From the Surface to the EDGE: Iman Milner on Media Diversity, Beauty and Creativity

Iman Milner

If you got to meet an artist who had obviously worked a lot of magic to become successful–say Janelle Monae–wouldn’t you want to learn about more than her favorite producer? I know plenty of women, like Iman Milner, who want to see more than the same media interviewers asking the same celebrities the same simple questions. Women of color, I think, have a special appreciation for the fact that if you want  things to go in a different direction, you’ll often have to clear the path yourself. Iman, collaborated with friends, Camara Mathis and Ashley Nguyen, to create a project that would take us from the surface to the edge.

EDGE Magazine was created to showcase the diverse experiences and perspectives of young artists of color. The magazine features kindred creative and entrepreneurial spirits talking about topics like world affairs, vulnerability, and destiny, always with an exciting and youthful flavor–not the conventional features for people of color that mainly focus on sports, entertainment and gossip.

Talking to Iman about EDGE Magazine’s development, immortalizing black women’s beauty and living unchained was like a breath of fresh air–I guess everything’s just crisper on the edge…

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“Easy to Swallow, Hard to Digest”: An Interview with Nina Chanel Abney

The Live Unchained team and I were discussing how artists, in general, but conceptual artists in particular, are often stereotyped as tortured functional depressives. You don’t really hear about how these artists have to be resourceful and trust their instincts. From an early age Nina Chanel Abney created pieces that resonated with her, even if they didn’t fulfill others’ expectations–i.e. young Nina’s painting of a bloody eyeball that caught her art teacher off guard.

Paper Magazine described her work as combining “strong feminine and masculine images infused with humor, irony, perversity, satire and fantasy.” As to the playful, challenging nature of her paintings, she says they’re “easy to swallow, hard to digest.” Having exhibited works throughout the United States and abroad, being featured in The New York Times, Essence and Glamour, people like us, are eager to see the stories her paintings have to tell because they make us better–even if we have to choke a little. Here, Nina discusses how she came to be so bold in her work, her creative process and visual storytelling.

Nina Chanel

Could you share with us a little about your background? What made you want to become a painter?
My love for art and my hate for the “9 to 5” drove me to seriously pursue painting as a career. I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child. But it wasn’t until graduate school that everything started to come full circle for me. My boundless imagination and I moved to a place where “anything goes.” Prior to coming to New York, I had a very limited view of who an artist was; I had a very limited view of art in general. I had never been into a gallery. I had no idea how artists made a living. I had no notion of contemporary art.

Most of the schools I attended insinuated that a “good” artist was one that could draw and paint realistically. And though that was what was typically taught, because my gut told me differently, I began a mission to find my own truth. And that started by me purposely doing the opposite of what my art teacher expected. As a fifth grader, I remember having to paint Rene Magritte’s “The False Mirror” as an assignment, and I turned in a painting of a bloody eyeball. And from then on I continued to push the limits of my assignments and my teacher’s buttons by doing my own thing.

And I never meant to be rebellious in a disrespectful manner. I just needed to paint by emotion and instinct rather than paint out of docility.

"Close But No Cigar," Acrylic on canvas

To me your work appears to possess a playful yet mysterious quality that I am drawn to? How would you characterize your artwork?
Easy to swallow, hard to digest. The playfulness of my work is a result of my use of vivid colors and my interest in satirical cartoons. I love the fact that anything taboo suddenly becomes tolerable as long as it’s not “real”. I’m a huge fan of The Family Guy because of their ability to spoon feed their audience touchy topics with the use of humor and animation. If it were a sitcom with actual actors, they would no longer be on television. And as far as the mystery…I personally find the artwork that I am mostly drawn to is work that keeps you guessing and keeps you coming back for more. I enjoy work that doesn’t give me a definite answer, but challenges me answer my own questions. I cannot even sketch an idea for a painting because the definitive nature of the act itself would make me lose interest in the painting before it’s begun, so I couldn’t possibly expect the viewer to want to continuously look a painting that is too literal.

