Multidisciplinary artist Amina Maya working with photography & graphic design that “Celebrates the beauty of the African diaspora…” she explains. Developing her interest in photography and fashion by running around a photo studio as a child and being exposed to that field as a child. Amina exploring different mediums has lead her to use those techniques into working on Naturaliste Apothecary (a personal project), and working with organizations like the Seattle Black Book Club to create branding experiences. I sat down with Amina to talk about how she got started in working in design and photography and what she is currently working on and her future goals.
How do you usually get started with your day?
I usually start my day with writing down my dreams from the previous night. I’ve found that this becomes an exercise in translating visual concepts into language, which has helped me become a better writer. When I can, I also like to meditate, I’ve found it keeps me calmer throughout the entire day.
Do you write on your dream journal everyday? I hear my friends doing this to have more lucid dreams but I haven’t looked into it much but seems very interesting.
Yes, I try to write in it everyday. I’ve been working on developing better dream recall, I’ve found writing them down helps. I also get ideas in my dreams so I like to write them down so I can revisit them later on. It helps me to process and reflect upon everything going on in my head.
How would you describe your work as a whole being a multidisciplinary artist?
I would say my work is constantly evolving but always rooted in the same principles. For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by balance and juxtaposition, I enjoy creating balance between masculine and feminine elements. My family is very multicultural, with my Dad’s side being from Sierra Leone and my mom’s side being Black American and Creole. My perspective as a designer is shaped by the West African patterns, textiles and objects I grew up around, the way that African artists work in unison with the natural world to craft art that reflects it in a refined way. The way that Black skin defies the laws of color theory when photographed, the way anthologies are woven into textiles. The ways my ancestors designed the things they needed using the resources they had. This inspires me in my own practice to challenge what my definition of design is, to expand my definition of art.
Has photography lead you to design or vice versa?
I’m honestly not sure which one came first, only that one day they met at crossroads and never separated. The parents of my childhood best friend were professional photographers so I remember running around a photo studio at the age of four. I also remember being obsessed with fashion design, drawing clothes as a child and making collages out of magazines in kindergarten. One of my first introductions into what I would now call graphic design was a website called Polyvore. It was a website that allowed you to take photographs from the internet and digitally collage them into “sets”. I would spend hours on this site making sets, searching for images, lusting over items. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was essentially doing graphic design and layout. My interest in photography as an art form came when I took a black and white film photography class my last year of high school. I spent hours in the darkroom developing images and it was the happiest I had ever been. I fell in love with the process of creating an image and I think that love sustains me in both my photography and my design practice.
Can you tell me about your project with the Seattle Book club?
The Seattle Black Book Club is a grassroots organization in Seattle that organizes around Black liberation and education. When I was in design school, I took a class called Design Activism with Natalia Ilyin and Elizabeth Patterson. One of the assignments was to completely rebrand a local activist organization, and I got permission from my instructors to work the a real organization on the project. Since I knew of the work Seattle Black Book Club was doing I reached out about rebranding their organization and they agreed. My concept for their branding was based on the fact that SBBC had been doing a lot of solidarity work with other movements in the Seattle are. I had seen them at Standing Rock fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, and also in Seattle fighting the $30 million dollar new youth detention center project. I wanted to design a logo that could be interchangeable, yet also discreet. When they needed to be a activist organization in solidarity with a movement, they could use one version of the logo, when they needed to be a “book club” they could use another. Drawing on the adaptability that characterizes Black liberation movements was key for me, because our movement is constantly evolving. The color scheme is based on the colors of the Pan-African flag, (red, black and green) except I changed the red to a carnelian orange color, which for me conveyed power and energy. The typography was drawn from researching old posters from the Civil Rights Movement, I wanted something bold, clean and easy to read. Overall, I wanted the branding to feel like a nod to the Black liberation movements of the past, but also a step into the future.
Your portraits are beautiful looks like you capture a scene from a movie! What are some current photo projects you’ve been working on?
Thank you! I am currently working on developing my fine art practice again. I graduated about four months ago so I’m in a period of transition but I realized how much I missed working with film photography and I’ve been working on shooting more film. My practice is centered on documenting the beauty of the African diaspora and I am interested in working on a series that documents life on the continent. I would love to travel through West Africa and work on documenting my own personal roots, exploring connection to land and cultural identity. I’ve also been working on expanding promotional photography for my senior thesis project, Naturaliste Apothecary. I’ve done three shoots so far that are focused on celebrating self-love and self-care in the Black community and I’d like to continue to expand that body of work.
“My perspective as a designer is shaped by the West African patterns, textiles and objects I grew up around.”
What do you look for when capturing your subjects?
As a photographer I feel a great deal of responsibility for representing the person in a way that is honoring who they are. I am really interested in showing the subject and the people viewing my work the beauty that the person I am capturing exudes. I want them to feel comfortable and open in front of the camera, because they have put their trust in me to represent them. I usually spend 1/3 of the shoot just talking with them, learning about who they are and listening to their stories. I look for that moment where they forget there is a camera, where they look into the lens the same way they look into their best friends eyes.
What are some things you have planned for the future?
I recently was given a medium format film camera ( thank you Dario Calmese) so I am exploring the world of medium format portraiture. I am currently in the research stages of a new portrait series that I would like to shoot entirely on medium format. I also plan on continuing my work as a curator, and expanding on my previous work that centered around creating healing spaces. What does is look like to design healing spaces? This was one of the research questions from my senior thesis and I am still exploring the answer to it. Using design to further collective healing movements is one of my goals.