Nonbinary Artist Amani Lewis Shows Google the Way
Author: Donald Padgett
Baltimore-based artist Amani Lewis teamed up with Google and the ad agency BBH New York in February to center Black-owned businesses through the internet giant’s new shopping portal. The result is a stunning work of art and a new economic model that melds visual creativity and activism. Rather than use a boring list of products on the page, Google now utilizes Lewis’s work, offering a massive platform for the Black nonbinary artist in the process.
For the project, Lewis created an interactive piece of art for Google’s landing page that features Black-owned businesses and products — such as 3rdEyeView sunglasses, Jungalow pottery, and BLK and Bold coffee. Images of select products from the companies appear within the painting, and hovering one’s mouse over the images pulls up links to where the products are available for purchase.
Like nearly all of Lewis’s work, the piece appears bright and jaunty. But there is a deeper, socially relevant meaning. In the Google piece, Lewis shows three Black people comfortably relaxing around an outdoor table. The hues are bright, the subjects appear to be enjoying themselves, and the atmosphere is light and welcoming.
To many, the venture will appear as little more than a new and visually stunning form of commerce. But to Lewis, the partnership and piece is a “shift in narrative and a way of working,” adding that more companies should follow Google’s lead in “working with and sharing the narratives and talents” of traditionally marginalized communities of color.
“This project was about visibility,” Lewis says. “Making visible the hard work and hardships of Black-owned businesses. It was awesome representing my people in the light they deserve. Now it’s about the longevity of the project. What are we doing to support Black-owned businesses beyond the month of February?”
Lewis earned their BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2016 and now calls Baltimore home. Their work uses layers to meld contrary imagery and forms to create pieces that capture the intersectionality of the Black experience in Baltimore. They create figures and faces, then re-create or duplicate the figures and fade or blur the boundaries between the subject and background. The image grabs the eye with stunning colors and alluring subjects, then draws the viewer in closer with imagery that is more complex upon further examination.
“In my art as a whole, it is hard to define what I am trying to ‘communicate’ in one sentence or in one way,” Lewis explains. “The majority of what I am trying to accomplish is bringing the resources I garner as an artist back into my community. I want to preserve, showcase, and archive my people.”
Their most recent project before the Google collaboration was “Negroes in the Trees,” a series that explores the way the Black Baltimore community connects with nature in an urban setting. In “Trees,” Lewis layers urban and rural, flowers and street posts, and uses a continuous line technique for definition of imagery and concepts.
“There’s a lot to explore and talk about,” Lewis says of their work in general.
Working with Google and BBH New York proved to be an “awesome” experience, says Lewis, who is pleased with how the project helped them bring awareness and resources to creators and innovators of color.
“Sometimes being a human on this planet feels dystopian,” Lewis says. “But I read that the difference between fear and faith is your belief in either the bad or the good. As society tries to define us as ‘minorities,’ we need to combat these labels with our faith in our power. If you can imagine it, it can be yours! Don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop moving, don’t give up. Your hard work and passion will lead you to your purpose. It’s how I’ve gotten to where I’ve been and where I am going.”
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Donald Padgett