"Null and Void," Acrylic on canvas, 77 ½ x 45

During the opening of my second solo exhibition, “Emma’s Basement”, there was a woman who came into the gallery, stood in front of my painting, “Null and Void,” and left with a look of utter disgust. She then came back about 10 minutes later, and I knew then my work was doing exactly what I wanted it to.

When looking at your work there appears to be layers to the narrative, which I find really interesting. Is there usually a specific story that you wish to be conveyed in a piece?
When I begin a painting, I never have a specific story in mind. I usually have a few general topics that I want to start a discussion about, or attempt to resolve for myself. And in that process I usually end up with a lot of contradictions. It is not until then that I meld together all of these disjointed elements to create a narrative or multiple narratives. And to adhere to the mysterious quality of my work, in my most sinister voice, I say, “I NEVER share the stories!” ☺

From what sources do you get your inspiration?
Most of my inspiration comes from personal thoughts and experiences and the things that arose from those experiences, or resulted from those thoughts. I then relate them to specific songs, emotions, movies, celebrities, world issues, etc. So I am constantly watching television, movies, browsing the internet, looking through books, magazines, and listening to music in order to immerse myself in the things that relate to the topic at hand which is usually what I am dealing with at the moment in some shape or form.

But when I find myself in some sort of slump, in which for whatever reason I am not feeling very moved by anything in particular, I usually go to any art museum, or go check out some gallery shows to rejuvenate myself.

Could you discuss your collection GO BERSERKER? What made you create this collection? I was specifically drawn to your pieces: “A Capitol Offence” and “The Liquidators,” could you speak about those?

THE LIQUIDATORS (2010) acrylic on canvas 66 x 80 in.

A CAPITAL OFFENCE (2010) acrylic on canvas 36 x 36 in.

I don’t attempt to communicate anything specific to the viewer. I simply share my thoughts and hope that the viewer will have an experience, rather pleasant or unpleasant, that will start a conversation, spark an emotion, or help to them to convey their own message to themselves. And I don’t have a specific audience in mind for my work. Creating work for a specific type of person would create too many boundaries. I create the work for myself, and then share it with anyone who is interested.

The pieces in my exhibition Go Berserker, explore introspection and the idea of fighting against and/or accepting the things one might find when looking inside oneself. With that body of work I was also interested in exploring the collision of instinct and intuition, as well as the power in the ability to harness both.

Are there any specific pieces of art you would like to share with us?

Nina Chanel Abney The Escorts, 2008 Acrylic on canvas 93 x 66 1/2”

Nina Chanel Abney Law and Order, 2010 Acrylic on canvas 65 ½ x 74 1/4"

Nina Chanel Abney Holey Grail, 2011 Acrylic on canvas 48 x 40"

 

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Living unchained for me is living for myself without regrets and obligation.

I have a shameless plug…

I’m currently collaborating with a well-known brand to develop my own line of limited edition t-shirts that should be out sometime this summer.

I will be in the traveling exhibition 30 Americans, which is coming to North Carolina in March.

http://www.ninachanel.com

http://twitter.com/ninachanel
(I haven’t tweeted anything since July, but I’m working on it, ☺)

On Meeting Queen Afua, an International Women’s Day Dedication

When we met Queen Afua at a women’s group gathering back in December, she gave hugs.  Real hugs.  Big hugs.  The kind of hugs that touch you deep down to your core. And, I felt like a giddy little teenager.

I thought, What do I say to a woman who has dedicated her whole life to helping women heal themselves?  A woman whose work has helped me work on me?  A woman whose picture on the cover of a nutritional pamphlet I received at a Women of Color Conference in college would help solidify my resolve to become a vegetarian, years later.  A woman whose book our women’s group references now as we set aside time to honor ourselves and commit to our own healing.

I was taken aback.  My, how life is circular!

On that day, I realized that the words that were burning in me to say were these: Thank You.

