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Interview With Artist And Illustrator Andrea Pippins

by Rose Miyonga

Andrea Pippins is an artist, illustrator and designer from Washington, D. C., whose work seeks to inspire a generation of women. Her first book, I Love My Hair is a colouring book that invites people of all ages and colours to celebrate their hair for its unique beauty. Her second book, Becoming Me, is a glorious exploration of what it means to be a young woman of colour. It asks us to doodle, scribble and write our own investigation into ourselves.

I spoke to her about beauty, creative arts, and the importance of self-expression.

becomingme1_1000Tell us a little about your upbringing.

I spent my early years, from the age of six months to four years, in a sewing studio in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. The studio was run by a French woman named Solange Cody and was occupied by a team of four women who spent their days constructing, hemming, and altering clothes. These ladies, except for one African American woman, were all immigrants—including my mother, who’s from Brazil. While my mother was sewing and fitting clothes, I would be drawing and colouring for hours. I believe that space planted the seeds for my own creativity; my love for textiles, patterns, and colour; and my desire to become an entrepreneur. But that all would come together much later. 

I didn’t really know about graphic design until I saw Halle Berry playing the role of Angela in the film Boomerang. Angela was an art director and artist, and it was my first time seeing a woman of colour doing that kind of work. Even though it was fiction, it blew me away. But it wasn’t until I started applying for college that I really learnt about careers in graphic design, or what was then called commercial art or graphic art. I applied to Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and though it took several tries because of a lacklustre portfolio, I was finally accepted into the design program. 

After working as a graphic designer at companies like Hallmark Cards and TV Land/Nick@Nite, I returned to Tyler and graduated with an MFA in Graphic and Interactive Design, so I could teach design at a college level. Eventually, I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a path as a full-time freelance designer and illustrator. Currently, my work is transitioning from graphic design to a focus on art and illustration. I’ve always solved design problems with illustration, not realising that that is where my skills and talent flourish.

aliciakeys-cargo_731Who influenced your perception of beauty growing up?

Aside from my mother, I would say the media heavily influence my perception of beauty. My mother had a subscription to Essence magazine, and I remember absorbing those pages filled with beautiful women. But I always saw it as a publication for adults. Where was the magazine featuring little girls who looked like me or had hair like me?

As a teen I loved Seventeen magazine, but honestly, at the time those pages didn’t show anyone who reflected me. So it was difficult to find style, hair, and makeup advice.

As a kid and teen I watched a lot of TV, and thank goodness it was during a time that black TV and film was doing so well. From TV shows like Living Single and A Different World to movies like Love Jones and Boomerang, I did have a lot of positive references that influenced my ideas of beauty. There could have been more, but having those showed me more of a range than what I see today.

Your first book ‘I Love My Hair’ was a great critical success. Where did the inspiration come from?

I Love My Hair happened when I met an art director at Random House and sent her some ideas for a colouring book last spring, none of which had anything to do with hair. After looking at my artwork, she responded asking if I’d be interested in doing a colouring book about hair, and I said, “OMG, of course.” I didn’t have a specific plan of what to include, I just knew that I wanted it to be fun and that I wanted to show a wide range of hairstyles and ideas of hair. There were 84 pages to fill, so it was a creative challenge to figure out what would be interesting and what would work in terms of filling it with colour. Because “hair” is so specific, and because I didn’t want it to be just about hairstyles, I had to be creative in my interpretations. So I explored abstract representations, lettering, and accessories and tools related to hair.

afroblue-thandiekayDo you think there is a gap in the market for more books celebrating women of colour?

I don’t know the numbers, so I can’t speak about the gap in the market for books celebrating women of colour, but I can speak about what stories are being celebrated and highlighted. I do think there is a gap in the kinds of stories that are told about women of colour, and a huge gap in what gets recognition, awarded, written about, etc. I assume that fewer of us get opportunities to write books, but also wonder if it’s really that fewer of us get recognized. Or a combination of both. Either way, it is frustrating.

Your new book, Becoming Me, deals with self-discovery and self-acceptance so beautifully. Tell us a little about your own journey of self-love.

Because of my family and community, I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of self. But in certain areas of my life, I can be a perfectionist, and at times this results in high expectations and me being hard on myself. In the last few years, I’ve learned to surrender, be easy, and give myself a break. This also means not working so much and allowing myself to just be.

If you could give the twelve-year-old Andrea one piece of advice, what would you say?

I would tell twelve-year-old Andrea to always be herself. That who she is enough, and that life is too short, so to not take things too seriously.

