Ibra Ake is a name we should all know. And if it is not for his work, then it’s because of the profound statements that he makes on the Internet, which like many other rants are temporary. For this month’s Artist Spotlight, we chat to Ibra about his journey into the arts, his thoughts on the industry and what it means to be a visual artist in today’s world. A photographer and art director based in New York City – his work is exceptional, so it’s no surprise to discover that it has appeared in outlets like Chanel, Vogue and the Huffington Post. It has been a busy period for Ibra & the rest of Royalty, who are currently working on the forthcoming FX drama, Atlanta.
Ibra took some time out of his busy schedule to chat to Teardusk and here’s what he had to say:
Hi, Ibra! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Ibra. I’m a Nigerian-American artist living in NYC. I dabble in a lot of disciplines, but I’m mostly known for photography and art direction work.
What inspires you to create and why?
Not sure. I think of my mind as a portal and my job is to release all the ideas and characters I have before I die. I think making stuff is more challenging and noble than destroying. Destroying is fun, I enjoy it because it’s easy especially when I’m lazy. But creating and building and letting others build on what you make is the point of life. I think.
How did you first get into photography?
By accident, I took a photoshop class in my last two semesters in community college, and I hated the stock pictures that we had to use for class exercises so I started taking my own for assignments. The head of the photo department Ms Poirier encouraged me to go down this path and my friends modelled for me. The ability to make my friends look cool was a huge motivator.
Is it true that all it takes to become a photographer is an understanding of composition and an eye-for-detail?
Nah, like most art it’s about your point of view. I think generally you can take the most rubbish idea but if you really lean into it, perhaps repeat it enough, you’ll probably end up discovering or making something incredible. I don’t think being a photographer is sacred, maybe being a good photographer but anyone can be a photographer. All you have to do is declare who you are to the world and there you are. You may be a terrible or unaccomplished photographer but I can’t and shouldn’t stop you from being part of the community, because what if I’m wrong. And even if you’re terrible you should still be allowed to play and given the chance to improve and succeed. But I will call bullshit if I don’t like your work. I say respect others and call bullshit but don’t turn it into a personal attack.
Most visual artists don’t have mixtapes. What led you to create ‘b i r d s’?
I don’t really think of art as one outlet but I understand it’s easier for people when it comes from one spout. Art is just a communication tool. I had all this stuff I was sitting on like a video of Bridget Minamore’s poetry, and I thought why can’t this be cover art. Why does cover art have to be pictures we should think about making it a video. Twitter rants I had saved that I thought were really profound and should be presented as art, so I paired it with music from friends. I think the point was to make something artistic and highbrow (like Bridget’s poetry) packaged in a way that’s digestible. I’m always thinking about the distribution of art. It’s almost as important as the art.
Is there a message you aim to express through your art?
I don’t know how to answer that. I think art should serve something. And it changes, sometimes it’s expressing my identity or culture. Sometimes it means nothing it’s just a studio exercise. Sometimes I’m trying to teach or influence the world by introducing philosophies and ideas I want to see more.
Mr Ibra, what are your thoughts on the current state of the creative industry?
I worry about how much we’ve lost the ability to slow down, it’s hard to build worlds because I feel like everyone is constantly changing channels. And I think everything feels cheap. Nothing feels expensive. But I really believe the potential is at an all-time high we’re just not weaponizing our tools as much. I don’t think it’s the creative industry though I think the industry, in general, is designed to not push boundaries. Just as an example we achieved supersonic flight in ’76 and we settled for slow planes to this day because of the noise and one crash. I’m not saying it to be romantic, I’m saying it because I want to be really boastful about all the things we collectively made in my lifetime as a creative. We’re still not using Instagram like the Reddit thread that I see it as to build communities and exchange ideas among users. Companies are still resorting to plagiarism instead of inventing. A lot of what I see seems undeveloped.
Do you have any words of wisdom for young creatives out there? Do you have any words of wisdom for young creatives out there?
There will be ups and downs, it’s scary but normal, don’t freak out you’re still supposed to be here. The second piece of advice is to try to think about who you are billing for your art that you don’t intend to hoard (after all it’s still a job). Is it rich suckas with no swag looking to buy your cool? Is it the general public? Is it companies? Always be billing. You’re slanging work. You’re The Clipse.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve been lucky to be doing more video and TV work with Royalty and I’m really enjoying being in a situation where I can work with friends in that world. I hate talking about future plans because I feel like that’s unneeded pressure on projects in development but this month I’m just focused on some collaborations with some publications and companies that finally seem to want to give me a decent amount of creative control to make work for them.
If you like Ibra’s body of work, visit www.ibraake.com to see more of his photography.