Whether chosen or inherited, the bonds we build with others shape our daily lives. They may be physically present in your day-to-day life, or, if not, they’ll likely be popping into your head with thoughts as simple as: “Why is my Dad texting me like a business partner?” or “I miss my dog”. It's safe to say the presence of family can be found everywhere, including our creative projects.
In curating this list of some of our favourite family-focused projects from the last few years, we noticed a particular prevalence of photographers capturing family connections; it seems the urge to make family albums never quite leaves us, even with the rise of the phone camera. Rest assured, brilliant documentation of family spills beyond photography into illustration, film, ceramics, and even hand embroidery, with artists immortalising relationship dynamics in lively portraits or fabric depictions.
With such an array of projects to explore, below we round up five artists exploring the many definitions of family. Prepare to get sentimental.
Ikram Abdulkadir describes her family members as her “favourite subjects”, which, when viewing her warm portfolio comes as not surprise. Particularly portraying the women in her family with a calm sensitivity, the photographer also manages to tease out the idea of bonds that stretch back to childhood and into the future.
When we spoke to the photographer in 2020, she told us all about her love of looking through old “vintage photo studio” photos – an air she still manages to capture in her work to this day. More recently, Ikram has worked on the series Do you remember the ocean, abaayo?. In it, she depicts the sea and her sisters as she brings them on trips around the beaches of Skåne during the pandemic in the hope of giving them a “memorable summer”, she writes on the series.
Is there anything that beats a meal from your mum? Not if you’re perusing at the delicious-looking work of Loc Huynh. Frequently drawing from his upbringing as a second generation Vietnamese-American, Loc illustrates a range of childhood experiences in 2D illustration. Though this is more than a mere recreation. Studying bygone scenes through a new lens of appreciation, Loc draws his childhood history through the eyes of an adult.
Out of all the experiences Loc illustrates, the home-cooked meals his mother would serve are undoubtedly the crowning jewel. Depicting lines of rising steam or his mother cleaving away great succulent legs of chicken on a wooden board, Loc shows the dedication that goes into meal preparation. Each work serves as a vignette of childhood memory, an enduring homage to his mother’s affection.
Intuitive, honest, and commanding, Haneem Christian’s work intersects multiple themes, including race, queerness, grief and joy. The concept of family, particularly powerful familial bonds that are chosen, is also at the heart of their practice. In Jannah Lies at the feet of Thy Mother, a series centred around the mother-daughter relationship of Cheshire V and Autumn May, Haneem captures moments of mirroring and unconditional love. All the while, the photographer asks “what it means to be a mother to a child who has chosen you”, Haneem writes on Instagram.
The photographer captures the bottomless depth of this bond once more in the series Memorial Ball, which reflects on Kirvan Fortuin, mother of the House of Le Cap, who was killed in a homophobic attack in 2020. In Memorial Ball, Haneem photographs the House of Le Cap, the joyful weight of Kirvan’s legacy, and the grief of losing a mother.
Marianna Olague’s work is primarily engaged with exploring life in El Paso, Texas and the “strength and resiliency of those living on the border”. In the process, Marianna manages to capture, with breathtaking detail, the family and friends who surround her – a community that enriches the everyday.
An interesting dichotomy exists in these works. While Marianna’s’ paintings feature a scintillating use of colour – which she describes as reinserting life into a “barren” landscape – the scenarios she paints are quite quotidian. In one work, Marianna documents her brother-in-law, who works in labour and construction for apartment complexes, carrying out what he views as an “inconsequential” task – spraying a wall outlet. Yet, like many of her works, Marianna captures something of the person behind the task with her brush.
“The story is about home and family,” Micaiah Carter said of his acutely personal series, American Black Beauty, when we spoke to the photographer last February. Micaiah created the body of work after the death of his father to reflect on his life and message – as a photographer himself, Micaiah’s father documented the Black is Beautiful movement of the 1970s and constantly encouraged Micaiah to be true to himself. While reflecting on the past, American Black Beauty passes this message on to Micaiah’s younger family members.
Capturing candid portraits of his nieces, brother, and other family members, Micaiah then displayed them alongside images of models in fashion shoots to make the next generation feel seen. The results are a stunning ode to Micaiah’s family that demonstrates how a message can be passed on and shape an individual’s future.
Haneem Christian: The Girls of the House of Le Cap (Copyright © Haneem Christian, 2020)
Loc Huynh: Downy ơi! (Copyright © Loc Huynh, 2021)
Micaiah Carter: American Black Beauty (Copyright © Micaiah Carter, 2022)
Marianna Olague: Mom Delivers Grubhub (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2020)
Ikram Abdulkadir: We will meet in paradise (Copyright © Ikram Abdulkadir, 2020)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.