by Minister of Information JR
Very few things in life make me feel the way I feel when I come in contact with the work of a dope visual artist. It is amazing to me how, from a thought and a few strokes of the hand, a whole new world can be created that has crossed the dimension of the artist’s mind to exist in tangible reality. What is even more striking to me is an artist with a social or political agenda that refuses to make art for art’s sake.
Nia Imara is definitely one of the Bay Area’s premier visual artists, who paints for reasons other than self-fulfillment. Check this young artist out in her own words.
M.O.I. JR: When did you start painting? How and when did you figure out that you were good at it?
Nia Imara: I started painting – on paper and canvas – when I realized that people don’t usually like having their stuff drawn on and marked up. I knew I was good when I realized people would pay me to mark their stuff up. And I knew I was excellent when I realized I could make them cry with my art, or laugh.
M.O.I. JR: How do you come up with your subjects? How do you pick your colors? How long does it usually take you from start to finish?
Nia Imara: Whatever and whoever fascinates me. I love beauty; I love color. They’re everywhere. I don’t have to look too hard for subjects. The challenge is in coming up with something new each time and in finding ways to test myself. I want to show people something they haven’t seen before.
And really, the subjects I choose to paint are informed by my intent. I pay a lot of attention to the titles of my pieces. Sometimes the title – the idea – comes long before the actual painting. The task is then to find the best subject to represent that idea.
As far as color, sometimes the right colors for a piece just come to me. Other times I have to make difficult choices. Sometimes I have to experiment. If certain colors don’t work, I may change them.
I haven’t figured out how long it takes to do the paintings. Maybe they don’t take any time. Somehow they keep materializing.
M.O.I. JR: I noticed that just about all of your subjects are Black. Why is that? You also paint a lot of portraits with women. Why is that?
Nia Imara: I paint Black people because I love them, and I want them to see that they are as beautiful as I (see them). I want them to know they are loved and worthy.
I do not yet know why I have painted women more often than men so far. That is subject to change. It’s not because I’m a woman. But I do work in themes when I’m compelled to work out certain ideas. You cannot work out ideas, solve every problem, in one painting.
There are more paintings in my head than there are on canvas right now. I’m sure that men will start to appear in more of my paintings. Who knows, maybe in the future I’ll paint one or two white people, too.
M.O.I. JR: What kind of feelings do you want to conjure up inside of a person with your art?
Nia Imara: The main feelings I want to evoke in my art are beauty and love. There are plenty of both in our world, but not nearly enough of us see it and experience it.
I’m convinced that not truly knowing our own beauty as a (Black) people is at least half our battle. Not truly loving ourselves takes up the next half. This is still true, in spite of the many changes that have taken place recently. I don’t deny that our self-image evolves and that recently it has done so very quickly. But I think many of these recent changes in the way we think we see ourselves are superficial and have been for the wrong reasons. We will have made real progress when we love ourselves as measured by our own standards, not because more white people seem to accept us. I hope that my art contributes to this.
Also, more generally, I want to spark people’s imaginations. I want to spark my own, constantly. I want to paint pictures that people, including myself, have never seen before.
There are lots of other things to conjure…. Right now I’m working on the pieces that will conjure up millions of dollars from somebody’s pocket.
M.O.I. JR: How do you look at your art? Is there a spiritual component to you making it?
Nia Imara: My art is me and I’m my art. We go together. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I’m presenting my art. Whenever someone looks at my paintings, they’re looking at me. Some people talk about the “spirituality” of my art, or art in general, but I’ve never used that term — I don’t think about it like that when I’m making stuff. I think what you CAN say is that my art’s got soul. That’s something that can’t be forced.
M.O.I. JR: Can people commission you to do work for them?
Nia Imara: Yes, especially rich people.
M.O.I. JR: How can people see your work and get in touch with you?