On this 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, as we celebrate all the women who help our lights shine brighter, we say… Thank You.

My, how far we’ve come!

“Art is the Battery”: Delphine Diallo Discusses Her Photography and the Magic of Spirit

Magic Photo Studio, Delphine Diallo

“We’ve been influenced by the pessimistic vision of photojournalism, and the obsessive, perfect fashion aesthetic…These images are still in my mind, printed in my subconscious. It is time to transcend them.” –Delphine Diallo

Delphine Diallo transcends the status quo in photography by simply following her spirit.  Trusting it led her to Senegal–her father’s homeland, Indi–the little girl that became her muse, and dipping herself in blue after being inspired by the film Avatar.

Delphine was born in Paris and currently lives in New York where she has continued to work as a photographer, graphic designer, illustrator and filmmaker among other creative ventures. After graduating with distinction from the Académie Charpentier School of Visual Art in 1999, she worked as a graphic designer and animator for several musicians, including Coldplay, Smashing Pumpkins, and Manu Chao.

In speaking with Delphine about her background, travels and views on art and style, we learned that her major influences are love and spirit.

Indi, Delphine's Muse and Mona Lisa, Delphine Diallo

Avatar, Delphine Diallo

How does your background influence your work?
Being mixed and having an African dad and a French mom makes me realize that I might have something different to express. Also, working in the music industry with great artists inspires me to create artwork that is personal and very emotional. It helps me to take a risk and be totally free–to open my mind about a different vision of the world.

Some say art is like a window into themselves and the world. Do you agree?
Yes it is… art is a reflection of my thoughts, my beliefs, my fear, my love about the world. I have direct connection with the world… it is like a fluid, where media influences become secondary and where your mind is feeling every single moment of your life and translates to your own vision through photography. This vision becomes the part of your real world and you are able to build a strong link with the world around you.

Photography allows me to develop images that transcend stereotypes in a world that consistently perpetuates a singular attitude as to what is deemed beautiful.

"Monica" and "Azza" from the Queen of New York series by Delphine Diallo

What does art allow you to discover about yourself and others?
Art is the key to live in a better world if you know how to use it.  Art has opened my mind to understand how as an individual you can contribute to improve others life too.  I became more tolerant, less selfish, giving myself the freedom to understand the other and discover that without your friends and family, you won’t be inspired.

Can you tell us about how Africa came to be a recurring theme in your work?
Africa is the first place where I was inspired. In this land, no one is running and people take time to share and stay in family. I’m inspired because of the nature, light, people, colors, wildlife…everything about Africa is inspiring. It has a pureness of the beauty of the moment.  A natural moment is unique, like a magic chemical, instant. My pictures are raw and full of natural emotion.

"Dream Life" from the Renaissance Series by Delphine Diallo

You created a body of work called “Renaissance,” which captures images from your trip to Senegal? Can you share with us what you learned from your experience in Senegal and what you wanted to capture in pieces inspired by that trip?
I FLEW to Saint-Louis, Senegal, land of her ancestors, in search of Something permanent. “Renaissance” is the body of work that resulted from this trip. It is a series of stories in which the protagonists are heroes of ancient tales, where beauty and violence coexist on parallel planes, the one reflected and made possible only by the other. The men and women featured in “Renaissance” are spiritually strong, beautiful, full of life, and proud despite life’s cruelty. In “The Beautiful Ones,” Anta, an eleven-year-old girl appears frequently in the photographs, symbolizing youthful strength, potential and innocence not yet lost. Khady Kebe & Loli, two seventeen year olds represent young ladies full of life, joy, and (perhaps naïve) hope for a better future. Kine Diop is a twenty eight-year-old who represents the proud African queen, symbolic of maturity and serenity in the face of hardship. My work is often autobiographical and these women are me at various stages of my own life. The images encountered are filled with weakness and suffering. “The Goats” depicts tranquility and slaughter, innocence as well as a supreme vulnerability culminating in death. “Le Boucher” is the story of a slayer, one who carves food from the dead to sustain life. He represents the cycle of life – destruction, distress, and the raw violence of reality in balance with life-sustaining nourishment and renewal. metaphorically, “Le Boucher” also represents a broken heart cut in pieces. The flesh is dead and from this carcass the spirit is reborn.

