They say one starts the game and another bags it, but you don’t want to say that about NK. He’s a designer who plays with surreal Ghanaian themes while bagging it as he goes- literally!
NK is a young Ghanaian creative who’s adding more feathers to his artististic cap by traversing from visual mediums to the tactile. From photomanipulated images of kente-wearing archetypes crowned with space helmets to tote bags embossed with images of plummeting Ghana black stars, NK isn’t holding back on his art expression. ConceptbyNk, his bespoke tote bag studio produces beautifully-stencilled bags with images torn right out of a Ghanaian kaleidoscope dream.
He’s 18 and fresh out the pot but you’d forgive him for sticking to his winning formula – using Afrocentrism and Afrofuturism to create consciousness-expanding art. After all, it’s this art that’s carving a benchmark for NK.
We had a conversation with the 18-year old artist about his expression (what), inspiration (why) and process (how).
What got you into the art of digital photo manipulation?
It started in 2017 for me, that’s when I first got into digital art. Artists like David Alabo, Basquiat, San Dersar, and Tishk Barzanji, their art were my muses. They inspired me. I started making pieces by putting together pictures and photographs to make retro 2d art and manipulated photo collages. I delved into Afrocentric art and created my first Afrocentric and Afrofuturisric pieces, “Gateway to Paradise” and “Modernization”.
Clearly, you love the surreal. Tell us, where do you find inspiration in your art.
I draw inspiration from my surroundings. Mostly, anyway. But I have a deep regard for Ancient African Cultures. I try to pick specific elements and integrate them with logos and ethos from futuristic movies, tv shows and also music videos. I’m a big fan of the sci-fi genre and I’m a bit of a mondain too. These two together- let’s just say I don’t tire of imagining and reimagining.
From digital photo manipulation to fashion. How’d you veer into making your signature tote bags?
There were a lot of requests for prints of my art pieces as well as merchandise. Tote bags have become the ideal bag for a lot of people. They are fashionable, reusable and environmentally sustainable. They are easily my go-to option. Making these tote bags didn’t just help to build brand awareness for me but they helped me to push the idea of Afrofuturism and Afro digital art to an entirely new audience.
The conversation around sustainable fashion trends has amped up in recent years. How do you figure your fashion-forward tote bags play a part towards a more eco-friendly Ghana and Africa as a whole?
I am big on our environment. I feel, if we don’t take care of our now, how do we expect to even have a tomorrow? This is why my tote bags are made using biodegradable jute material. Very environmentally friendly. Even when these bags are damaged they can be repurposed. For me, each time one of my eco-friendly tote bags is used, I’m glad that a single-use plastic bag somewhere is being kept out of circulation.
“CONVEYING MESSAGES WITH EVERY ART PIECE I MAKE IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME, THIS CREATES DIVERSITY AND WITH THIS , AN ART PIECE MAY END UP BECOMING VERY PERSONAL TO AN ART LOVER.”
We now know what motivates your artistic process, but do you have golden rules to whatever art you’re creating, whether digital or tactile?
Consistency is one thing I’ve always paid attention to. I think being consistent with making new art pieces has really paid off for me as an artist. I’ve also learnt to be very patient as an artist especially if a particular technique or idea I’m trying to output is not going as planned. At first I might’ve closed the project out of frustration and quit but now I try to find loopholes or to learn new methods in order to be able to truly express myself.
Currently, most of your work is bespoke- your prints, your bags and your digital art pieces. Why is that?
Every piece I make is unique due to the fact that I build upon different ideas and sources of inspiration. With every art piece or collection I make, there is always a different topic or issue I try to adress all with the main focus of disseminating African Culture. Conveying messages with every art piece I make is very important to me, this creates diversity and with this , an art piece may end up becoming very personal to an art lover.
You’re young but well on your way towards greater success. Your interview with OkayAfrica is testament. Would you describe your style as improving or changing?
I definitely think my style has changed over the years. An example of this change is me gaining interest in creating African art and changing the theme of my work to reflect that interest. I think over time I have learnt about new ways to approach creating my pieces. With the constant introduction of new mediums and art styles the possibilities are endless and as time goes on I am and will always be ready to develop and acquire new skills.
Does art help you in other areas of your life?
Getting involved in the art and creative scene has done a lot for me. From helping to make new connections with other creatives in various fields to improving the way I look and address issues. It’s had a great impact on my thinking process and even tactical creativity in fields such as sports. It has also given me the ability to lead projects confidently and to easily put my ideas forward.
If you’ve noticed, we’re hang up on your tote bags. They are a slice of Ghana that anyone can carry on under their arm. Is there a specific environment or material that’s integral to your tote bag art?
Environment or material? I’d say Ghana as a muse. In selecting what art pieces to print on the tote bags I wanted to pick an art piece of mine which would really push the message of Afrofuturism and also another which would represent the Motherland. I picked my pieces “Freedom Stop” and “Chief’s Summit” . The chieftancy institution and local royal palaces were environments which greatly influenced the Chief’s Summit art piece. I made the Freedom Stop art piece by integrating an essential mode of transport here in Ghana with an important national landmark , the Independence Square.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of professional art?
I love the freedom as an artist – the liberating expression that comes with it. My least favourite part would be…deadlines, which usually come with custom orders.
Do you collaborate with other artists? If so tell us about a joint project you worked on and how it affected your craft.
I love to collaborate with other artists. I worked on a collaborative project with a photographer and digital artist here in Ghana , Mowgli titled “Mother Africa”. Working on this piece helped me to understand art from another creative’s perspective. We had very similar ideas and in the end it was very easy to come up with a final piece. Working on this project brought me face to face with new challenges. I had to take a different approach to applying textures and other key elements which were new to me. It was a ride I’m keen on taking again.
Where do you see yourself and your art in the global art community in the next decade?
In the next decade? I’d like my art to be perceived and regarded globally. Being able to be a part of the Afrocentric and Afrofuturistic digital art movement is a big dream of mine that is already starting. It is early days yer, but in a couple of years I’d want to be able to be seen as an inspiration for other young African artists. This continent – this world needs all the diverse expressions it can get.
View and shop NK art here.