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An interview with Artist Dakarai Akil
Name: Dakarai Akil, but some people call me by my instagram handle DK1994 or DK for short.
Background: I was born and raised in Cleveland, OH. I’ve been an artist since before I could walk. My dad was a very talented artist so really early on he taught me how to be creative. We weren’t necessarily poor but we couldn’t afford all the latest toys everyone else had so my dad taught me at a young age how to be resourceful with your average household items like cardboard boxes and tape. I would make things to play with out of just those two things. I think that eventually translated into my love for making collages. But my craft didn’t start there. I went from drawing and making things to play with out of cardboard to graffiti in my teenage years. I was a skater and heavily into hip hop culture so graffiti was something that came with the territory.
My biggest influences at the time was my brother and Pharrell for their styles. I wanted to be like them so much I would dress like Pharrell but also steal my brothers clothes and where them to school. Style has always been important to me so at 15 I came up with the idea to start a clothing line. I would draw people wearing imaginary clothes I designed in these notebooks and write graffiti all over them. In my junior and senior year of high school I studied graphic design and taught myself photoshop. The crazy concepts I would draw in my notebooks switched over to photoshop. By the time I was ready to graduate I took those ideas and started putting them on t-shirts to sell to my friends and whoever was interested. Right out of high school I was making a killing off of these t shirts. I ended up going to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for fashion & retail management thinking I would learn how to properly run a successful clothing brand. I spent two years there and didn’t learn much academically but I learned how to collaborate on big ideas with other creatives which ended up being one of the most powerful lessons I could’ve learned. After continued success with my clothing brand I was starting to feel boxed into this fashion thing and it didn’t feel as good as I thought it would.
I slowly started to move away from fashion in the years to come and focus more on just being an artist. I was still making clothing but I was getting into doing gallery shows more. After leaving school and moving back home to Cleveland I continued the clothing brand and graphic designing but I ended up discovering collage through artists I found on Tumblr. At the time I was building up a body of work on a gallery using Tumblr where I would follow other artists. I saw these really intricate collages that look different from any other collage I had ever seen. So I gave it a try for myself.
Before I went to collage, a family friend who has been in the fashion industry for years gave me a big box of fashion magazines to study. I never ended up doing anything with the magazines until the time I discovered collage art. When I made my first few collages with these fashion magazines I immediately fell in love with it. Now fast forward years later I’ve now published two art books full of my collage works, I’ve done countless gallery shows around the world and landed a bunch of album cover designs for recording artists and bands.
Q: Most influential female in your life?
The most influential female in my life has to be my mom. She's inspired me for years with her hard work and dedication to helping others. She sacrificed so much just for my brother and I to live the quality of life that we live. I know that I could never fall too far because my mom would never let me slip that far. Her work ethic and genuine care for the world inspired me to do the things I do.
Q: Collaging is such an intricate process, every detail has to come together visually while also telling a story... How did you get into this kind of art form?
I started collaging after years of doing graphic design. I studied design in high school playing with programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. By the time I graduated high school I was completely burnt out of graphic design because I hated my teacher and at this point I already knew what I wanted to do after school which was becoming a fashion designer. So I went to AI for fashion but before I went, a family friend who is in the fashion Industry gave me a huge box of fashion magazines to study. Years went by and I didn't study them. After leaving school, moving back home and continuing to use my graphic design knowledge for my clothing brand I discovered a few collage artists on Tumblr where I was building an online presence for my art at the time. I remembered I had that box of magazines in my room so I gave collage a shot. I remember immediately falling in love with the feeling of putting one together. I applied my graphic design skills to collage and just ran with it. Now years later, I've published two art books full of my collage work, put them up in the streets around the country and even on the other side of the world in places like Kathmandu, Nepal.
Q: For this collaboration in particular, we asked you to think about how the women in your life shaped you. Can you tell us a little bit about the meanings behind each piece?
She Was The Light - This design came from a place of just simply wanting to celebrate black women. Black women have been the back bone of society for centuries and they often get the least credit for it on top of being the most disrespected people in the world. The phrase “She Was The Light” came to me when I thought about all of that and it just seemed to fit perfectly. Her Skin Was Made Of Gold - This design came for my love and appreciation for our complexion. Darker skin in many cultures is viewed as a flaw due to European beauty standards. Some people goes far as bleaching their skin to appear lighter. Growing up you would hear people crack jokes about how black you are if you were. A lot of it from other black folk which is self hate. But to me black skin is like gold. Family Piece - Now this design which is my favorite of the three is a dedication to four women in my life that have helped shape and mold me into who I am. Pamela is my mother, Jellybean and Armenia are my two very strong grand mothers and Rae is one of my closest friends. All four of these women have pushed me and supported me my whole life. Sometimes I feel like there’s just never enough I can do to show them my deep love and appreciation for them so the idea to dedicate part of this collaboration felt like it was only right.
Q: You're incredibly involved in community based work, can you tell us more about that?
Along with my career as an artist I am also an art program assistant for a community art studio in Skid Row called Studio 526 with The People Concern. We offer members of the Community a safe creative space where they can freely express themselves. We make art supplies readily available to them for free as well as presenting artists with opportunities to show their work in galleries and publications. At Studio 526 we believe institutions like ours are a human right that all communities should have. Not only ours. I’ve been here for two years now, but I took interest in a job like this because I had experience working with inner city kids back in Pittsburgh where I would teach art in schools and host monthly collage workshops in the community. After I left collage back in 2011 I moved back home to Cleveland for 6 years then I ended up landing a job as a creative director for a start up record label in Pittsburgh that some friends of mine I went to school with had started. When I moved back to Pittsburgh for the job it lasted a good 8 months before it crashed and burned. In the process of that, I became homeless. I was living out of my car, sleeping on friends couches and eventually ended up moving into my friend’s art gallery across town. At the time I was still working my career as an artist in the city.
As a black creative in Pittsburgh, I quickly learned you have to jump through extra hoops that other non black artists don’t have to in order to get substantial opportunities. So I decided to become an art teacher. I worked as a specialist art teacher where I would only come in for specific projects the kids were working on. Gaining that experience working with kids I started doing monthly collage workshops at my friend’s gallery. Just a couple of months after doing the collage workshops I took one of the biggest leaps I had ever made at the time to pack everything up that I owned into my car and drove across the country to move to LA. When I got to LA I would just hustle the art I had and drive for Lyft and deliver Doordash for about 8 or 9 months.
When that became too much I needed a real job so I applied for hundreds of jobs. Just throwing my resume everywhere that had something even the least bit creative. I ended up finding this position as an art program assistant and decided to give it a shot. It was similar to the work I had done in Pittsburgh working with kids so it seemed like the perfect match. Taking that job was one of the best decision I made in a long time. It feels good to utilize my talents to actually be a part of something way bigger than me.
Q: Favorite piece you've ever made?
Aww man that’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is haha I’ll say my favorite piece I’ve made as of late is a piece I made called Roblox. Its a kid I made look like a cyborg and it reminds me of how much kids today love this game called Roblox.
Q: One adjective you would use to describe each of these women in your crewneck sweatshirt 'Family Piece':
Rae: Unconditional Love
Armenia : Protector
Learn more about Dakarai and see his art at dakaraiart.com
Follow him on Instagram @dk1994
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