- “ ‘Bubble Dancers’ began from a picture on a Victorian trade card. I fell in love with the gorgeous, detailed artwork (on the equivalent of a baseball card!) and with the sheer adorableness of the little girl doing her challenging balancing act. She is small, and she is mighty.”
- “ ‘Mermaid Town’ comes from a nineteen-thirties Arthur Rackham illustration which is now in the public domain. I was fascinated by the way in which the buildings and the female mermaid in the centre seem to be orientalized. All I did was add colour to the background and make it a repeating pattern.”
- “The medieval artist who created that image of Makeda (the African queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon) didn’t give her outsize red lips, a dullard expression, or googly eyes. He (probably he) simply painted her as she described herself in the Bible; ‘I am black and I am comely.’ ”
- “I only colorized ‘A Lady of New Orleans’; her proud elegance really didn’t even need that.”
- “In ‘Still Rather Fond of Red,’ I incorporated elements of two historical images into a mixed-media collage that also includes paint, ink, a chunk of old costume jewellery, a snippet from a hand-crocheted lace doily, and my own drawing and writing.”
- Nalo Hopkinson. Photograph by David C. Findlay, 2007.
Besides “Still Rather Fond of Red,” which incorporates a quote from your story “Riding the Red,” does your writing inspire the patterns?
I don’t think it’s a case of my writing inspiring my fabric designs; it’s that both my writing and my designs are fuelled by the same passions and obsessions of mine. I work a lot from historical illustrations and photos. Sometimes I change the original images significantly, sometimes not.
There’s an Adinkra concept called “Sankofa,” or “Go Back and Get It.” It alludes to the importance of bringing the memories of the achievements of your ancestors with you as you move forward into the future. I’ve been on a mission for the past few years to find historical depictions of black people and other peoples of colour that aren’t racist caricatures. There aren’t many; I sometimes joke that I now own all eleven of them. Today, people of colour are still overwhelmingly stereotyped and otherwise dehumanized by the ways we’re depicted in mass culture. It is psychically, insidiously brutal to be hit every day by those images. I believe it does damage to everyone; certainly to people of colour, but to a certain extent, to white people as well. So kidding aside, finding those images from the past and incorporating them into my personal creative pallet is an act of self-healing. It’s my own Sankofa. Plus I just really like mermaids.
Is there a design or an idea for a design you’re still working out?
Yes, there is. It’s a digital collage that so far incorporates old, whimsical family photos of black people and old drawings of Indigenous peoples from the South Pacific and the Caribbean done by white visitors to those regions. Not sure where I’m going with it: something about the Caribbean (I’m Jamaican by birth and background, Canadian by naturalization); something about the globalizing conjunction of cultures that brought African bodies and South Pacific produce to Taino-Arawak-Carib lands; something about the representation of the Indigenous peoples who were already there; something about how rarely one sees historical images of black people made by us for ourselves in which we’re relaxing and cutting up for the camera.
What kinds of people are in the photos?
In the old days of photography, it took money to be able to be lighthearted about the photos you were having taken. Some of these photos come from affluent black families. Doesn’t make them any better than the less-well-off black families; it just reminds me that there were bits of hard-won prosperity in diasporic black communities. It wasn’t all lynching and fear. All those folks, affluent or not, had to deal with some shit, they had to be constantly on the alert. But sometimes they could just hang out, act goofy, maybe make their own chosen images of themselves, so much realer and more human than they were usually represented in the public sphere.
Oh, and I’m going for one more “something”; something about making an appealing piece of fabric. Designs may, for my sanity, incorporate iconography that’s inclusive of people of colour, of women, of children who have some agency over their lives, of queer people. Some of my designs are simply humorous, or whimsical. Some are abstract. