The month of February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of the contributions and achievements of Black members of our communities. Celebrate this month’s heritage with us by learning more about the lives and work of Black designers, artists, and photographers in Houston.
Illustrator Chris Robinson’s work brings together his professional experience in graphic design and his personal cultural heritage. His illustrations depict subjects playfully while remaining deeply rooted in rich family and cultural histories. Chris also serves as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Coordinator for AIGA Houston.
What does being part of the BIPOC community mean to you? It means understanding that, for the rest of the world, culture is curated through Black people. Therefore, we should exist on the side that’s doing the curation as Black creatives.
How does your heritage impact your creative work?
I try my best to incorporate my heritage in everything that I create, even when the subject matter isn’t Black people or people of color.
What are the proudest accomplishments of your career? That’s tough! So far, being a part of the Adobe Artists Development Fund. I’m working to make other moments, too!
How has your creative practice evolved over the past 12 months? It’s evolved so much, it’s day and night. Illustration-wise, I’ve just been able to see color palettes so differently and my renderings of a sketch is much more intentional than by mistake.
How have your personal and/or professional goals shifted over the past twelve months? They have grown tremendously. My goals and dreams are to be a part of the design and entertainment world forever, so I hope that I continue to grow in my style of design and illustration and that the world takes notice.
How does Houston’s diversity add value to the creative community and city as a whole? For one, I get to see people that look like me in diverse settings, which breathes life into the ideal that I can be more than “xyz.” And, secondly, the merging of cultures and races here are literally living, breathing compositions for my next works.
How can design or your creative field be more supportive and inclusive of underrepresented people, especially BIPOC creatives? You know what I’m recognizing over the years now? The true lack of supplies to get started. A lot of kids that come up how I did can’t afford what it takes to thrive in this industry from jump. So they’re not able to be exposed to a lot of things in the design world and industry to start with.
Where do you find inspiration? I find in my personal narrative in Black culture.
What’s next on the horizon? To continue to walk in my purpose, make works that feature representation of my people, and create opportunities for Black creatives, as well.
As a New Orleans native, Torey Brown grew up immersed in art, culture, and communal spaces. She found a sense of connection through music and shared experiences in a small city community. She started songwriting and playing the guitar when she was 10 years old, which connected her to the art form of storytelling. When she was accepted into Berklee College of Music and was unable to afford attendance, she realized the importance of intersecting her passion for creativity, human connection, and storytelling into everything she did, regardless of the circumstances. As a community organizer and strategist at The Black Sheep Agency, her current work incorporates art, culture, intersectionality, and the human experience.
What does being part of the BIPOC community mean to you? It means standing true to myself, no matter what the context or situation. It means being brave and unapologetic. It means decolonizing my way of living and thinking. It means destroying the binary. It means living through my roots who have passed on.
How does your heritage impact your creative work? One of my top core values is living for future generations, and it fuels everything I do. As a Black woman in the white-dominated industry of marketing, I didn’t follow a traditional path of graduating with a marketing degree. I’m hopeful that my experiences, failures, successes, vulnerability, and honesty paves a way for other Black people to feel empowered to do the same. Being Black means unlearning behaviors and removing indoctrinations that were placed upon us since birth — and the beautiful thing is that so many people these days are on the trajectory of finding themselves and understanding who they are. My work is rooted in cultural healing — for myself and others.
Where do you find inspiration? Music, human relationships, nature, vulnerability, and art.
Reme Ekoh‘s passion for design and love for creating has led him from the world of web and mobile UI/UX to now designing conversations between humans and computers. With or without an interface, Reme remains laser-focused on the end-user experience, ensuring that the finished product is functional and intuitive. Reme has a creative approach to problem-solving, applying the human-centered design process of inspiration, ideation, and implementation when creating digital solutions. Reme’s creativity stems from his intrinsic desire to glorify God using technology as a medium. When he is not designing websites, mobile apps, or Alexa skills, Reme loves to spend time with his queen and princess.
