Our choice of art says a lot about who we are, reflecting our tastes and experiences amongst other indicators. And despite digital platforms enabling us to discover original talent the sheer amount of information being put out can sometimes have the opposite effect of making it difficult to find, purchase or remember where we saw artwork that represents who we are in one place. Enter Ayok’a, a curated platform that brings together the work of talented black artists making it easy for you to find stylish, original and representative artwork to adorn your walls or carry about your person in the form of lifestyle accessories. To find out more about this exciting platform I caught up with founder Alice Gbelia. [Main image credit: Black by Adekunle Adeleke]
Please introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about your platform, Ayok’a and the meaning behind the name?
I am Alice Gbelia, an Ivorian who grew up in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) and Lille (France). I’ve also lived in Paris, London and currently reside in Zurich. My friends know me as a “cultural activist”: any projects I’ve been involved in were about promoting art and culture from the African diaspora. While living in London, I used to have a blog dedicated to Afro-Caribbean events in the city. I also once organized a pop-up shop featuring black designers. Our community is full of talent, I’ve made it a mission to help shine a light on this talent.
[Image credit: Close by Adekunle Adeleke]
“Our community is full of talent, I’ve made it a mission to help shine a light on this talent” – Alice Gbelia, founder Ayok’a
What prompted the idea of starting Ayok’a and what do you hope to achieve with it?
I was looking for nice affordable art prints to decorate my flat and wanted something that reflected my African heritage and love for black culture in general. I buy mostly online so I started looking on various sites and I just couldn’t find what I wanted. What I did find were maps of the continent, sunsets over the savannah, paintings of African women carrying pots on their head… I can laugh about it now but it was very frustrating at the time. Then I decided to search directly for black artists online and see what they had to show. I found many talented ones that produced art that was fresh, modern, and showed black people and culture in a way that we don’t see in the mainstream media or platforms. I thought it would be great if there was a central place where I could buy their art. This hub didn’t exist so I decided to create it.
I’d like Ayok’a to become the go-to website for people looking for beautiful design items that are inspired by Africa and black culture. I want black artists to get the exposure they deserve and make money off their skills and artistry. Too many times I feel like we “admire” and “showcase” black creativity. But if we want those artists to keep on creating, we have to support them by buying from them.
[Image credit: Lady Day by Marcus Kawme Anderson]
“Too many times I feel like we “admire” and “showcase” black creativity. But if we want those artists to keep on creating, we have to support them by buying from them.” – Alice Gbelia, founder Ayok’a
How does the platform work, and when I have bought a work of art what am I able to do with it?
It’s an e-commerce site selling art prints, t-shirts and phone cases designed by emerging artists. When you get to the site, you have many entry points: you can browse by product category or explore the many collections we have on site. The “Crown” collection, for example, features portraits of women with afros, locs, wearing headwraps, etc… Or browse the Pop Art collection for colourful art prints. We’ve also created several gift guides in our Blog section, with different themes (Music, Black Girl Magic, etc…). You can also read our artists interviews. They have very interesting things to say on their influences and representation in the arts and media (or the lack of).
Once you’ve bought an art print, t-shirt, and phone case, enjoy it and make it your own. A lot of the artworks are exclusive to our site so you’ll definitely feel like you have something special in your hands. Display it or if it’s a t-shirt, wear it proudly and be prepared for your friends to ask you where you got it!
Ayok’a offers the work of different artists, how do you go about selecting the artists and deciding on the type and style that suits the platform?
I look for artists that have a very distinct style, that you could recognize instantly. I like artists that don’t shy away from their heritage and culture: it doesn’t mean that they have to paint black people all day (although I love the selection of portraits that we have) but I like to see that influence in their work. One artist, Natasha Lisa, for example, draws dogs, but on patterned backgrounds inspired by wax fabrics. The result is very fun and striking. Last but not least, the art needs to have to have a commercial appeal. I don’t necessarily need to like it but I need to sense that it’s going to find its audience.
What is the most exciting thing about the contemporary black/African art scene right now?
I’m really excited to see the proliferation of exhibitions dedicated to African or black contemporary art. A few years ago, we were lucky if we had one major exhibition every 5 to 10 years. Now we have regular exhibitions like 1:54 or AKAA in Europe and America, or ArtxLagos and Addis Photo Fest on the African continent. In the US, there’s now the “Blacksonian” a.k.a. the National Museum of African American History and Culture that I’m dying to visit. The second thing I’m excited about is the democratization of art, with events like Chale Wote in Accra where you get to meet artists, party and literally experience art. Ayok’a is part of that movement of democratization: our artworks are printed on gallery-quality paper but have an accessible price point. That’s something that’s very important to me: everyone should be able enjoy beautiful things.
[Image credt: Cheveux au vent by Delphine Alphonse]
“Ayok’a is part of [the] movement of democratization: our artworks are printed on gallery-quality paper but have an accessible price point. That’s something that’s very important to me: everyone should be able enjoy beautiful things.” – Alice Gbelia, founder Ayok’a
What else can we expect from Ayok’a as the platform grows?
Right now we deliver to the UK and we’d like to expand that very soon to the rest of Europe and then to the world. We’d also like to add new product categories so that our customers can have even more ways of expressing themselves. Another thing that I’m really looking forward to is adding photographers to our community of artists.
[Image credit: Flower Child by Rahana Banana]
Thank you to Alice for taking the time to chat with us about Ayok’a.
– Tapiwa Matsinde
To find out more about the Ayok’a and to browse the stylish artwork selections visit: https://ayokadeco.com/
[Image credits: The images shown are sourced from/belong to Ayok’a. If downloaded and used elsewhere please credit accordingly.]