How can visual artists utilise their work to envisage a better tomorrow?
Ahead of our free panel event on 1 March, we discuss how creativity can envisage the future. Joined by a handful of our New World: Creating for Tomorrow contributors, we’ll be investigating how they plan to build a more inclusive and equitable future.
New World: Creating for Tomorrow is a programme of free, hands-on virtual sessions hosted by Today at Apple and It’s Nice That from 1 – 29 March. Building on our New World partnership in 2021, we’ll be hosting a series of Virtual Studio sessions with artists and designers who use creativity to present their ideals for the future.
There are myriad reasons why a person might turn to creativity – imagining a better world being one of them. From telling impactful narratives, sharing family histories to communicating points of view, creatives have long utilised their craft to visualise a future they’d like to see.
It’s a technique that dates back years, with early examples seen in the work of artists such as Keith Haring, who used street art to advocate for causes such as HIV and AIDS awareness. And, in more recent times, we’ve seen the creative community respond to political and social events or movements. For instance, Vanilla Chi created a downloadable poster about facing anti-Asian hate in support of the ESEA community; and Silvana Trevale made imagery to highlight the economic, social and political crisis in Venezuela. No matter the medium, creativity – now more than ever – gives visual artists the opportunity to reimagine a more sustainable, equal and inclusive society.
It’s this powerful quality of creative expression we’ll be exploring in a panel discussion opening our New World: Creating for Tomorrow series with Today at Apple. Digging into how creative practises can help us imagine a better tomorrow, we’ll discuss how our panellists utilise the tools of their respective mediums – from publishing to illustration and collage – to envisage their ideals, placing them into action as a result.
A way in which artists voice their ideals is by creating alternative realities, constructed free from the restraints of the physical world. It’s in this balance between fiction and non-fiction that artists can freely discuss topics that might seem more abstract or difficult to voice otherwise. London-based artist Jazz Grant does this entirely throughout her practice, wherein she blends hand-cut paper collage with digital animation techniques to voice her dreams for the future. This merging of two techniques gives her work a familiar yet disturbing sensibility, a place where she can build her own utopia and explore the concept of inclusivity.
So far, Jazz has built a portfolio filled with work for Dazed, Burberry, Gucci and Adidas. Alongside her commercial projects, she’s also produced a host of personal work which uses archival imagery sourced from films, family photo albums, phone footage or photos taken on trips. Collage, in Jazz’s eyes, is an apt tool for “organic” creative expression, especially when it comes to addressing a more diverse and equal world. “I think themes of utopia and community resonate with me, so they tend to emerge naturally through the imagery I gravitate to and the way I piece it together,” she says. “I didn’t specifically choose collage in order to translate these ideas, but the process does help to visually combine and suggest multiple concepts.”
Jazz’s process is undeniably personal. While creating a piece, she acknowledges the past and will often look back on her familial history in order to make informed decisions about the future. As the old saying goes, history always tends to repeat itself, but this can be a positive thing if done so consciously and correctly. In the upcoming panel featuring Jazz, she’s looking forward to discussing the power of re-contextualising imagery in order to tell stories of her two key themes: inclusivity and utopia. It will be a highly inspiring accord, and Jazz is always keen to learn from her peers: “I’m looking forward to gaining an insight into how the other women work, their journey,” she says, “what sparks their imagination and when they feel most inspired.”
Much like Jazz, the US-born illustrator Nourie Flayhan also uses her medium to tell stories of her personal life. Having grown up between Kuwait and Lebanon before moving to London, Nourie didn’t feel represented in art or media. Resultantly, she made a promise to her younger self to make a change and provide a space for children of the diaspora to feel seen and heard. As such, she dissects themes of heritage, culture and community through her distinctively figurative creations. “I didn’t see or hear from women who looked like me or came from a background like me,” she says. “I also felt like men were capturing women, writing roles of women, painting women; the narrative and perspective was controlled and came from a shallow unrealistic lens.”
With this in mind, female voices takes centre stage throughout her creative practice. Stories of womanhood and personal narratives are brought to the fore through an experimental mix of illustration, animation, film and photography. Most recently, Nourie has taken time to reflect on her output after experiencing burn out in the busyness of pre-pandemic life. As a result, she decided to slow down and branch out from the box that labelled herself as an illustrator, all while launching an archival project about her people and ancestors, the Druze: “a very mysterious mystical-like minority who lived in secret for generations and hid in the mountains of The Levant, and later travelled the world and integrated into other communities,” she explains. “It’s a project I’ve been working on since the pandemic started, and one I hope to continue to reclaim and share our stories.”
During the panel discussion, Nourie states how she’s eager to hear the individual narratives of other creatives. “I think it’s so important to meet and listen to others in the industry and other industries,” she says. “It gives us a different perspective on things; it adds or expands our knowledge and awareness. I would love to hear their stories, what they think the future holds for creatives and the constant evolution of their practice.”
In a similar vein, Studio Safar – a Beirut-based design and art direction agency – uses its far-reaching practice to address a lack of representation in the creative industry, only this time it draws a focus onto the Middle East. Run by creative directors Maya Moumne and Hatem Imam, the studio’s work spans publications, exhibitions, packaging, album covers and website designs.
As part of our New World series in 2021, Studio Safar gave an inspiring session encouraging attendees to create their own magazine cover, joining us again to continue discussing how they utilise media to put forward self expression. In more recent months, Studio Safar has continued its publishing ventures and released a range of books including Treat Me Like Your Mother, a body of work that documents, archives and tells the stories of Lebanese trans women. Another prominent example of the team’s change-making offering is Journal Safar, a bilingual and biannual magazine that celebrates visual and design culture across the Middle East. Presented with an identifiable visual identity, vibrant tones and commissions, each issue features curated work that responds to a set theme of topic. It shows that, through solidarity and resilience, creativity really does have the power to reimagine a more inclusive tomorrow.
It’s clear to see how Studio Safar is actively (and positively) contributing to the Lebanese cultural scene. “Our practice departs from the assumption that our audiences are complicit in our politics and ready to fight the fight,” explains Maya. “As such, it feels that our battles are already partly won.” However, over the past couple of years, Lebanon has faced many challenges: a pandemic, a large explosion, uprisings and an economic collapse. But through its impactful, activist and forward-facing practice, the studio has given the country (and the world) some hope as it strives to rewrite its own future.
In the upcoming panel, the Studio Safar team looks forward to hearing how others are dreaming up their ideal world – just like they are. “Listening to other creatives talk about their versions of the future is the most invigorating thing,” shares Maya. “It’s like when you’re young and you’re invited to a play date, and you enter the imaginary world of another kid.”
At the moment, creativity seems to be heading in a more personalised, equal and critical direction – and we’re all for it. It’s a way of showing the world who we really are, our histories, what we stand for. These topics will be discussed in length with our editor-in-chief Matt Alagiah during the panel session, and be sure to keep an out for the upcoming studio sessions with the artists. A few weeks after the talks, you’ll be given the chance to create your own personal collage with Jazz which will delve into your hopes for tomorrow; and Nourie will also guide you through a portrait drawing session, showing you how to introduce elements from your own heritage into the finished piece.
New World: Building Tomorrow
To conclude our virtual series, New World: Creating for Tomorrow, join us for a panel discussion focused on how technology and creativity will combine in the future. It’s Nice That editor-in-chief Matt Alagiah will be joined by designers Moniker and Amsterdam-based Studio Dumbar to discuss the skills and tools that’ll shape tomorrow, including AI, VR and the Metaverse.
Thursday 29 March
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.