How does your heritage impact your creative work? The richness of the African culture, values, and traditions significantly impacts my creative work — from my appreciation of nature and its inspiration to my strong work ethic and commitment to helping others.
What are the proudest accomplishments of your career? My proudest moment so far was the first time my daughter invoked an Alexa Skill I designed for her. Hearing my voice and her nickname — I can still see how her whole face just lit up. Another memorable moment was when I assisted in overhauling the onboarding process for patients of the no.1 hospital in Texas.
How has your creative practice evolved over the past twelve months? Empathy has always been an integral part of my creative process — as it should be. But over the past 18 months or so, I’ve had to decisively develop it even more so.
How does Houston’s diversity add value to the creative community and city as a whole? Living in the most diverse city in the United States definitely enriches the creative community, because experiencing other people and cultures leads to discovering new ways of tackling complex social challenges.
How can design or your creative field be more supportive and inclusive of underrepresented people, especially BIPOC creatives? Creating mentorship programs to help new and experienced designers. Boost awareness by highlighting the works of Black creatives. Enlighten kids in high schools about the growth, exposure, and viability of a design or creative field career. So much more, but let’s start with these three…
Alex Arzú is Garifuna American multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes brush architecture, painting, street art, and tattoos. As the founder of Zu Art Collective, he also uses classical art techniques in combination with computer-generated design for his creations.
What does being part of the BIPOC community mean to you? Representation! I get to say I’m Black and indigenous. It’s important to share cultural awareness with others that we don’t get in public school.
How does your heritage impact your creative work? The history of my people has come with so much displacement: A shipwreck in 1625 off the island of Barbados and, again in 1796, when Europeans exiled 5080 Garifuna to the Island of Roatan near Honduras (approximately only 2,500 people survived). I basically do everything in honor of my ancestors and thank them for my protection. I don’t feel it’s a coincidence that we are still here and strong.
What are the proudest accomplishments of your career? I would definitely have to say working with BET and having them highlight me as an artist. Growing up being an artist was associated with being broke and not much of a future. I’m glad BET as a network recognizes that we have more options outside of sports, music, and academics to be successful.
How has your creative practice evolved over the past year? Because of increasing demand, I’m having to design and get approval much faster than it would take me to hand draw or paint my ideas, so I’ve been leaning heavily towards 3D software to generate lighting, perspective, colors, and subject matter for my work. And, I can simultaneously design, make changes, with little effect on the deadline.
How have your personal and/or professional goals shifted over the past twelve months? I’ve gotten to a point where I’m okay with not setting expectations. I rely more on trusting my consistency and embracing the behind-the-scenes practice I put in.
How can design or your creative field be more supportive and inclusive of underrepresented people, especially BIPOC creatives? It needs to be fulling a part of their surroundings by having art and music in the committees and continuing projects that funnel young creatives to opportunities like art contests, community murals, and workshops where people can understand that cycle of creative fields.
Where do you find inspiration? I have learned to find inspiration in almost anything. Most creative things have some sort of organization, whether it’s color schemes or themes. I keep it simple and try to figure out the small things that get ideas going.
What’s next on the horizon? I’m striving to continue to add more people to my team, forming the collective I’ve been envisioning, and cultivating like-minded artists that are also problem solvers.
Award-winning multidisciplinary artist Shawn Artis was born in 1974 in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was adopted by two social activists, Clarence and Lucille Artis. Shawn currently resides in Houston, Texas, where his practice focuses on using his visual storytelling abilities to highlight social and cultural issues that affect today’s societies. His body of work aims at encouraging dialogue while also creating solution-based thinking amongst diverse groups. Upon relocating to Houston, Shawn continued his studies at the John Biggers School of Art as well as the MFAH Glassell School, and has exhibited consistently for the past 15 years both nationally and internationally. After a lifelong journey of using the pain of not knowing his biological origins to fuel his artistic passions, in 2019, he was finally able to find his maternal family. Shortly thereafter, in 2021, he met his paternal side of the family. Now being equipped with the blueprint of his beginnings, the art world is eager to see what’s on the horizon for this electrifying creative.
