Posted by Kay.
Gabrielle Smith is used to telling stories. Whether through graphic design, curated content or moving imagery, her work with global companies such as Adidas, TEDx and ITV has led her to channel her creative storytelling skills into the award winning cultural platform, The:nublk, now in its seventh year.
Showcasing contemporary creatives with a focus on Africa’s huge diaspora, Gabrielle’s keen collaboration brings inspiring and often untold stories to an international audiences. I caught some time with Gabrielle to find out more about her influences, her drive and her connection with the international art community to leverage artists of African decent.
I started The:Nublk back in 2008 but for at least two years before that I’d been wanting to explore the ways in which a person’s cultural heritage can impact upon the work they create. It began as a personal exploration project, during the final year of my Graphic Design degree, to challenge myself to make Black History Month in the UK relevant to me as a creative of Afro-Caribbean descent. For 30 days I posted culturally-relevant images, quotes and videos as well as reaching out to people who I knew or whose work I admired to ask them about their creative journey and to showcase their work.
In terms of connecting with the international art community, I’ve got to give credit to my incredibly supportive network of friends and readers who embrace what The:nublk is about and make me aware of artists, events and other cool things that are happening.
I’m shifting the focus of The:nublk towards events/experiences. Having started the site as a personal challenge to expose myself to global arts and culture it’s definitely grown in ways I’d never have thought. The site won a Black Weblog Award in 2011 and has been featured on many other sites. This global recognition has lead to other opportunities such as speaking at Social Media Week Lagos and Google as well as becoming a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts.
I’m super excited about the latest incarnation of The:nublk. Over the past few years I’ve curated some really well-received events from exhibitions on Black Fatherhood, to the 25th Anniversary screening of ‘Do The Right Thing’ that Spike Lee himself applauded. While the blog has been an integral part of The:nublk experience, getting the chance to bring people together on a global scale to connect, collaborate and inspire is a challenge that I’m passionate about and I’m always on the look out for new opportunities.
It’s interesting that, although I’m based in London, the majority of The:nublk’s readership is located in the States. Although I feel more aware and connected to creatives here than before, it was initially harder to identify work created by artists of African descent in the UK than it was for the US and or African countries.
Often, gaining US recognition for their work seems to mark a tipping point at which their visibility to a more mainstream audience takes off. It’s a shame that this has to be the case but it’s improving – more people are taking initiatives to highlight areas which they feel are unseen and creating their own platforms to share it with the masses.
There are an increasing number of sites and organisations like ARC Magazine, Repeating Islands, 4 Corners, African Digital Art and the AACDD that do a really great job of being go-to creative hubs showcase the work of artists from Africa and diaspora communities. Instagram and Tumblr over the last few years have also become good platforms for spotting emerging talent.
My experience as a graphic designer has been a positive one. It’s something I was encouraged to embrace from a young age. I’d always wanted to be a designer and I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to hone my craft through work for companies like ITV News, Adidas and TEDx. Looking back the path I’ve taken is an exciting one although at times I’m so focused on what’s coming that I don’t always take the time to fully appreciate the moment.
A motion graphic designer is responsible for transforming graphic elements (text, images, video etc) into moving/animated visuals.
I spent almost seven years as a designer for ITV News which is specifically broadcast design but you’ll find motion graphic designers working on anything from music videos, film title sequences, TV ads and also live events such as award shows and concerts (I’m usually the person paying more attention to the visuals than the actual performance itself!).
For me, collaboration is very important. Whether it’s sharing ideas or creating a physical product, collaboration helps foster a way of thinking that encourages you to build with others and tap into resources or skills you may not already have. This is something I’ve been able to build on by not only forming collaborative partnerships with likeminded platforms such as Caribbeing and fellow designers including illustrator/author Andrea Pippins but also using my skills as a graphic designer to consult on projects, something I was able to do whilst working with actor/philanthropist Gbenga Akinnagbe on his socially conscious clothing label Liberated People.
Massively. The digital landscape has changed a lot since I launched The:nublk but of the blog’s success has been due to the accessibility that the Internet has allowed.
I do empathise with artists who may not have a prominent social presence or those who want to focus more on creating work rather than being ‘seen’. The digital world has definitely created a pressure that didn’t exist before. For the most part though, the Internet has been an enabling tool.
Children of the Gap was inspired by a series of photos featuring Ghanaian-American artist Kojo Owusu-Kusi called “Too Black for Brooklyn, not African Enough for Accra” in which he references being ‘a child of the gap.’
The exhibition, which launches on March 25th in Hackney, will delve into the many ways in which a new generation of artists explore and experience cultural duality. The show will provide a space for creatives who often find themselves in a state of limbo between their experience of being born or raised in the West whilst also being part of a more distant, but no less rich cultural heritage.
We first featured Kojo’s work on the site in 2011 so it’s great to have been able to stay connected with what he’s been doing and to work on this project in London!
This is an interesting question. I think representation is incredibly important especially as a child as it helps you see the possibilities of what you can become in life.
I know for some artists (particularly in the UK -even though aspects of Black culture are popular in society ), choosing to identify as a ‘black artist’ can be translated as limiting to a certain extent. This is challenge I’ve had to face when promoting the site.
I feel filmmaker Cecile Emeke’s quote in our interview with her sums up the complexity of identity and its influence on a creative’s work: “I wouldn’t say I intentionally frame my films around blackness, womanhood or any other socio-political issue, but those issues frame and centre themselves around me and my existence; I merely respond to them.”