Imani Nuñez: “Design is not only my craft – it is my weapon of choice”

Imani Nuñez is an Afro-Latina designer living in New York’s South Bronx – her Puerto Rican and Dominican cultural roots have provided a strong sense of identity and a rich source of inspiration for her work.

We speak to her about how her cultural background has influenced her, and the importance of design to empower communities.

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Jon Daniel: What’s your background?

Imani Nuñez: I am an Afro-Latina creative from the South Bronx and I have always been drawn to the arts. Since very young I enjoyed taking pictures, drawing and recording parts of my life. I would scrapbook and make short videos with different mediums, trying to capture the richness of my Puerto Rican and Dominican culture which is such a big part of my identity. I was attracted to family parties and community scenes, which were filled with vibrant and diverse cultures.

JD: How did you get started in your field?

IN: My parents have always supported my desire to be creative and to explore different art fields. Their support led to me attending one of the leading specialised art schools in the nation, LaGuardia High School. There I majored in technical theatre, an experience that was essential to my growth as an artist. It was important for me to be a part of an institution and to meet people who believed and valued the arts as much as I did.

For my undergraduate degree, I attended The School of Art & Design at SUNY Purchase and graduated with a BFA focused in graphic design. Here I honed my skills as a designer and became aware of how deep and wide work can be. I understood more the power of visual communication and how important design is when delivering a message.

Once I graduated I wanted to design with a purpose and do work that aligned with my core values of community and identity. When entering into the professional world of design, I began to notice that there weren’t many people like me with similar backgrounds or views. In search of learning more about the work being done in my community, I found myself drawn to cultural organisations.

Currently I am working at the Center For Puerto Rican Studies (Centro) at Hunter College as a graphic designer/photographer/preservationist. Here, I design its Voices eMagazine, and I have been the graphic designer for its journal since 2013. I have also worked with the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) on various events. I was previously a participant in the programme Community Arts University Without Walls (CAUWW) and a fellow in the Innovative Cultural Advocacy Program.

JD: What challenges did you have to overcome to get into the industry and achieve your ambitions?

IN: I had to learn that my identity as a person and my profession as a designer were not mutually exclusive. In fact, it is the opposite! My identity fuels my art and my art affirms my identity. In school I thought that being a successful designer meant becoming someone completely different from who I am. I concluded this because it was common during my college courses to see only certain types of design be praised and certain types of projects supported. I felt that my own personal history and experiences were not valuable in my field. After becoming frustrated in creating work that didn’t speak to my true perspective, I started to embrace my own voice.

JD: What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

IN: One of my greatest inspirations would have to be my family, who taught me to be proud of who I am and where I came from. They instilled core values such as service and living life with a purpose that is reflected in all my design and life decisions.

There are several artists whose works I admire and who are a source of inspiration: Lorenzo Homar who was a prolific Puerto Rican artist and key design leader for the Division of Community Education (DIVEDCO); Hiram Maristany who is an acclaimed photographer and essential in the documentation of the community life in El Barrio; and legendary Puerto Rican sculptor and artist Samuel Lind. Each of these masters of art are not only immensely talented possessing great command of their artistry, but they also chose to use their art to give voice to their community, to advocate for social justice, and to uplift and empower people.

JD: What project are you most proud of?

IN: My commitment to creating art that validated my culture led me to one of my favorite projects. In my last year of college, I created a series of infographic posters about the music genre and dance style of salsa. This was a turning point in my design career because it was one of the first projects where I projected my voice as an Afro-Latina designer. I incorporated my culture, my history and my craft to empower and teach people about salsa and its history as part of African diaspora. This project sent me on a path to creating fulfilling work.

JD: What would be your dream project?

IN: My dream projects change with every new experience, new facts that I learn and most importantly new creatives that I meet. This process of continual enlightenment allows me to see endless possibilities and my dream job is always evolving. I consider every job where I can create with purpose, design to inform and uplift people as a dream job. At the end of my journey, I want to be able to say that I contributed to a movement that sought to dismantle a system that ignores, devalues and marginalises a large segment of people. Design is not only my craft – it is my weapon of choice.