What does being part of the BIPOC community mean to you? For me, being a BIPOC artist means you have an obligation and a duty to enlighten and educate through your creative mediums.
How does your heritage impact your creative work? I had to look up the meaning of the word “heritage” to properly address this question. By definition, heritage is a noun, meaning something that is handed down from the past.
Being that I was adopted I literally started from zero. The majority of my heritage was given to me by my adoptive parents Clarence and Lucille Artis. My parents were 50 years older than me and they were social activists. I received a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and experience from my parents, and I honor them through artistic storytelling.
What are the proudest accomplishments of your career? My proudest accomplishments come from me being able to use my art to raise awareness, funding, and resources for those in need. Over the years I’ve donated my time and talents to numerous corporations and organizations which resulted in priceless relationships that created opportunities to make an impact on society.
How has your creative practice evolved over the past twelve months? Over the past 12 months my artwork has become more bold and imperative. Living in a post-Covid world has made time feel more precious so I have no reason to hold anything back.
Where do you find inspiration? I find inspiration through a few different outlets. I always read to accumulate knowledge and new insights to help me come up with new ideas for my creative projects. I also find inspiration by moving about the city meeting new people and engaging in conversations.
What’s next on the horizon? I’m currently working on wrapping up a public art project in Fifth Ward, a mural at the Louis White Building on Lyons Avenue which was recently recognized as a historical landmark. In addition to that, I’m busy working on new work for my upcoming solo exhibition in San Antonio at the legendary Carver Community Cultural Center. My traveling exhibition, ARTis The Imitation of Life, will open to the public on February 24, 2022.
Sean Archibong is a Nigerian photographer based in Houston, Texas. He moved to the United States when he was 8 years old. He has always had a love for the arts, specifically photography and videography. He has always loved and enjoyed photography, but decided to take it more seriously about five years ago. He works closely with his partner Carissa Archibong and they collaborate on all their projects together.
What does being part of the BIPOC community mean to you? Being a part of the BIPOC community means I’m a representation of where I come from. I have a responsibility to show what it means to be a Nigerian and to carry my heritage/culture proudly for others to see. Being a part of the BIPOC community means to be loudly and proudly unapologetically me.
How has your creative practice evolved over the past twelve months? The last 12 months, like for most, have been difficult. I went from being able to go out and shoot any day and any time to being more intentional about what, and why, I’m shooting. This has been a blessing in disguise, because it has taught me to take more time with my art. I’ve learned, and I’m still learning, how to create with a purpose and to also know my intentions as I approach a new project piece.
How does Houston’s diversity add value to the creative community and city as a whole? The beauty about Houston’s diversity is that it allows the creative community the ability to explore beyond themselves and their own immediate culture. You see a lot of this in the work produced in Houston. Creatives in Houston work hard at not just exploring new ways of expressing their art, by exploring the diversities Houston has to offer, but also working on drawing similarities from the things learned to what they already know. In doing so, you see a level of uniqueness within the creative community that allows Houston to be one of the most creative cities in the US.
How can design or your creative field be more supportive and inclusive of underrepresented people, especially BIPOC creatives? My creative field can be more supportive by simply giving BIPOC creatives more platforms to express themselves. The arts are filled with very talented and dedicated BIPOC creatives that if given a bigger platform could elevate the creative community to see and think differently in ways that will push the arts to a higher level of growth.
John Smith is a common name, but his work ethic is anything but. John discovered a love for photography during his travels while serving in the military. He now owns and operates Black Smith Photo as a commercial product photographer in Houston, Texas, while working full-time as the Lead Product Photographer for Thrasio.
