We discuss her ‘Functional Sculptures’, challenging Eurocentic narrative around design, music while working, art-world essentials and more...
In three words she describes her work as:
Black, Functional, Sculptors
“The goal has always been to create visibility so when I hear from Black femmes saying that I am the first Black femme in furniture design that they have encountered, I am both humbled and grateful that I pushed forward in an industry that can feel so isolating.”
Tell me the story behind your Instagram handle Nifemi?
When I tell you, I normally change my name depending on what my mood is..... My previous name was @where.is.my.stimulus.check (because I was literally looking for my stimulus check).
@blonder.than.necessary came from me dyeing my hair much blonder than I expected. I kind of have to keep this one for a while.
Quick one, what 3 words would you use to describe your incredible sculptural artwork?
Nifemi, tell me about your artist story. How were you trained? Tell me about your journey to where you are now?
I studied Industrial Design with a focus in Product Design during Undergrad as a compromise. I always loved sketching, playing the piano, and the arts but was advised to study something more suitable for the job market. My junior year, I took a furniture design class as an elective where I created a light fixture. I always connected more with the classes I had around furniture design though that wasn't my focus. My first opportunity post-graduation was an internship at a company that designed residential furniture. I was the design intern. I then worked for a lighting manufactures rep as a Design Coordinator and finally as a Product Manager at a lighting manufacture. At my most recent job, I found myself spending my evenings sketching my own ideas and I eventually found a community makers space where I could experiment with making objects. When I was going back and forth trying to figure out if I should focus on making furniture on my own full-time, I got let go. Since then, I apprenticed under a sculptor, have been able to work on my own projects and solidified graduate school for the fall.
It all feels very serendipitous. For years, I was applying for better jobs not realizing that maybe it wasn't a new job that I was searching for.
Nifemi, I've often wondered this: what is your studio like? Where do you like to create best? What are your artist necessities? What could you not live without?
I currently do not have my own studio but I am very blessed to have people to share studio space with. Though it's my only option when I create from home, I enjoy working outside (but not when it's painfully humid in the South).
Every builder needs a Square Tool/ Leveler. Though I work with organic and curved forms, objects need to be square and level so that they can serve a function and have longevity. Out of all the electric tools, I find the jigsaw to be one I can not live without.
What do you listen to while you work?
It all depends. If I'm working during the day I often play softer music (Ex: Okay Kaya, Tasha, Joyce Olong, Tirzah, Etc.) but at night (when I'm trying to keep my energy up and dance a little) I will probably be listening to Trap or Experimental Pop.
You have just been announced as the 2020 artist in residence for @sip_residency ! Congratulations. Very well deserved, and I am a huge fan of your work. Tell me, you describe yourself as a furniture designer. Tell me a bit about your process?
Thank you so much! Everything I make starts with a sketch (whether it's because I'm trying to escape in a meeting or because I think of a form and don't want to forget it). Sometimes I 3D Model my ideas, sometimes I don't but I always make full scale orthographic drawings for my pieces to understand their proportions. From there, I build. I usually have a rough idea of how I am going to build something but I always allow sometime to make samples if I am experimenting with a new process. In the building process, you have to be open to changing your plan. There are many ways to reach your end goal. Be flexible and open.
What do you want your work to say? What are the main themes and motifs running through your work? Is there a narrative that runs throughout?
I define my personal work as "Functional Sculptures". With my work I want to challenge the Eurocentic narrative around design. Design has existed before colonialism and hold deep cultural and religious meanings for many communities that are erased through stolen African artifacts. Through my work, I use photography, performance, and videography to uplift Black bodies (specifically queer/ femmes) and to hold space for reflection around the ways we experience/ connect with furniture. It's very intimate. These are objects we are our most vulnerable at. We use furniture to rest.
Tell me about your photographs, and the significance of including elements of your body in these?
To be fully transparent, the last 3 pieces I created out in Colorado and I was the only Black subject I knew to photograph. I reached out to 2 friends about a year ago regarding this idea of photographing Black bodies with furniture but it just so happened that I did an apprenticeship out West and the people I had intended to photograph lived out East. Due to coronavirus, the objects will be living in Colorado until further notice.
Nifemi, tell me, what memorable responses have you had to your work? And which artwork would you like people to remember you for?
The goal has always been to create visibility so when I hear from Black femmes saying that I am the first Black femme in furniture design that they have encountered, I am both humbled and grateful that I pushed forward in an industry that can feel so isolating. I also try to make a point to share other designer/artists in this work because Black people do exist in the field, we just lack visibility. Representation is huge and I want to be another voice proving that people who look like me have dreams that are not only valid, but also possible.
That's so powerful! I bet - it's so important what you do and I'm so pleased to help even a tiny bit with giving you a platform. How do you think your work has developed throughout your career? And what are your artist career highlights?
Again, I feel like I am just starting but removing the "Return On Investment" mentality that was ingrained in my course work during undergrad has given me the freedom to genuinely create and experiment with ideas I've had in my head for years. I think creating without the intention of capital gain breeds authenticity. That's what I strive to develop in.
What are you working on at the moment Nifemi? And what would be your dream project?
Right now I am working on a few commissions and a project for the SIP Residency where I am exploring how to visually represents the prison industrial complex through furniture. The dream has always been to combine design with storytelling. I would love to create public sculptors, public spaces and performance pieces that all highlight the importance of lifting up Blackness. I also want to use my skills in organizing spaces and to support those fighting to create accessible housing for my community.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I was born in Lyon, France.
Favourite historical female artist?
Learning about Zaha Hadid in design school really transformed the way I thought about creating and the possibilities. She was not only one of the first female designers I learned about but she was a woman of color. One of my favorite quotes by her is when she said: "Of course I believe imaginative architecture can make a difference to people's lives, but I wish it was possible to divert some of the effort we put into ambitious museums and galleries into the basic architectural building blocks of society.”
Favourite current practising female artist?
Senga Nenguidi. Her use of movement, space and abstract sculptures tell stories that immediately evoke empathy. She's truly brilliant.
Who should She Curates interview next?
Sloane Siobhan. She's a muralist/ painter based in Los Vegas but we met in undergrad and both lived in Charlotte, NC. She is helping to define what afrofuturism looks like.
AGAIN! I would like to emphasized how honored I am that you reached out and wanted to hear my story. It means so so so much!!!!