Ngadi Smart: Identity, Feminism & Sexuality from an African lens
Collections from the Women, Prints & Fashion series
Ngadi Smart is a West African artist and designer who uses illustration and photography to explore themes of feminism, sexuality and identity. Born in London and having studied in the UK and Canada, Ngadi holds Sierra Leonean citizenship and currently lives in Ivory Coast. The different countries and cultures that she has lived in have been a big influence on her work.
Her latest project 'Women, Print & Fashion' combines African print work and pop art - just like our packaging - to create vibrant, bold portraits of women. We caught up with Ngadi to find out more.
How would you define yourself and your work?
I am an African visual artist, of Sierra Leonean descent. My focus is photography and illustration and I am currently based in Côte d’Ivoire.
The themes in my illustrative work fluctuate between female and male power dynamics, to feminism, to sexuality, and are often also fashion-inspired.
My photo work focuses on people's expression of identity, including self-identity through fashion, and as of late, black sensuality from an African lens and point of view; trying to show as many representations of African people as I can.
Have you always known you wanted to be involved in the arts?
I have always been interested in the arts, and always known deep down that I am an artist. I have often tried to fool myself into other careers (rather unsuccessfully!), but the calling is always strong and always pulls me back in.
You’ve lived and studied in the U.K., Canada and the Ivory Coast, do you feel as though you “belong” to one particular place? How has living in different cultures informed your work?
I am very lucky in that I have experienced living in all in these places that are so different from each other. I never feel like I belong to just one place as all of those places have influenced me in different ways to make me who I am and make me produce the visual work that I do.
People and the environment they live in, their way of dressing, presenting themselves, their cultural interaction with their environment, as well as colours of the places I have lived in play a big part in influencing my work. You can see this in the bright colours I use in my illustrations, which I associate with the colours I see in Ivory Coast, to my 'British Grime Fashion and Culture" illustrative series, to my choice in launching The EyeMuse Project in 2014, a photography and illustration portrait project which aimed to encapsulate the true identity of a place through its inhabitants, their various cultures, style, tastes and lifestyles and homes. A project basically exploring how these combining factors contribute to the genuine make-up of a location. So far, I have conducted the project in the cities of Toronto, London, UK and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I am currently looking for more subjects to shoot in Ivory Coast.
The Eye Muse Project
Tell us about your newest illustration project and the inspiration behind it…
The "Women, Prints and Fashion" series was started after I made it back to Ivory Coast, travelled to Benin (which is well known for its love of prints) and so found myself again constantly exposed to various prints. My work was also becoming a little bit more pattern influenced and I wanted to create a series combining this and my love for portraits of strong women.
How important do you see the creative industry in terms of changing perceptions of Africa?
I feel it is very important for African creatives, whether they are living on the African continent or part of the African diaspora, to have a hand in how they wish their country or continent to be represented. We are the ones experiencing the various aspects of what it means to be African in the present age. We do not need to specifically focus on changing stereotypical perceptions of what being African is through our visual story telling, (as I think that's an additional burden on us that other artists from other continents do not need to subscribe to), but I do think that through our visual story telling, whatever theme we choose, and the quality of our work, we can already do a lot for external perceptions of the African continent. You can see this already being done increasingly through the act of artists sharing their work on social media.
Ngadi Smart has recently been featured in Nice Magazine (an African Photographers' collaborative magazine spearheaded by Photographer Flurina Rothenberger) on the social construction surrounding African male and female identities. You can browse through her work on the Ngadi Smart website, including the Women, Prints & Fashion portfolio and The Eye Muse project.
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