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Kith Honors Black History MonthComing Soon
To honor Black History Month 2023, we continue our Artist Series with three Black creatives who use painting as their medium. These artists are Madjeen Isaac from Brooklyn, NY and Samuel Olayombo & Foster Sakyiamah from the Noldor Residency in Ghana, West Africa - marking the brand’s first time highlighting international artists.
These artists were selected together by Kith’s Senior Special Projects Manager, Marlon Beck II, as well as CEO & Creative Director, Ronnie Fieg.
Together with the artists, we have created a capsule collection featuring their artwork printed on a range of tees and crewnecks that will take the place of our Monday Program™ and release on Wednesday, February 1. Each artist will receive 50% of the proceeds from their designs and also have their works featured in a special gallery taking place in our Kith SoHo flagship alongside the launch on 2/1. This gallery will travel to our Kith Paris flagship at a later date this month.
Ahead of the release, Madjeen Isaac, Samuel Olayombo & Foster Sakyiamah had a conversation with Marlon Beck II to share their perspective and journeys while discussing the significance of responsibility as a Black creative. Read the full conversation below.
Marlon Beck II: It’s a pleasure to be working with you as part of our third annual Black History Month Creative Series – tell me a little bit about yourself.
Madjeen Isaac: Thank you for inviting me to work and chat with y'all. I'm an artist – born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I love creating from realms of my imagination, representing my hood and my loved ones. I’m just happy to be here.
Samuel Olayombo: I am a Nigerian artist. I studied fine and applied artsat the University of Benin, Nigeria. I am a lover of texture so I work with oils, acrylics, charcoal and pastels to create vibrant and dramatic large scale canvases of predominately male, non-gender normative portraits.
Foster Sakyiamah: My artistic journey started from my childhood. Growing up, my father was always sketching as an artisan, welder and a sprayer. I learnt so much from him in that regard. I subsequently enrolled as a student at the Ghanatta College Of Art & Design where I learned about modernist Ghanaian painters like Ablade Glover and had peers like Emmanuel Taku at the time. Later on, I opened a kiosk in a local part of Accra and named it Sakyiamah Art, basically selling art on the street for 11 years. During this period, I wasn’t married but my wife was my muse and would occasionally pose for me. Fast forward to August 2021, I met Joseph Awuah-Darko for the first time during a studio-visit he made on behalf of the Selection Committee at Noldor Artist Residency. From that point, my career took off in a flash as I was awarded a residency at the Noldor Artist Residency.
MB: Madjeen, being a first-generation Haitian-American in your family, many of your works tie back to your upbringing here in New York. In our early conversations at your studio, you mentioned your works are inspired by family memories and the cultures you grew up with that have also helped shape who you are today. How does this influence your process?
MI: I started developing my work after a trip I took to Haiti with my family in the summer of 2017. I often traveled to Haiti throughout my childhood, however during that summer, I was much older and truly observed the landscape. I was taken aback at how Port-au-Prince, Haiti felt similar to Flatbush, Brooklyn. It was charged with merchants and commuters and the hustle and bustle of it all was a mesmerizing yet a familiar experience. It made me think about Caribbean immigrants in Brooklyn who developed communities and family-owned businesses such as markets, restaurants, bakeries, public
transportation and churches to feel settled and established in what is now home.
Most of my paintings reference my community and loved ones living and engaging in my reimagined environments. I take elements from Brooklyn, Haiti and fictional landscapes to pay homage to how we take up space and the melting pot of
Caribbean cultures I’ve always been exposed to throughout my upbringing.
One of my favorite things to do as a child was look through my parent’s box of photographs. There were photographs of my parents in Haiti, their first time in the states, my siblings and I, celebrations and candid moments with extended
family during the 90s/2000s. Aside from the excitement of sifting through hundreds of photographs and the smell of old film, I really enjoyed feeling nostalgia and seeing the world through their eyes. My parents were lowkey photographers
while navigating a new world.
During my trip to Haiti in 2017, I took a lot of photos that I still pull references from. These days, I take photos of my neighborhood and during my daily commute. I like capturing trimmings of pre-war architecture, passerby's, the block,
sunsets and greenery. During the pandemic, I purchased a film camera that I would take with me during my family's annual camping trips and outings with friends.
Whether I am painting or taking photos, I feel like I’m building a visual archive for future generations to look back at.
MB: Samuel, growing up with five sisters, you recently mentioned how your work is focused on the
culture and constructs of sexuality, gender roles and gender equality. How has your upbringing influenced your work?
SO: Due to my upbringing, I use traditional “female” colors like rose and pastel pink to depict seemingly “brute” masculine subjects as I witnessed a lot of “unfairness” growing up. I believe we’re all equal irrespective of our gender.
MB: Foster, growing up in Ghana, you recently became an emerging artist at the Noldor Residency. How has this benefited your work and perspective on art?
