It is really important that as an African inspired digital media company, we use our platforms to continuously tell the story of black folks in the motherland and in the diaspora.
Nneka Jones is from Trinidad and Tobago but now resides in Tampa, FL where she is a current student at the University of Tampa. Jones is now in her last year of college graduating in 2020 and ready to make a name for herself and her work.
Tell us about you and your background?
Nneka Jones is a twenty-two-year-old, emerging artist that was never one to accept mediocrity, not only in art but also in her everyday life. Moreover, she had always been one step ahead in taking on a challenge. Her passion for art leads her to take the risk of leaving behind her family and friends in Trinidad and Tobago to travel the world in pursuit of both sharing and gaining versatile experience that would enhance her artistry. The Trinidad artist is now a senior, pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Tampa in Florida.
What led to your part in becoming an artist?
As much as I enjoyed creating from a young age, I had no clue of artistic talent until my peers, family, and mentors started commenting on how well I drew. Their encouraging words and feedback were what really pushed me to continue creating work, even if it was not up to my standard, it was what helped me to improve my technical skills and recharge my creativity.
You grew up in Trinidad and Tobago. What was it like being black in Trinidad and Tobago? What was your childhood like?
Trinidad and Tobago is a melting pot of many cultures, ethnicities, religions, etc. This variety presents a very flamboyant culture overall and I can proudly say I was brought up with love, appreciation and an open mind to learning new cultural experiences. Although I was brought up to be proud of being black and embrace my skin, hair texture, and physical features, I never felt isolated because we identified as Trinidadians and had pride in unity rather than creating separation through the race. I was able to comfortably play with girls and boys that were Black/of African descent, East Indian, Caucasian, etc. even though the schools I had attended were historically built for Black girls that would not have the had the chance to pursue an education in the past. However, like any other country, of course, there were and are some social challenges and rivalry that would occur, especially when there are so many different races and ethnicities present in such a small island. Finally, I am hoping to be one of the many voices to speak out against this, to bring complete unity.
Has your uprising inspired your artistic endeavors in any way? Have particular spaces and times influenced your creations?
I believe that high school was a very crucial point in my artistic journey where I really decided that this was something I wanted to do in the long term. Indeed, my parents and siblings have always been supportive of me throughout this journey. Then, allowing me to select Visual as one of my subjects for “third form” when I was truly blossomed and began finding myself as an artist. Being surrounded by other artists and creative students in my small high school studio space, as well as having the guidance of amazing art teachers opened up so many doors for me while I was in Trinidad and put me in the right mental space. I will forever be grateful for the freedom to select my subjects and pursue what I truly wanted to do. This set the pace and path for where I am at today.
What is your ultimate goal?
I want to continue making art forever. I know now that I was born to do this. I do not ever want to stop: whether it means I will be a full-time artist, a gallery owner, a curator or all in one, I just know my purpose is to create art and be in an environment where I can appreciate it.
I would love the chance to show on a more international scale and exhibit my artwork in an internationally recognized gallery in New York City and Los Angeles. Also to continue establishing myself as an artist and my brand, ArtYouHungry, so that ultimately, after these experiences, I can have a gallery space and studio space that I can call my own. I would also like to create a platform for other artists who share the same ambitions, can exhibit, install and/or perform.
For your project “Target” which was to raise awareness about sexual abuse and trafficking. You made art pieces with 300+ condoms. What inspired the project?
Originally, my earliest works were scribbles drawings in my sketch pad that eventually translated into pencil portraits. I would challenge myself to draw almost every day and eventually, it became extremely monotonous so I explored and experimented with paint.
Since enrolling at the University of Tampa’s Art Program, I would have been challenged to step outside of my comfort zone and explore textures and concepts that I was not comfortable with. Hence, after taking an experimental painting class, I began working with condoms as my canvas. The proffer wanted us to think beyond just using paint and allow ourselves to become more experimental with different materials. I made the effort to do intense research on symbolism and how I could use condoms as a symbol in my paintings. This evolved into a “Sex Target” series that highlights victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
How do you embed your blackness into your work?
My artwork is a reflection of me not only as an artist but also as a black woman because these are experiences that affect me in my everyday life, direct and indirectly. I have and read so many experiences of injustice, specifically with Black Women and Men with issues as sex trafficking. The statistics show that the majority of victims are of African descent. I know that there are many other artists that make work just simply to be aesthetically pleasing and nothing is wrong with that, however, my work focuses more on those issues that are often “swept under the rug” or not as important, simply because of the background of the victims.
Why do you think it is important for women of color to have their own spaces within the art world?
For a very long time, women of color did not have space anywhere, whether it be at school, at work, in the mall, etc. Now that women of color have the opportunity to create opportunities for themselves without having to wait for approval, it is important for more women like myself who enjoy being creative to find a space and own it. This is important especially in creating a cycle for young black girls to see and model their lives after. With the art world being nominated by men many years ago, women now have the chance to show that they can make outstanding work and create a promising career for themselves as an artist. With artists like Njideka Akinyuli Crosby, I am able to say she is one of my role models and I hope that one day I can be a role model for a young black girl too.
Is art always an intervention?
I believe that art is a voice. However the artist chooses to use that voice is up to them. Not everyone needs to make art that tells a deeply rooted story or speaks out against something unjust, nor does one artist need to be subjected or limited to painting or creating one type of art only.
The beauty in art is the freedom to do whatever you want, however you want, in the way you want.
At this point in my artistic journey, I feel that it is important for me to use my talents to create conversations that will last more than a minute, in hopes of achieving something better or changing someone’s opinion on something, I think this is important for me to do now and with the support that I have, I will continue to do so to the best of my ability.
Are there certain artists throughout history who you look to for inspiration when creating your portraits?
Currently, I am more influenced by contemporary artists rather than those from many years ago. While they are both very inspiring, I lean more towards contemporary artists like Njideka Akunyuli Crosby and Titus Kapher who marry their cultural experiences and bakground with relevant and current issues that are present in the world today. I enjoy that they basically acting like activists and not only inspire young artists like myself but also speak out issues that not many people would feel comfortably voicing.