"My style of work is dynamic, focusing on voices of those who are often unheard [in society]," said Onyinye Zennia, a Nigerian artist who uses a string method to construct her powerful pieces. "The interplay of different colorful strokes of thread on nails is used to reveal fading culture and political issues." She discusses those themes in some of her most thought-provoking artworks...
1. Bleeding Rose
"Bleeding Rose is a figurative image showing two powerful hands of a man and woman squeezing life out of a fetus. For me, this portrays the abuse of human life in all forms and the frustrations and helplessness of situations experienced by most Nigerian/African children."
2. Behind Closed Doors
"This artwork emphasizes that aspect in our life that is open only to ourselves, which may be offensive when shared publicly. It portrays where we are completely and who we are without pretense, as we cover to uncover."
3. Tears of the People
"Each time I hear of an attack or abduction, I begin to imagine the endless tears that has run down the eyes of thousands of mothers, enough to complete a river flow. With this work, I have tried to visually capture, measure, and collect those tears. I still wonder if they will ever stop."
4. Mutilated Beauty
"This one exposes that part of our life that is covered or hidden because of fear of rejection. Generally, women are considered the epitome of beauty. In this work, [the woman's] face is partly covered, signifying the abuse of beauty in nature and human life. When [women] are afraid of abuse, they in turn cover their real identity or withdraw, but there's always a revelation in concealment."
5. Stuck in Vow
"She's stuck in the vows of her marriage; her expectations are smashed and left with nothing but worries of life. What she's pursuing is a lost cause; it is deep and disturbed thinking."
6. Child Brides
"They're too young to marry. In Africa today, some girls are abandoned by their families in the name of early marriage, and their education is denied. Educating girls is a necessary investment for a peaceful and poverty-free world."
7. Rhythm of Love
"This one emphasizes the beauty of love, depicting dance and rhythm of the couple over the pain that love [may bring]."
When asked what she feels is the place of artistic expression in society, Zennia explained, "Art remains the only way through which I share my thoughts and ideas. My works are always laden with emotions and aesthetics." And we're especially moved by your work. Thank you for sharing, Onyinye. ◆
Follow Onyinye on Instagram @zennia_art to see more of her work.
As an illustrator and character designer, Katherine Budak often re-imagines pop culture classics and troupes into her own punchy, original work. Here we dissect some of her boldest pieces, getting into the heart of who she is as an artist and storyteller...
Q: Let's first talk about your style of art. How would you describe it?
A: I would describe it as vibrant, narrative-driven characters with a slightly graphic sensibility. My inspirations often include comic books, 1960s aesthetic, Eastern European folklore, Ghibli films, and female youth.
Q: Some of your work involves re-imagining pop culture characters. How do you go through that process of envisioning icons in a new way?
A: For me, redesigning characters involves taking their most recognized characteristics and imagining how they could be reinterpreted in a new context. I think specifically about character development and how the environments and relationships of [the characters'] new world might lead them to develop the traits we're all familiar with.
For example, in my teen Batman series, I took an iconic character like Poison Ivy and thought about what she might have been like before she was a femme fatale and how that version of her would fit into a high school setting. I found the idea of "a wallflower personality type coming into her own" very interesting. I imagined her learning how to embrace the things that make her different, like growing from [someone who is] insecure to empowered and how the emotions that define the character could be reflected in the design. You have to understand a character's core motivations and inner world before you begin to design their physical appearance. Ask yourself what they desire, what they fear, and how they would react differently from other characters in certain situations. How can you translate that using shape language, color, posing, and expression?
Q: You created a children's book in college called Runaway Girl. Can you tell us about this book and how you got the inspiration to write and illustrate the story?
A: Runaway Girl revolves around a loyal dog's search for his lost owner. The owner is a girl who runs away from home to seek adventure in the nearby woods. I based this story on the many fantasies I had as a child of exploring a vast, primordial woodland that was nothing like the urban metropolis of Los Angeles where I grew up. The dialogue between the dog and the woodland creatures was inspired by the Russian storybooks my mother read to me as a child, and the setting was inspired by the forest near her hometown in Belarus.
Q: And your graduation project involved a conceptualization of The Sound of Music as animation. How did you dive into that process?
A: My process began with researching and compiling reference image boards of the actors, the period attire, props, Austrian environment, and character design inspirations (thank god for Pinterest!). I came up with a story chart after that, listing the major moments or beats of the film. Then came the ideation phase of playing with the characters and sketching out emotional scenes, expressions, poses, and different versions of the characters. Next, I chose the sketches that seemed to work the best and refined them and cleaned them up. Then, I placed the characters side by side in a line-up, at first in monochrome and then in color. Eventually, I realized my first pass [could be improved], and utilizing notes from a mentor, I redesigned the main cast and background characters into their current state.
Q: You've also interned at FriendsWithYou, another arts collective based in Los Angeles. What was that like?
A: Interning at FriendsWithYou over the summer has been a fun experience filled with challenges and growth. It's a relatively small studio helmed by two passionate artists who have been collaborating together for years. They do quite a few different things but are known primarily for their large-scale installation art and animated Netflix series True and the Rainbow Kingdom. I've learned an array of new skills on the job and gained a lot of insight into the variety of avenues artists can take with their work.
We hope to hear more about your craft and journey in the future, Katherine! It was great learning from you! ◆
You can find more of Katherine's work on her website. Follow her on Instagram @kate_budak.