate with safe house quilts that once signaled shelter for runaways traveling the Underground Railroad. 

Advancing this remarkable narrative, Ribeiro’s striped Asafo Flag #864 was inspired by historic flags both Ghanaian (Fante Asafo military heralds) and American (the Star-Spangled Banner)—more specifically, a flag quilted by his ancestor Priscilla Young in 1865. Commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, this particular flag weaved a tangible record of “the first time this community marched together in freedom,” Ribeiro notes.

Discovering this intimate connection to a piece of Black textile history “was such a beautiful, serendipitous thing,” the artist expresses. “It felt like an affirmation from the ancestors.” Together, they become a call and response echoing through time, rooted in fabric and wood.

PHOTOS: GREGORY MILLER