Spotlight: Animator Umaimah Is Here To Romanticize Your Life
We spoke with the Nigerian digital visual artist about inspiration being everywhere, and in every thing.
In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.
In our latest piece, we spotlight Nigerian digital visual artist and designer Umaimah. The animator spent her childhood enveloped in the colorful, effervescent world of female-centered fantasy shows, and now uses her craft to recapture the very essence. With a strong emphasis on her identity as a Black African woman and the romanticization of the mundane, Umaimah has manifested the dreams of her younger self as she weaves little Black girls into her narrative animations. The artist's fascination with blending African fashion with ballerina attire has created a beautiful example of the 'Black girl joy' that many young African girls could only dream of. Staying true to her visions has boded well, as Umaimah's career has taken her to animation studios for Disney, Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, and more.
We spoke with Umaimah about making your art understood without dialogue and the power that comes in "looking at the world through rose-colored glasses".
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us about the project that first inspired you to create?
There wasn't a particular project that inspired me to start creating, but rather a specific type of animated content I grew up watching that featured fantastic female characters. Stuff like Totally Spies, Winx, and Barbie movies heavily pushed me towards animation. Their influence is clear in my art, with how I use colors and draw my characters.
What are the central themes in your work?
When I look at my work as a singular piece, two things that stick out to me are the importance of identity and the romanticization of everyday life.
Usually, when people hear romance, they think of romantic relationships, but I'm talking about romance as an idealistic way of living. It's about the beauty in everyday things like getting coffee, taking a bath, or wearing your favorite outfit. These moments can be romantic to me; I show that in my work with my use of colors, lighting, or with the expression and pose of my subject. A quote similar to this theme is, "looking at the world through rose-colored glasses." Identity has also been a central theme in my art, where I specifically want my subjects to be Black African girls. Our families didn't raise many of us to see that we can live our lives in a 'romantic' way; instead, there is a constant emphasis on being tough and struggling. While that's OK for some, I want more African girls to know it's not our only option and we can live life like a movie's main character.
Where do you seek inspiration, and how does it find you?
One thing about being an artist is finding inspiration all around you, even when you're not looking for it. I've found inspiration in burnout or during a creative block. Everything around me has inspired me, like nature (especially flowers), my culture, books I've read, the music I love, and the relationships in my life. Recently, I've been inspired by both African and ballerina fashion. The juxtaposition of tulles and soft hues in ballet and the intricate geometric designs from Africa create visually exciting pieces and compositions in my art.
What do you believe sets African artists apart from the rest of the world?
A lot separates us from other artists; apart from being the only ones who can authentically capture the African experience in our work, we also carry the responsibility of presenting Africa to the world. As more African countries develop, more Africans can see art as a realistic career, which means that we get to have the chance to control our narratives more than we could in the past. With some of us coming from communities that hardly encourage artistic skills, we have no option but to mentor and teach ourselves everything about art, design, and creative thinking. I think that's pretty remarkable and resilient.
Can you talk about your use of colors and accessories?
Colors and accessories play a huge role in my work. They both serve as storytelling tools. As an artist and designer in animation, people should be able to interpret the story of any piece you create by just looking at it. "Story is king," as many animation professionals say. Color plays a role here because specific colors portray certain moods, which tells you half the story. It's why I prioritize it in my work. I need my art to be understood even without dialogue. Props and accessories do the same thing, but specifically for the characters in my art, I make it so anyone can quickly tell their personalities from their accessories.
What's something you wish someone told you at the beginning of your journey?
There's so much I wish I had known when I started chasing art and design as a career. I'll share two to start:
I wish I knew that it was okay not to be perfect while starting out and that it's okay to ask for help from your peers. I also wish I had been more patient with my artistic growth. I used to beat myself up for not being as good as people who had been in the animation field for five years. I still catch myself slipping down that path, and now can consciously talk myself out of it. I was rushing to find my style and voice because I felt I needed to do that to be as good as other artists who had established careers and seemed to have it together. Now, being friends with some of those artists, I've learned they've had their hard times too. Comparing myself at that point didn't benefit me or my work, but it slowed me down.