What role do you see the visual and creative arts having in dealing with some of the issues of our age?

I am a strong believer that image is power. Whether it’s in propaganda, a story being told, or an advertisement, an image really drives the message. The people behind media understand this and use images to tell how us how to see the world. And until we get people of colour behind the wheel as directors, producers, cinematographers, artists, and designers, we won’t be able to control how we are portrayed or the stories that are being told about us. In this way, we can give all people access to visual expression, which is important. The beauty, though, is that we live in a time when the tools to create images and tell stories are readily available. And people are taking advantage of it. We can already see how the media is shifting because of that access.

But on a micro level, being able to understand what you see is just as important as being able to read. So regardless of your level of interest in art and design, you need to be able to interpret the millions of messages being thrown at you everyday. You need to be able to decipher and question the intent behind an image. And with the arts being eliminated from our school programs, people aren’t developing that skill.

Having access to the visual arts is about self-expression AND developing a form of literacy.

becomingme2_1000Who are some of your favourite artists? Who inspires you?

My favourite artists are also people who inspire me, such as Emory Douglas, Kerry James Marshall, Sister Corita Kent, Frida Kahlo, Malick Sidibe, and Nina Chanel Abney, among many others.


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Featured image by Danielle Finney, all other images courtesy of Andrea Pippins

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ‘The New Face of Beauty: You’

By Oyin Akande

We are celebrating and you should be too. On Friday 21st, celebrated Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was announced as the commercial face of the new Boots No.7 campaign.

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Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Photo by Akintunde Akinleye

Chimamanda, who already has several critically acclaimed novels under her belt, TED talks viewed by millions and millions and a phenomenal cult following that includes Beyoncé, Zadie Smith, Dior and something like the entire population of Sweden, has just taken on the redefinition of the beauty industry.

What is really great is what this means for you. As the face of a huge beauty campaign, Chimamanda makes accessible the rosy and impossible fantasy of the beauty industry:

“I think much of beauty advertising relies on a false premise – that women need to be treated in an infantile way, given a ‘fantasy’ to aspire to… Real women are already inspired by other real women, so perhaps beauty advertising needs to get on board”, Chimamanda told Vogue in the November 2016 issue which is downloadable here. She challenges the ill-conceived unattainability of women represented in beauty campaigns, which leave the majority of women unrepresented and unable to relate. She has quite literally opened up the possibility that you- someone real- could be the next face of beauty.

What we really love though is that she has opened up a very public dialogue with feminism and make-up, two things long believed to be at odds. Where make-up has wrongly been understood to be a tool to hide yourself, Chimamanda is reclaiming it as a tool of precise autonomy over who you are and who you present to the world. Days before the campaign was announced, Chimamanda released an amazing feminist manifesto ‘Dear Ijeawele’, which you can view via her Facebook page. The campaign merges the voice of contemporary feminism with the face of a real woman and we love it.

Watch the No.7 Campaign Video:

 

We invited Chimamanda to our first ever blogpost- within the context of beauty and makeup- back in 2013 when we asked her to do the ThandieKay Q+A. We would never have imagined then that any make-up brand would use a grown-up woman of substance as a make-up ambassador let alone one of colour, and for such a mainstream, British brand. It gives us great pleasure to realise that little girls going into Boots will now see a magnificent role model, whose beauty is secondary to her wisdom, fearlessness and intelligence.

What is your earliest make-up memory?

Six years old, at my mother’s wonderfully cluttered dressing table in Nsukka, trying on her very sticky lip gloss.

I feel most beautiful when…

I am in a good mood; I am fit and exercising regularly; I am wearing stable high heels; I have managed to do a flawless ‘cat-eye.’

When you were a child, what was your Mother’s beauty routine?

She moisturized her entire body very diligently. Ashy skin was unacceptable. I remember watching her after her bath, how she would reach across her shoulder, hand coated in cream, to get as much of her back as she could. She liked perfumes. There were heady scents in her bedroom. I remember the green POISON, the fawn CHLOE. She wore perfume to sleep. There was nail polish, powder compacts, eye pencils. She always wore tasteful makeup. My mother is one of the most beautiful people I know, and I thought so even as a child.

Is make-up a chore or a delight?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Thandie Newton at the Toronto Premiere of 'Half of a Yellow Sun' (2013)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Thandie Newton at the Toronto Premiere of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ (2013)

It’s become an absolute delight. I was once interested only in the most minimal makeup – colorless mascara, that sort of thing – but became more interested in make-up when I started using it to try and look a little older. I was so tired of being told I looked like a child. Now, I like to try new things, and I like the temporary transformation that make-up can bring.

