I think using pop culture in your work…is a cop out.
The creator of Afro X Naut, Caira Lee Conner, is an educated, talented, and driven young lady. She is very vocal about supporting and being a part of the afro-futurism movement which can be seen through out her work. Her creations are one of a kind derived from her experiences and knowledge of many different art forms. The use of assemblage in her work is used to tell a story and to catch her viewers eyes. It is a treat to own or wear a piece of Conner’s creations. Wearing her clothing is like wearing a piece of art and becoming a walking muesum. She brings so much depth to a plain white tee by combining multi-layered images with bold and vibrant colors. She stays true to herself and her vision and that is what makes her Grade A.
What does Afro x Naut mean?
Afro x Naut comes from the idea of Afro-Futurism. It’s a way of thinking about Black identity through Futurist ideas. It’s kind of like aligning the plight of African Americans through the slave trade to alien abduction as they are both forced displacement.
Would you say that your collection is a reflection of the black experience in America?
Not necessarily. I don’t think I can claim that. I design with a certain Black experience in mind. The young 20 somethings trying to find themselves in a media driven kind of world that tells them on a regular basis that race doesn’t matter anymore, slavery was 500 years ago, etc. But the truth is this isn’t post-racial America and slavery was in fact only 140 years ago. It still matters. I design to try to create a sort of utopian perhaps post-apocalyptic idea of what the future could look like for young people. One that includes elements of the past and the future.
Where did your inspiration come from?
I initially was inspired by the works and writings of the late Rammellzee. Rammellzee was a true engineer and thinker in the eighties that made work out of his frustration of the system. He wrote an entire manifesto about Gothic Futurism in which he theorized about words and symbols and such. It was a convoluted text but it was incredibly insightful, especially in tandem with his art. He is the reason I became so fascinated with Afro-Futurism. I am inspired by this unique view on the black consciousness.
How did you develop your style?
I feel like my style has developed on a personal level and on a more existential level. On a personal level I have always loved illustration and attention to detail. My work has always been known for its multi-layered and considered surface regardless of the media. I like the juxtaposition of super graphic images coming together to make an intricate pattern or image. My style has developed on a more existential level because of my use of assemblage. Assemblage in art is the integration of everyday objects or non-art objects into a piece so as to give the work an inherent meaning or aesthetic. I believe that Black artists all use a form of assemblage in their work because it sub-consciously connects Black Art to African Art. Assemblage acts as a form of reclamation of a sort of identity for Black artists.
Did you find it hard to put your ideas on clothing?
Yes and no. It was difficult in that I have to think about marketability. I have so many designs and possibilities but when it comes down to it, I have to consider what are people in to right now? How creative can I be? I struggled for a while with not sacrificing my ideas for the sake of the current trends. In the end I just promised myself that I wouldn’t make any work that had pop culture references. However, it was easy because I like making work in all different media. This is why I chose to work under Afro x Naut for everything…shoes, t-shirts, clothing, artwork, etc. I want Afro x Naut to represent a specific aesthetic no matter the product. As far as production, I use a printing company but I am working on the possibility of working with a screen print company instead.
How do you keep yourself from being influenced by pop culture?
Pop culture and trends are so hard to avoid.Especially, when it comes to fashion. I think using pop culture in your work when it comes to the graphic tee business specifically is a sort of a cop out. It’s temporary and requires a menially amount of skill. Just a cool word or phrase in white letters on a black shirt or a snapback. It’s all cool and whatever for right now but I want my work to be more than that. I want it to be unique and interesting. Just because it is a t-shirt doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t make you think. I’m not knocking people that use pop culture references or anything because there are people out there like McFresh Creates who use them and are dope as hell and are incredibly talented. I just want to steer clear of that all together and pave my own way.