"Universal Magazine" and "Superstar" by Delphine Diallo

"Oulofs" from the Magic Photo Studio Series by Delphine Diallo

Could you talk about the use of collage and layering in your art? What draws you to merge photography and other mediums as seen in your collection “Magic Photo Studio”?
Photography is a process that can be reproduced and copied. I was trying to find a way to do something unique, so… I was definitely interested in drawing on top of it. The purpose of “magic photo studio” was to create a strong link with my family that i just discovered.  It was also a powerful message about giving love through photography to the one who makes your life beautiful.

You once said your art reflects “spirituality and lots of love.” Can you say more about that? Would you consider yourself spiritually grounded and do you think that helps your art?
Being spiritual is sometimes something that you have in yourself since you are born.  Let’s just say that for me, I was already with strong spirit but I didn’t know what it was. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s like having a lot of energy and feeling and not knowing how to use and control it for a long time. The maturity and experience help you to channel this power and transform it through art. Love, love is the key.  It is hard to love yourself and be confident but that’s the first part, to be able to embrace your spirit.

Art is the battery, a meditative process to connect with yourself… you will believe I am crazy… but I think we should be able to be educated this way. Our wisdom and connection to the planet have been lost growing up in the 21st century.

What does living unchained mean to you?
I am, and my life is a journey to discover everyday what I’m going to become–with no fear.

Follow more of Delphine’s art, thoughts and musings on her blog, http://delphinediallo.wordpress.com/, and visit her professional site at http://www.delphinediawdiallo.com/.

So, what do you do, Ngozi Odita of Society HAE?

When you see the name Society HAE, one question that may come to mind is, What does HAE stand for? The acronym stands for Harriet’s Alter Ego.  Who’s Harriet, you might ask?  C’mon, you know who Harriet is…

Yes, that Harriet.  Harriet Tubman!

Initially Harriet’s Alter Ego was a Brooklyn-based fashion boutique and

art gallery that also served as a performance space. Think of everything you’ve learned about Harriet Tubman.  Then imagine a place where a wondrous woman with that kind of passion, talent, and commitment to freedom could go to just…chill.  Express and pamper herself. Get cute. Maybe read a little poetry.  Or just hang out and enjoy the atmosphere.

When the store closed in 2009, the question for its founder, Ngozi Odita, and team became, “Where do we go now?”

They moved online, converting the project to an arts and entertainment social media platform. The Harriet’s Alter Ego crowd found them online and supported them in this new medium.   Society HAE was born.  Ngozi describes the community they’ve created as a place that resonates with artists, musicians and designers because it gives them a bigger voice.

In December 2010, the Society HAE team of bloggers, or Team SHAE, traveled to Dakar, Senegal to blog from the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture. Since its inception in 1966, the festival has provided a forum for political as well as artistic and cultural dialogue, attracting the likes of Alvin Ailey, Duke Ellington, and Clementina de Jesus.   This time around, Yossou N’dour, Jay-Z, Wyclef Jean and Rhianna were on the guest list.

Team SHAE gave their readers live coverage of the three-week long event that showcases fashion, photography, theatre, architecture, music, design, literature, film, and even sport from people of African descent throughout the diaspora. (See SHAE video below)

Ngozi Odita

“I wish everyone could have seen it, “ says Ngozi.

Ngozi’s love for the arts began during childhood.   She is proud of her heritage and remembers growing up dancing to her father’s Nigerian music in a household where there was always music playing.

“Fashion and the arts were always a part of me,” she says.

A humble and modest woman who laughs easily, Ngozi has grown this appreciation into a business that allows her to travel the world.  She shares some words of wisdom for the budding entrepreneur.