What does being part of the BIPOC community mean to you? Being a part of the Black community means that I am inspired to be an example because those who came before me have succeeded in worse circumstances, harsher climates, and in the face of blatant bigotry. While racism has been a recurring impediment during my journey, I cannot allow it to define me. The Black community is the foundation I know I can depend on and is part of my business’ namesake.
How does your heritage impact your creative work? My mother gave me the courage to pursue my dreams. Growing up in Third Ward, she taught me and my brother that persistence, dedication, and willingness to learn, change, and grow are characteristics we would need to be successful. My mother made reading a priority in our household and incessantly encouraged the practice, quoting the phrase “If you want to hide something from the Black man, hide it in a book.” As a public school elementary school teacher, she taught us that we could have our own businesses, earn financial independence, and live life truly free.
What are the proudest accomplishments of your career? Successfully pitching, producing, and photographing a famous NFL player for an athletic wear brand in New York is one of the proudest accomplishments of my career. My proudest achievement, however, was being able to give my middle school, Beatrice Mayes Institute (BMI), $8K in donations and computers during the pandemic. It was a dream come true for me, and I hope the children there have an enhanced learning experience and future because of it.
How has your creative practice evolved over the past year? Over the last year, my creative practice has evolved into something more organically fluid. While I still am very technical in my craft, I’ve learned to focus less on the technological aspects and more on the aesthetic. Less “how do I make this look pretty” and more “how can I arrest the viewer’s attention.” Less noise, more sound.
How have your personal and/or professional goals shifted over the past twelve months? My personal goals have shifted more towards self-development and self-care. I want to be an example for my kids, encouraging them to read and exercise by showing them that I am reading and exercising. Read and work out 30 minutes a day. My professional goals include actively building a focused portfolio tailored to the clients I want to receive. As a commercial photographer, the saying is “you get the work that you show.” So, my goal for 2022 is to tailor my portfolio to attract Houston’s oil and gas and distilled beverage industries.
How does Houston’s diversity add value to the creative community and city as a whole? Diversity is to Houston, as spices are to food. Houston is a melting pot of artists, and the city has a vast scope of mediums that artists use to show and share creative works. This is evident when I’m on set with my producer, creative director, make-up artist, models, and wardrobe stylists. The team always produces something greater than any one of us could accomplish alone. The diversity of our team brings a style or flavor that would make the final product better than if any of it were missing. Houston is also the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the United States and, in my opinion, one of the friendliest.
What BIPOC artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why? Matthew Jordan Smith is a well-known Black celebrity/fashion photographer whom I deeply respect and admire. I’ve followed his work since the beginning of my career, and he has been an amazing inspiration to me. While his work easily can stop me in my tracks, the way he teaches and shares is aspirational. His resume reads like a bucket list of goals for me. His accomplishments are astounding, but his demeanor and manner of speech is inherently generous.
How can design or your creative field be more supportive and inclusive of underrepresented people, especially BIPOC creatives? Hire me as your photographer. Seek out and hire BIPOC creatives for the most important roles in your organization and for contractor positions. Support the Black Lives Matter movement. Learn and teach true American history. And, most of all, never allow racial injustice, bigotry, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and/or Native invisibility to happen in your presence without action.
Where do you find inspiration? I find inspiration in my past by understanding where I’ve come from and what I’ve been through. I find it in my present by observing the light around me and how it ludically teases me. I find inspiration in my future by looking at my children and knowing that my mother is proud of us. And, while having drinks with my wife during sunset she looks at me quizzically as I stare, entranced at how the sunlight refracts off the ice in my glass. I find inspiration in the sunlight.
What’s next on the horizon? Upon reaching my goal of replacing my full-time income with a more substantial residual income, I will build a large production studio on eight acres of land on the outskirts of Houston. I want to create high-quality visuals and content for BIPOC business owners who need it but cannot afford it. I want to do this for no charge, after some vetting of course.
Thank you to our participants for sharing their stories with the Houston creative community.