FS: My journey at Noldor has really empowered me to think about my practice within a global
context. Shortly after my tenure began, I had a number of major solo and group exhibitions
with great institutions and galleries in New York, London, Madrid, Hong Kong and even exhibited at the Lithuanian National Museum of Art. I continue to be amazed at how much my life has changed – it is truly awesome.
MB: When I first saw your work, I could not help but take note of the vibrancy of colors in addition to the curved patterns. What influenced you to highlight these characteristics in your practices?
FS: A lot of my evocative monochromatic paintings largely feature motifs of women embellished with lace patterned gloves, demure head scarves, sunglasses and hats. All these accessories captured reflect my celebration of women and serve as the symbols of leisure and indulgence within this world I’ve created for the subject I render. I also draw endless inspiration from the women in my life, especially my mother who is a seamstress and headed a matrilineal house while accessorizing and attending to major clients. My use of the color palette of cobalt blues, verdant greens and bright magentas stems from references made to GTP, Ghana’s first indigenous textile brand launched in 1966 by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. My increasing obsession with textile originated the concentric wave of patterns prevalent in my practice which our enhanced in meaning and depth through color. I enjoy my ability to translate all these familiar wearable pieces into my work in a manner that is still very relatable.
MB: What techniques/themes are most prevalent in your work and how have they played a major role since you began creating?
MI: I’m constantly influenced by photography and storytelling. I also like to utilize collage as a technique to realize my paintings.
My interests have slowly been evolving since I began creating. I've been thinking about land stewardship and the relationship Black/Caribbean folks' have to it. Whether practicing agriculture, tending to our small spaces or having autonomy to develop communities and safe spaces. Currently, I’m inspired by communitygardens, farms, public parks, markets, outdoor sport courts, fields and storefront churches... Spaces that give back to the mind, body and spirit.
SO: The scarring culture which I bring to life in every piece is by the use of the pallet knife. That is the most prevalent technique in my work and it’s helped me develop my own visual language as an artist.
FS: For as long as I can remember, I have always worked with acrylic paint as my preferred medium of choice. There are varied reasons for this – one of which is rooted in my academic history and developing confidence with the medium during my time at the Ghanatta College of Art & Design. The viscosity and nature of acrylic makes the rigorous layering that goes into my work possible and enables me to have more artist control over the final results of my work surrounding detailing and precision. I enjoy this
approach the most.
MB: What message do you want viewers of your work to take away from your artwork?
MI: I like that viewers often leave with something of their own. Sometimes viewers are reminded of home, their youth or are inspired to think about what the future of their neighborhoods could look like. As I’m ideating, I like to redefine, dissect and question what I would want my safe space to look like beyond the constraints of reality.
SO: I want viewers to not only get used to seeing soft “female” colors in black men but also understand that behind the “hardness” of every black man is a kind and soft side.
FS: The central themes of my works are empowerment, femininity, Afropolitan Opulence and Black Joy that exist profoundly within my practice as I seek to celebrate an elevated and renewed vision of what it means to be African in an era of globalization. I describe this as an “empowering objectification” and I trust this is what the viewer perceives when they see my work.
MB: It has been an absolute pleasure to partner with you on this project because this is an initiative geared toward providing our platform to others, but more importantly showing how important representation is. What does being a black artist in the space mean to you? Are there any challenges you’ve endured?
MI: To me, being a black artist in the art space means having an abundance of ideas to explore and stories to share. Being a black artist in the art space also means prioritizing community, health, saying no to whatever does not feel aligned, living in the moment and resting in between creative bursts because that is truly what informs the work.
Some challenges that exist in the art space include the pressure to “keep up” and develop work at a fast rate. It isn't healthy or sustainable in the long run. The world could and should wait, especially if they support you.
SO: As a black artist, I feel I owe it to the rest of the world to correct the misrepresentation of how black men have been portrayed over the years. The only challenge I’ve faced so far is the constant need to explain is that black men are not as “brute” as they appear.
FS: Being a black artist in this space is essentially a useful tool for me as it provides me the right context for my
art. I have lived and experienced it and I consider that a critical ingredient that drives my creative process. As far as challenges go, being an artist in Ghana where structures are lacking and institutional as well as governmental support is almost non-existent – that remains a hurdle. Institutions like Noldor can only do so much but we are hopeful that a time is coming where contemporary art will garner local support as much as it does internationally.
MB: Lastly, what does being a part of the moment mean to you?
MI: Being a part of this moment means more opportunities for folks like me. Representation breaks barriers and expands the notion of what is possible. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, despite it not always making sense to others around me. I’m glad I’ve always chosen myself and to remain consistent in what brings me joy.
SO: I’m grateful to be a part of the moment as it gives me the platform to share my practice with others.
FS: I am honored to have my work have such a pivotal role as part of the year’s Black History Month - a dedicated month to recognize the journey and struggles of black people but importantly, their excellence. This is a concept my work seeks to highlight and I am as humbled as I am proud.