“There are opportunities everywhere,” she says.  “If you’re passionate about something, there’s an opportunity [to pursue it].  Look for the opportunities within that passion.”

What does Living Unchained mean to Ngozi Odita? To Ngozi, living unchained means being free, doing the things that move you.  It means having the freedom to be who you are, free to engage people.

Article by Ciara Calbert of Everybody is a Journalist

“Afri-Love is a feeling”: Lulu Kitololo Discusses Her Vision, Art and Life Unchained

Imagine all who are inspirited by Africa – all whose lives and hearts have been touched by the spirit of the continent – sharing their passion through collaboration, in the name of mutual empowerment. –Lulu Kitololo

Illustration by Lulu Kitololo

Lulu Kitololo is a self-defined “ideamonger,” using painting, graphic design, illustration, writing and workshops, to tell stories that honor the beauty in women, Africa, life and nature. Lulu is creator of the Afri-love blog, which explores the connections between creativity, self-love and growth for Africans and those inspired by the continent. The blog features commentary, interviews, resources and reviews on art and culture.

Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Lulu moved to New York to earn a BFA in Communications Design from Pratt Institute. After working there as an advertising Art Director, she moved to the UK to pursue a Master’s in African Studies at the University of London.

Can you tell us about Afri-love?

Afri-love is a feeling. I remember being this really opinionated, patriotic kid, before I even really knew anything … about anything! When I left Kenya to pursue higher education in the US, I gained an even greater interest in where I came from. I was constantly meeting Africans, from all over the continent, and I observed that, diverse as our homelands were, there was so much we had in common. Especially, a love for the lands that were so much a part of us, no matter where we happened to be.

Design by Lulu Kitololo


Last year, I finally gave a name to that strong feeling and created an online space to express it, to share it with others and to collect all the expressions of it that I could find. I like to think of the website as a community for creativity and passion for Africans and all those who identify with or have an affinity for the continent.

Essentially, it’s a blog where you can find African and African-inspired art, design, literature and more. One of my favorite aspects is the interviews. I’ve had the opportunity to profile some amazing people who are living their passions and who are inspired by and devoted to Africa.

The vision of love you describe on Afri-Love is beautiful.  You say:

Imagine Africans who love who they are, as they are, and so love each other and the environment that nurtures them. Confident and assertive, they are engaged in charting their growth and celebrating success as defined on their own terms.

Imagine all who are inspirited by Africa – all whose lives and hearts have been touched by the spirit of the continent – sharing their passion through collaboration, in the name of mutual empowerment.

What compelled you to write this as you did?

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Dreaming Through Art: Our Conversation with Daisy Giles


I aim to explore the beautifully natural and the stunningly fantastical…to express things that are inexpressible in words, which only live on the tips of tongues, in the subconscious, and in dreams of suppressed purposes and identities. –Daisy Giles

Live Unchained had the pleasure to speak with painter Daisy Giles, who studies and creates art in Minnesota. An admitted Harry Potter fan, she recognizes the magical in everyday life and translates that into vibrant, fantastical and beautiful paintings. We discussed her art, creative process, and inspirations.

Photo of Daisy Giles by Gyasi Jones

Can you tell us a little about your artistic background?
How did you become interested in art and why?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. My mother’s and my paintings cover the walls in our home (and my father’s office). My mom always loved to paint, as did both of her brothers and her own mother, so I suppose you could say its in my blood. Art was always a hobby for me however, and it wasn’t until taking some elective art courses at the University of Minnesota that I was opened up to the idea that I could pursue art as a career. I am incredibly thankful to my parents for always being supportive in this interest – my father bringing home stacks of recycled paper from his job for me to draw, my parents’ paying for private and community art classes when I was younger, building special storage in their basement for my artwork, and most recently – providing me with financial support that enabled me to quit my job so as to spend more time on the my art as I complete my BFA program. I am incredibly and eternally grateful to them for supporting my passion.

