Akilah Inniss opened X (Ambience) Studio in 2010. (Picture by Christoff Griffith.)
Christmas morning in Queen’s Park, men at the rum shop slamming a dom, a robust game of road tennis, Friday night in Oistins, the tuk band, and children waiting for a bus to head to school are just a few of things that are unapologetically Bajan.
To those of us who live here in Barbados, they may be every day occurrences that might be glossed over but for people in the diaspora, they capture the essence of what makes the country they grew up in unique and serve as nostalgic reminders of the places they know.
Akilah Inniss, a graduate of the Barbados Community College’s graphic arts programme, has found a way to preserve those scenes in a creative and practical way through place mats, post and greeting cards.
Chatting with EASY at her Pine Gardens, St Michael home, she said she opened X (Ambience) Studio in 2010 and it is there she seeks to capture more than the history of Barbados through her work.
“The name of the studio came from the math equation BODMAS because I wanted to be more than just an art piece. I wanted to create an ambience, that whatever I do is times ambience. I started the business in 2010, went to BCC in 2011 and graduated in 2013 but it was around 2014 that I started doodling the miniature Mother Sally and then with some collaboration, it became an art piece and I decided to miniaturise it into postcards.
“Around that time at a Christmas fair at the Museum they became a huge hit and once we got that response at the Museum it solidified my mother Patricia’s conviction that it was good. We started with the postcards, then we decided to do Christmas cards and the greeting cards are for the other occasions – birthdays – and some people have bought them for bereavement. The place mats, which are vinyl woven, were the latest we added the last year,” she said.
Akilah said that despite adding the place mats only last year, she always had the intention, but the wait came while trying to figure out how to get it done.
The images she created are a part of the Little Barbados series of work which is broken into three sets, with each one containing four designs. Along with each image there is a note about it. She has been to the places that serve as the inspiration for the images to make them more authentic, although she has used her imagination for some of them.
“I draw them by hand and on the computer. I use a style of Japanese animation where a character would be child-like,” Akilah noted.
She said she will not be adding any more to the Little Barbados series but will instead incorporate it into an art project she is working on.
“I am expanding other forms of products in Little Barbados, that’s for certain. I will announce that later,” she added.
“I want to add more touch to everyday objects. I don’t want place mats to be just place mats. I want them to be more a collection of big art . . . . Like the same way you get those big renaissance paintings, you have my art in the palm of your hand with the same quality too.
“I developed it when I started drawing Mother Sally, which is my interpretation of the Pelican Craft Centre. I make absolute effort to bring in details to keep it real, to keep that Bajan essence real onto the portrait and with that in mind, and because of that, it will also be a good token to give to people overseas, so they don’t feel too homesick,” she said.
Akilah said she got into art after watching cartoons as a child. She wanted to be an animator when she was younger and drew several characters. As she got older she realised creating a comic book would have been better and she is “working on it”.
While Little Barbados was “a tiny part” of her BCC portfolio, it led to her getting a client who wanted to consign her cards then and still does.
“I don’t want to think of doing anything other than art to make a living . . . . Right now, at X (Ambience) Studio I am a one-man army. I am the salesman of my own product, not someone else’s, and that makes me happy, that’s one of the perks. I’m looking forward to fortifying my skills and I’m into some hotels in Barbados and trying to get into every one. I’m not there yet but step by step.”
Recently Akilah was commissioned to do a mural for the Olga Miller Nursery. Using the concept of a magic map, she used landmarks of each road in Six Roads where the school is located, and placed the children on it.
“The children are part of the map and get to explore all of the places because I believe a child should also be able to go beyond the boundaries of just school and home. Their life is an adventure waiting for them to explore.”
Akilah did the drawings on the computer and someone else printed the large versions (it’s done in three parts) on vinyl, which is located on the gate.
“I am quite honoured to have been chosen to do this work for them. They saw my work at the Sky Mall at the November art event and they asked for my number and the rest is history. The mural took me a year to complete. I put a lot of details into the surroundings and the children are close to real, not anime. I enjoyed creating it and was there for the unveiling. I would only create another one if I’m asked,” she said.
Until she gets commissioned to create another mural, the graphic artist will continue to work on honing her craft, capturing images of Barbados for all generations to enjoy. (GBM)