The burgeoning young talent known as Blacksneakers is a digital illustrator keen on building vibrant worlds through her work. At just 21 years old, the North Carolina-based illustrator and painter represents a fresh and uninhibited perspective, with a wise-beyond-her-years understanding and commentary on the past. She grapples with her Black identity and the Black experience within her practice, specifically working within the world of Afrofuturism.
Blacksneakers answered a few of my questions about herself as an artist, expounding upon Afrofuturism, and what she’s working on now.
(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)
How would you describe your aesthetic, and how did you cultivate this style?
Vibrant and colorful. From the get-go of becoming Blacksneakers, my work has had a saturated color palette—even in my wardrobe, I try to dress in an array of colors. I want my work to stand out, but in a way where it evokes feelings of calmness, excitement, reflection, and nostalgia.
Where do you draw inspiration? Are there other artists whose work you look to?
My work takes inspiration from the Black experience and other creators I admire. I look inward and look to my peers and their narratives for inspiration. I find myself loving the work of Naudline Pierre, Dirty Robot, Fiona Staples, Little Thunder, and Matias Balsa.
What sort of themes do you typically address in your work? What messages are you trying to convey?
My work from 2020 and early 2021 was focused more on what I’d label as “Black existentialism.” The narratives that focused on the inner thoughts and events the Black body undergoes, that our mind and heart trudge through, was a concept I tried to invoke at that time. In a way, it was also an extension of myself trying to understand the world around me as I really took in the environment and the state of the Black community. However, from April of this year to now, my work is surrounded by the concept of sci-fi, fantasy, and Afrofuturism.
Can you describe what you mean by Afrofuturism? What is it about Afrofuturism that excites you so much as an artist?
I aim to place the Black body in a futuristic sense that puts us in roles that most media outlets have not, diving into the mystical and possible spiritual side of our existence. My goal with Afrofuturism is to explore those concepts that connect the here and now, but in the roles of empowerment and storytelling.
As a whole, Afrofuturism gives space for the Black person to exist above our current standpoint. We’ve constantly been put in positions that connect us to the events of the past of trauma and turmoil—one way or another, we’re brought back to those times and are reminded of how much it has affected our livelihood.
Afrofuturism does not do that. It’s not escapism in the sense of ignoring what our ancestors have gone through; it instead uplifts who they were before the time of enslavement and places it in concepts without those 300+ years of non-identity. In Afrofuturism, Black people exist in a space that puts the best and a complex spotlight on who we are and have the unconditional possibility of becoming.
What’s the backstory behind your alias “Blacksneakers”?
It’s quite a short story, really—more of a light bulb going off. It was about 2-3 years ago, and I was becoming serious about my career. My initial thought was to use the alias “Comicsgirl.” I sat with it and thought about it—it eventually set in that the name wasn’t for me or the persona I wish to align myself with as an artist. It felt as if it boxed me in a category of my art, and whatever form it would take in the future, that wouldn’t fit or make sense.
One day I was wearing white Nike Air Force Ones. I already had a love for sneakers and wore those shoes out, to the point the shoelaces were becoming frayed at the ends. I thought it was ironic how I, a Black person, was constantly wearing white sneakers—if anything, I should be wearing black sneakers. And like a lightbulb, the name clicked and stuck.
To this day, I haven’t worn a pair of white sneakers, not out of retaliation of any kind. I just have an affinity to wear colored vans or converse!
Do you have any creative goals you’re working toward?
I’m currently working on my own space opera comic entitled Starlight. I have a ways to go, but with proper patience, I believe its creation and completion would go beyond my hopes and expectations. I have also recently done a piece entitled “Divine Feminine,” and as I dive deeper into my own spiritual journey, I aim to connect my art and that experience.
I’ll release another collection shortly that goes deeper into their stories.