Did your father refer to your Mother’s beauty, and how?

Yes. “Nekene nne unu,” he would say – “look at your mother!’ – when my mother was all dressed for church on Sunday mornings, sequinned george wrapper on her waist, a sparkly blouse, a beautifully-structured gele on her head. She knew he thought she was beautiful, you could tell.

What’s been your worst beauty mishap?

I once decided I wanted a funky afro. So I colored my hair in my bathroom, with three different color kits because the first two didn’t quite show. The result was orange hair. But what brought despair was how dry and brittle my hair became.

If you could give one beauty gift what would it be?

A good facial moisturiser.

Where’s the craziest place you’ve done your make-up?

In a narrow train toilet, although that was less crazy and more uncomfortable.

What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry?

A greater range of colors (and undertones) in foundations and tinted moisturisers. A greater awareness that dark-skinned women have enormous buying power and are as much interested in beauty as anyone else.

When was the last time your mascara ran, and why?

Some years ago in my hometown. It was very hot, I’d been outside for a while, and suddenly felt a gooey heaviness around my eyes.

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Buy Boots’ No.7 products here.

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Backstage at Felabration with Yagazie Emezi

By Rose Miyonga

Backstage at Felabration 2015. Photography: Yagazie Emezi

Nearly two decades since his death, the legacy of Afrobeat pioneer and human rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti (born Olufela Ransome-Kuti) is only growing with the years. The British Library exhibition on West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song paid homage to him last winter as one of Nigeria’s most prominent and prolific cultural figures. There is a rising cult interest in African funk music, a genre within which he is a crucial voice and his life and musicality echo in the contemporary hybrid of protest and music that is the annual Afropunk festival, a counter-cultural platform for asserting black identity and social activism, which took place in London for the first time on September 24th.

But closer to his Fela’s own hometown, the arts and music festival Felabration brings hundreds of local and international musicians, performers and artists to the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos to celebrate the life and work of the multi-instrumentalist, composer, maverick and activist. Started in 1998, the year after Fela’s death, by his daughter, Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti, the festival aims both to celebrate his artistic and cultural contribution to Nigeria and keep his legacy alive. The festival ended this Saturday and to commemorate we are excited to share the work of Nigerian documentary photographer, Yagazie Emezi, who attended Felabration in 2015 and photographed the backstage experience. The result was a stunning series of photographs, which she has kindly agreed to share with us.2015-12-29-at-11-04-34-am-768x500

When did you first become aware of Fela Kuti? What are some of your first memories?

I actually didn’t know of Fela while growing up in Nigeria. I’m sure his music surrounded me at certain points, but I would never have been able to pick it out as a child.  My earliest memories of Fela are blurry, but I am sure I was already in university in the States by then. His sounds came in through a friend’s computer and from there, I went on to find out more about him on my own.

Why did you want to document Felabration 2015?

I was drawn to the crowd that the celebration attracts. It was just one of those events that I had heard everyone talking about so the hype drew me in.

How do you feel Fela’s legacy lives on?

More than anything, Fela lives on in his children. Seun and Femi still perform on stage regularly and the energy and spirit never stops.

felabrationyagaziethandiekay

You chose to photograph behind the scenes of the event. What inspired this?

I had a friend who was performing at Felabration which is a big deal so I offered to capture her on stage. I’ve been to Shrine on its quiet days and was always curious about what was behind all the doors. 

What did the back-rooms feel like on the night?

Most rooms are packed with performers. One room is for Femi Kuti’s family and friends. The others are for performers and dancers. Everyone was excited, but you could tell the experienced artists from the first-timers. There was smoke in the air, people were relaxed, lovers mixing with friends, supporters blending in with performers, everything was positive and encouraging.

IMG_2921The photos you produced and so beautiful and intimate. How did you manage to get such candid images?

The spirit of Felabration is that of openness and acceptance, you’re in a safe space when you’re in Shrine. Holding a camera is a common sight and people are very receptive.

Will you be a part of Felabration again this year?

If I manage to snag some special access passes, I will definitely do my best! Some good photographs are created in the less accessible spaces!

Felabration 2016 wrapped up Saturday and we are already looking forward to next year. Check out this years’s performances on Instagram and follow the event on Twitter

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Check out our feature on Yagazie Emezi and her many creative outlets here (among them photography, cartoon, documentary and straight-talking YouTube videos). Follow her adventures on Instagram  and Twitter. You can also watch her antics on Youtube!

