Dakarai Akil’s Afrofuturist collages stem from always “having a thing” for monster and sci-fi films
The artist uses the archives and materials of the past to visualise a future, whilst simultaneously creating political works that protest systemic anti-Black racism in the United States.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 24 September 2021
- Reading Time
- 5 minute read
Darakai Akil has followed quite the winding road to end up where he is now: creating Afrofuturist and political collages from stacks of retro magazines. From drawing and moulding clay as early as four, to falling in love with graffiti, then graphic design, Dakarai ended up studying fashion and retail management at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. But this only saw him fall back to his love for fine art and, as it turns out, collage art.
Although it was his dad who catalysed his artistic practice, Dakarai began fine-tuning his work towards an Afrofuturist style stemming from growing up with Black art in his home, while “always having a thing for sci-fi,” he says. “I grew up watching old monster films and space-themed films. Those two prominent subjects blended together for me.”
Afrofuturism is a philosophy, ideology, and most aptly, an artistic movement shaped by generations of artists, writers, musicians and academics. Octavia Butler, Sun Ra and Ellen Gallagher are just a few of the most well-known producers of Afrofuturist work, whilst Black Panther’s Wakanda is perhaps the most commonly referred to as a mainstream example of the movement.
Having a focus on Black art was always important to the Los Angeles-based artist. When a young Dakarai left home, he would rarely see Black faces in the art of the outside world. “From there it was always my mission to incorporate Black faces in my work. As I got older and more aware of what Afrofuturism was as a subject matter, I started leaning more toward what that meant for me in my work.”
As a natural collector of things, collage seemed to Dakarai the one art form that felt most apt for his personality. “Having to collect magazines and books to use for my work is appealing to me.” He’s also an impatient person, so painting “never really clicked because the end result takes so long.” The artist explains to us that one of his best collages could take anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, whereas a painting could take weeks, months, or even years to complete. As you might’ve guessed, Dakarai has a wonderfully multifaceted approach to the arts: he likes so many different forms of production, one of which is music.
“DJs and producers go digging for old records to add to their collection and eventually make a new sound out of what they can find. This is exactly what I do with magazines and photo books. I go digging for new images to pick apart and make an entirely new image out of what I can find.” The artist draws comparisons between his work and music production, continuing that his studio is filled with stacks and boxes of magazines ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1990s, “just as a DJ or producer’s studio may be filled with records, tapes and CDs to sample.”
Not only is Dakarai full of an infectious curiosity and impatient energy that suits his craft perfectly, but he also seems full of passion for delving deep into archives and the past in order to represent the future. The end result is layers of visually juxtaposing images culminating in one entirely coherent piece. “My creative process is fairly simple,” he expands. “I usually go to my collection of magazines and pull out a handful of them to work with. Depending on the mood, I tend to go for a specific time period and genre.”
From one simple look, one can gather that Dakarai seeks to expose political hypocrisy and corruption affecting Black Americans, whilst simultaneously portraying vibrant Afrofuturist scenes. Such a style has garnered him commissions from The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine, Insider, Wired, and Reader’s Digest. He explains that if he wants to be “more political with a piece,” he’ll choose any Black publication from the 50s-70s, “where civil rights and Black power movements were dominant in the media.” If he wants a more psychedelic feel, he says, “I’ll go to anything from the 1950s to 1990s to pull images relative to science or nature, then tweak those images with vibrant colours and human life.”
Gravitating more towards mid to late 20th Century print “because of the texture and muted colours from aged print,” Dakarai starts by choosing an image from one of three different types of image categories, which he will choose as the primary image: “That’ll be the image to focus on in each piece. The background image and the secondary images will then be used to tie the primary and background pieces together. Those can all range from one to five different images per category, depending on the level of detail I feel is needed for that particular composition.”
One of his biggest inspirations is whatever music or film the artist feels moved by at the time. During the process of putting together his new book, he was (and still is) taking a deep dive into Pink Floyd’s discography, “and watching whatever good films I can find in the Criterion Collection.” And although Dakarai’s pieces spotlight science and technology, he loves to spend a lot of time in nature, “away from the hectic grind we’re all in.” Every weekend, he’ll hike somewhere in the mountains of southern California, where he lives, or watch sunsets at the beach (a far cry from the grey-soaked clouds of London where Dakarai’s interviewer sits…). “A new inspiration has been found in my own process of learning what it truly means to heal and take care of myself as a person. I love camping out in the desert climate a couple of times a year just to be as far away from the madness as possible with no distractions.”
Most recently, Dakarai has completed his third art book entitled Caveyears. “Every two years,” he explains, “I release a collection of the art I’ve done over the last two years in an art book form. Each book has its own theme that pushes the flow of those catalogued pieces.” Caveyears, Dakarai asserts, is the most personal work he has done to date. Featuring work from 2019 up until now, there are pieces that have never been seen before along with writing from the artist himself in a journal-like format.
“This book was intended to replicate my old journals where I would write about life experiences,” he tells It’s Nice That, “dreams I had had the night before, poems to myself, and filled with collages that were never intended to see the light of day. In my opinion, this is the best piece of art I’ve made in my entire career. That’s such a bold statement but I can’t think of any other time where I poured so much of who I truly am into a project. I left no stone unturned and wrung myself dry of every drop of creativity I have into this project.” Dakarai hopes to release the book publicly this Autumn in stores and online.
Dakarai Akil: VAXXX (Copyright © Dakarai Akil, 2020)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.