Mette by Daisy Giles. Oil on Panel.

Of your art, you’ve said:
In my work, I aim to explore the beautifully natural and the stunningly fantastical…My work is meant to express things that are inexpressible in words, which only live on the tips of tongues, in the subconscious, and in dreams of suppressed purposes and identities.

Can you say a little about what you mean by this? How did you come to be committed to this purpose?
Guilty pleasure and embarrassing admission: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I love the Twilight series, I love fairy tales and folktales, I love campfires and spooky stories, and I love the idea that there is hidden magic all around me. I also am very interested in showcasing the beauty in things and people as they are: round bellies, soft bodies, wild hair, and humped backs. I feel like I am constantly painting portraits of myself, be it how I feel or how I want to feel.

The relationship between these two interests is what I am most concerned with exploring. I like the tension it creates when these two ideas collide. I think that there is something magical in every one of my paintings, something hidden and secret, something private, but something powerful nonetheless. I like playing with the simple situation of a beautiful and natural woman, pot bellied and relaxed, with the implausible situation of her hair growing three feet past her head and branching out to become a resting place for nearby birds. I like creating images of things that aren’t actual possible but that I wish were possible and that somehow feel like they could be. I think that these feelings are ones that many women can relate too, but that they perhaps can’t quite put their finger on and can’t quite define. When I am creating images, its always to express a feeling or an idea that I feel cannot ever be fully expressed in words.

Pomi's Roses by Daisy Giles. Oil on Canvas.

We’re sure it differs from piece to piece, but in general, can you share what the creative process and inspiration has been like for your portraits and your new series, Roses? How would you describe the aesthetic of these pieces?
The works in Roses, like all of my final works, begin with sketches, sketches, sketches. I let myself daydream and sometimes I let myself sleep. I like to create environments unto themselves, where my subjects are able to ponder whatever they so desire in solitude. Roses was no different from my Trees & Birds collection, in that I wanted to create these fictional locations, however in Roses, I really wanted the focus to be much more on the environment and on that seclusion than on the subject. So, rather than use the sparse open spaces that I created in my previous series, I came up with this concept of flowers crowding and encasing someone. I always begin my sketches with an overwhelming feeling (or some times multiple feelings) that I want to come across and then I go from there.

Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
Kara Walker is a huge inspiration. Her work literally gives me chills. I think I am so enamored with her work because she is able to walk that line of fantasy and the barely plausible so well. Her large-scale installations allow her to place the person viewing her work into her created environment and further heighten the tension created by the dark and violent images she creates. I admire her ability to create extremely beautiful and delicate images that are at the same time so heavy, so disgusting, and so off-putting. Mark Ryden greatly inspires me for similar reasons, although these tensions are expressed very differently in his work. I sometimes spend hours browsing his website and I absolutely never become bored with his highly detailed and romantic surrealism.

Ms. Paris by Daisy Giles. Oil on Panel.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I am constantly working on new and different projects. I like to keep it moving so that I am never bored with what I am working on and so that I always have five different things I can work on at once. However, I am currently most excited about my first portrait project. I have always drawn and painted commissioned portraits for those that would like them, but the portraits in this current project are created completely on my own terms. I am using real people and their real personalities for inspiration. (-Big thanks to my good friends who didn’t put up a fight when I begged them to model for me!) I have so far completed three of these life-size portraits and I have four others in progress. It is a new direction that I am very excited about.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?
Living unchained can mean many things, but to me, it means following your gifts and your passions without fear. The fear of failure can be overwhelming at times and I fall victim to it as easily as does anyone else, but it is important to me to not let that fear paralyze myself from action. I plan to give my art everything that I have and I’ll know then that I tried. The worst case scenario is that I never make it big, but I do know I will have created some beautiful things along the way and that’s okay with me.

Join Daisy’s e-mail list here http://daisygiles.com/contact.html to get the latest on her shows, exhibitions, new work, and publications.