Follow Rose on Twitter and on Instagram

Interview With Photographer Ronan Mckenzie

Interview by Rose Miyonga

I first came across Ronan Mckenzie’s photography in December 2015, around the time of her Dalston exhibition A Black Body, and have been a fan ever since, so I was delighted when she agreed to share some of her stories and inspirations with us.

Her photographs capture the epitome of ‘London cool’, but also convey a deeper message: the celebration and demystification of the black body. As such she challenges the mainstream representations that fear and fetishise Blackness, refusing to be silenced and exploring the diversity of faces, bodies and opinions that exists.

ronan-mckenzie-thandiekay-com

Mckenzie has been featured in Dazed and Confused, i-D and Vogue, to name but a few.

She may be young, shockingly young considering the depth and breadth of her work, but don’t be fooled, the 21 year old knows what she’s talking about.

Where were you born? Tell us a little about your childhood

I’m 21, I was born and live in Walthamstow – North East London. I had loads of fun as a kid, there were some tough times, but i have a lot of funny and happy memories; one time my brother took a biscuit without asking from the cupboard so my mum took us all to the police station and got a police officer to tell us off, I never stole anything again.

FAVOURITE

When did you first pick up a camera? 

We were always around cameras when we were young, my parents took a lot of photos and videos of us, and my mum always gave us disposable cameras or Polaroids to take on school trips, but I only thought of photography as a career early last year.

ronan-mckenzie-thandiekay-com
I heard that you dropped out of Central Saint Martin’s after two weeks. What happened? 

ronanmotherthandiekay

From the ‘A Black Body’ series

It just wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel like myself – I was coming home feeling low and didn’t put any passion into any of my work so I knew there was no point me being there. I was going to try and stick it out until Christmas but I just trusted my instinct and jumped ship after 2 weeks. 

Your December 2015 exhibition ‘A Black Body’ was a wonderful exploration of black identity. What messages were you trying to share?

I just wanted to show black beauty and diversity, that was the main idea. I felt and still feel for the most part that black people were always portrayed as one type of person in the media, and I wanted to create a space full of different black faces, bodies and personalities.

ronan-mckenzie-thandiekay-com

You’ve been featured in Vogue, Wonderland, Dazed and Confused and many more big fashion publications. Was it hard to get exposure in mainstream magazines? Was it something you sought? 

Well when I first started it was more about getting my work seen by as many people as possible so I would shoot and send it off to small magazines, websites and anyone who would take it. When it came to my exhibition, because I’d been interning and assisting in the fashion industry since I was 16, I had a few friends that helped me get exposure on big platforms like i-D and Dazed. It is difficult to get exposure in mainstream magazines, and now that I know my work and my style, I’m not about just pushing my work to anyone and more about selecting what’s best for me and creating my own platforms..

 ronanmckenzietk

What needs to change in the way the fashion industry treats women, and especially women of colour? 

I think this is a very exciting time for women, and all creatives because opportunities are broad, and if you work hard you can achieve. I think with platforms like Gal Dem, ethnic minority women have a safe place to speak openly on their experiences which is amazing. We need that to become mainstream. 

mckenzieronanthandiekay

 You always bring out great depth in your subjects. How do you choose your models? 

I just shoot anyone that catches my eye, it’s difficult to explain but I love faces that for some reason jump out at me. It could be that I see the kindness in their eyes or they just have incredible ears haha, but it just catches my eye.

What do you find beautiful?

A warm soul.

ronanmckenzieWho are some of your mentors? Who inspires you? 

At the moment I’m so inspired by Simone Biles!! 4’9, from a non conventional family, defied all odds and is world champion! That shows true determination and passion!

What are you working on right now? 

I have a few things in the pipeline.. 😉 

11. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Being happy working on wherever my path leads me! 🙂 

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Q+A with Hardy Indiigo

How to describe Hardy Indiigo?  This multi-level-creative force of a man exudes the kind of positive energy that just makes you want to bake in the warmth of it. Hardy (born Hardy Muanza) was born in Congo, raised in France is now based in New York where he continues to develop his talents as a creator whilst working with various artists in “creating innovative sounds and captivating musical textures.”

Hardy Iniigo thandiekay.com

hardy indiigo mdna madonnaKeeping the party moving..

In 2012 Hardy produced and co wrote the hit song “Superstar” on Madonna‘s MDNA album as well as collaborating as a musical director and Dj for her Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project, the Macy’s Launch event for the Material Girl clothing line as well as many other private functions (Hardy “kept the party moving” as Dj for Madonna’s 2012 and 2013 Oscars party).