JD: Who do you think deserves recognition in your field?

IN: Alex Rivera is an amazing Bronx artist and gifted in a multitude of different mediums. His fearless and diligent work ethic is clear through all his work. Dondre Green is a bold, incredibly talented and innovative photographer and designer. He is a pioneer in preserving Bronx stories and creating work that makes a real impact. Jacinda Walker’s strength and talent as a designer, entrepreneur and leader leaves me in awe. With ease she breaks barriers, dominates the design industry and completes diverse, critical work in design.

JD: What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps? 

IN: Stay curious! Read, watch, meet people in the areas that you are interested in and maybe some areas you aren’t. Your work will become more dynamic, your network and resources will expand and you will be able to grow a lot more as an artist and a person.

Use paper – take notes on who and what inspires you, and write and sketch out all your ideas even if you think you’ll never use them.

Learn the business – become an expert at promoting your work. Learn how to build a contract, how to manage client expectations and become financially savvy. Don’t allow others to abuse your talents.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid of what makes you different. Have faith in your unique story, your unique voice – that is your power.

JD: What’s next for you?

IN: I will continue supporting the cultural organisations whose missions are important to the growth and prosperity of my communities such as the Center For Puerto Rican Studies and CCCADI.  I will also continue to expand my skills working with video to document important untold stories of the South Bronx. I am excited to see how I can fuse my experiences and my perspective to push the boundaries of some of my film projects.

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For more information, visit http://www.imaninunez.com


Network

THE CARIBBEAN:

CODE 2017 BURT AWARD FOR CARIBBEAN is now open for submissions. The award is an annual prize given to three English-language literary works for young adults (aged 12-18) written by Caribbean authors. Caribbean publishers and authors can submit unpublished manuscripts, published books, or self-published books to the Bocas Lit Fest by 31 October 2016 to be considered.

EUROPE:

ALL THAT JAZZ – POSTER ART BY NIKLAUS TROXLER – BLACKBOX #1. Runs until 17 July 2016 at Bröhan-Museum, Schlossstraße 1a 14059 Berlin, Germany.

There’s no one form of jazz, but many different kinds: from New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, swing, bebop, cool jazz, free jazz, and fusion to a mix of techno and jazz. The genre is diverse and vital, just like the works by Niklaus Troxler, who for over 40 years has been making the posters for the summer jazz festival and winter concert series he founded in the Swiss town of Willisau. Diversity became a signature of his style, for the posters respond to various styles of jazz and explore the abilities of great jazz performers. In his unusual designs, Troxler, one of Europe’s most renowned graphic designers, interprets jazz history and the development of poster design.

AFRICA:

BOPHIRIMA BY MOHAU MODISAKENG

Runs until 17 Sep 2016 at the Tyburn Gallery.

Modisakeng is one of the most promising young South African artists today. His practice reflects both upon the political and his own personal experiences of growing up in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, with central themes, which revolve around violence, labour, security and ritual. The exhibition’s title Bophirima is from the artist’s mother tongue Setswana, meaning west or where the sun sets, also meaning twilight or before dusk. In two new series of photographic self-portraits, Endabeni and Ga Etsho, Modisakeng reflects on the legacy of colonialism and its effect on post-independence societies in Africa.

THE U.S.:

NICK CAVE: HERE HEAR

Runs until 11 October 2016 at Cranbrook Art Museum

Here Hear is a solo exhibition by the artist featuring Cave’s ornate Soundsuits, newly commissioned artworks, a site-specific tapestry, recent sculpture work, and a separate area which will display the artist’s video work. In addition, the Map in Action room will serve as a hub for the Detroit Performance Series and display the wearable Soundsuits that will come and go to performances throughout the city of Detroit. Video footage of the performances will be added to the room throughout the duration of the show, thereby becoming a living document of the entire project. 


If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info@jon-daniel.com.


Jon Daniel is a London-based independent creative director, designer and curator. For more information, visit his website at www.jon-daniel.com or his blog at www.visual-intellectual.com.

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