Today we are excited to introduce you to Ngadi Smart, a Sierra Leonean visual artist who has created the AMTYP illustrations ‘Future Utopia’.
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Having grown up between the UK, Côte d’Ivoire and Canada, Ngadi Smart has been on a cross continent journey of honing her practice and process, combining illustration, photography and design to create a portfolio of distinctive, layered and linear mixed media works.
Motivated by the representation of minorities and cultural identity, paired with themes of racial discrimination and gender roles, Ngadi strives to unpick society’s notions of ‘normal’ and challenge them through her pieces.
After moving around so much as a child, and having studied for a Foundation in Art and Design in Taunton, Somerset, Ngadi channelled her creativity into illustration. Since receiving the feedback at university that her work “had a narrative to it”, it became clear that her style lent itself to storytelling and an exploration of identity. Something she has pursued ever since.
“When I was younger”, Ngadi tells us of her approach, “maybe it was hard, but when you get older you realise that being different is actually a great attribute to have. So I think that me moving around all over has made me more open to people which is helpful to my practice. Open to more backgrounds, cultures and different ways of life. I like the fact that you can put me anywhere and I will probably be comfortable.”
“I’ve always drawn since I was younger and always loved art, but no one else in my family is creative. People would always ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up and I would always say ‘an artist’, but people said I wouldn’t make any money or be successful.”
Having graduated from art school and moved to Canada, Ngadi quit her retail job in Toronto and decided to dedicate action to her creativity. She started a blog, incorporating photography and illustration, focusing on people and their unique styles while shooting people in their homes. This proved a solid foundation for her work to come, but it was when she moved back to Côte d’Ivoire that she really found her voice.
“That was the start of something that became more relevant and concise. When I first got there I was so excited I just carried my camera everywhere with me. I hadn’t been back in so long and everything was so exciting. When you put yourself outside your comfort zone, then things happen a lot of the time.”
Drawing on a childhood of copying illustrations from books and plastering her and her sister’s walls with fashion imagery and vintage photography, taking inspiration from the colours and the fact that women are usually at the centre of the frame, this environment and these movements only added richness to her creative process.
When creating a new piece or responding to a brief, Ngadi tells us how she always starts by researching keywords, before collecting the images that come up and thinking about how they could fit into an illustration. Curating reference materials, Ngadi then starts sketching, usually beginning in black and white before adding colour. There is a freedom and a fluidity to her process that is reassuring. Sometimes it’s as simple as trusting your gut.
“There is quite a lot of layering involved in my work,” Ngadi says. “I work quite instinctively. I like to try different things. Sometimes you will move a layer down or change its opacity and it will change a different thing. That way I get more layers and the more layers there are the richer, I find. The more textures as well. It makes the illustration more dimensional. It doesn’t bore me. I like to discover and be surprised.”
It is this richness and openness about her process that makes Ngadi ideal for the AMT Youth Programme. Incorporating the learnings from her travels, as well as her own views and inspirations, Ngadi has developed a recognisable style that stands her apart. An individuality that will motivate others to get creative.
When asked about the AMT Youth Programme and her advice for 16-18 year olds looking to pursue a creative career, Ngadi said “my hope for this initiative is changing perceptions of the industry and of what people can do with their talent and skills.”
“Being black is hard enough and then being black and creative is hard too. I think it’s really important to have representation and visibility. If I can, through showing my face and talking about what I’m doing, make another black person think “oh, I can do that too”, then that’s fantastic for me.”
“One important thing that I’ve never forgotten that my illustration teacher always told me was that there were always people who were way more talented than he was, but they aren’t doing the job right now. You will see people who are meant to do this because of their talent, but without the motivation or the hunger they won’t get the opportunities. Get rid of all of the self doubt and really put yourself forward and keep doing the work.”
“If I was talking to my 16 year old self I would say keep going, keep practicing and don’t listen to the noise.”
Ngadi Smart has illustrated for The Atlantic, Time Out London, Eastpak, The Guardian, as well as for publishing houses such as Penguin’s Riverhead Books in NYC and London’s Faber’s Children. Her photography has been published on CNN, British Journal of Photography, Vogue Italia, Atmos Magazine, and I.D Magazine. You can find out more about Ngadi and her work here and follow her on Instagram here.
For more information about the AMT Youth Programme, including how to get involved or offer your support, read more here. We’d love to hear from you.