Stella Santana

Stella Santana

In 2014, Hardy produced 4 songs for America’s Got Talent finalist Kehlani as well as producing 10 tracks for Stella, (Carlos Santana‘s daughter) including a duo with the Carlos himself.

…with a passion for fashion…

Hardy’s love of music and passion to create also lead to his first accessories and leather goods capsule collection. A sneaker collaboration with Italian sportswear brand Fila that is expected to be released in fall 2016 as well as a collaboration with Italian eyewear brand Glassing. Keeping up?

…and giving.

Feeling the desire to help kids in need Hardy founded Invest In Kids (called iiKids), a foundation that empowers kids through education, arts and culture. Hardy and iiKids donate a percentage of his earnings to non-profit organizations, charities and foundations involved in helping kids such as our friend Noella’s Malaika Foundation, a school in Congo that empowers women through education.

For us, like all the men we invite to our Q+A,  he embodies qualities of manhood that we love to represent.

 

hardy indiigo interview thandiekay blogDo you remember the first time you found a girl or woman ‘beautiful’?

Yes it was at school I was like 7 years old, her name was Laura Crispy.

 

Can you describe why you found her ‘beautiful’??

She was blonde with blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Everybody wanted to be with her, I didn’t pay her no mind until she did and we became very close. The best part about it is that she was loyal. She didn’t care about nobody or nothing else but me. That was attractive to me.

 

How important is physical beauty important to you and why?

As a human being  and especially as men we are attracted by what we see first then everything else. Physical beauty plays a part until it doesn’t, it’s one of the element that defines attraction. But physical beauty is not enough and will never be for the simple fact that our body transforms as we get older, and only the internal beauty will live as long as we have a soul.

 

What do you find beautiful about your mother? hardy indiigo baby thandiekay blog

She’s physically a beautiful woman, and a great mom. She raised 4 kids on her own as a young Congolese fresh out the plane. The sacrifices she made, the education she gave us is priceless. Even if a lot of mistakes were made she stood by us and did everything she could. That’s a beautiful person in my eyes.

 

What do you find beautiful about women now that you are an adult?

Values and principles. I get it from my mama. That’s the most important thing for me. This society breeds lost souls, and push insecurity to the extreme. Social medias are the best platform for it.

 

Have women’s looks become more or less important in our society?

Way more important. Let’s take social media for example. If you look at instagram, almost everything is related to women is about Fitness/Yoga, Hair/Make up, Fashion, strippers, Kardashians. Everything is about appearances, not much about philanthropy or real women empowerment. And it’s all over the platform whether you follow them or not.

 

hardy indiigo instagram thandiekay blog

“Work and pleasure. With the homie for the Indiigo & Mozie hat collection”

If you had a daughter who did not possess what society perceives as beauty and felt insecure about this, what would you say to her?

Beauty comes from within, that’s the real beauty. You will always be beautiful in my eyes and those who love you for who you are. Regardless of what people may say or think always know that you are beautiful inside and outside and let no one ever make you think or feel otherwise.

 

If your daughter attracted unwarranted attention from men because she was perceived as beautiful, what would you say to her?

Be careful, protect yourself and your heart by any means necessary. Whoever you are attracted to, make sure he has values and principles that match or complete yours. Have integrity and get the respect you deserve when its due. Never lose sight of your life’s goals. Compromise but don’t lose yourself or waste your time pleasing someone who doesn’t deserve your devotion. Find happiness within. Do not put your dreams on hold to build someone else’s.

 

Would you like to see a wider variety of women in the media (age, ethnicity physicality) or do you like it just the way it is? hardy indiigo interview thandiekay

A wider variety. We see the same thing over and over again. People have no life, it’s all about gossip nowadays. I would love to see the other women who are geniuses, warriors, skilled in what they do but nobody cares to know. It goes from single moms, CEOs, athletes, doctors to actresses and activists. There’s a wide spectrum to be covered.

 

Does the media represent women in a way that you see them? If not, how?

Absolutely not. Like I said earlier it’s very degrading. if you do not pay attention, and most people don’t, you really are going to think that this is what women are. And it goes for both men and women, especially the youth. The media sets the standards for the uneducated mind. If Kim K is society’s standard and a proof of concept of success, how the new generation won’t want to be naked online or have their body redone, especially if it equals success. Insecurities and ego are unfortunately the main reason why society and its system is very hard to beat. It’s very upsetting.

Follow Hardy on Twitter and on Instagram

Kay, Hardy and Thandie LA 2015_edited-1

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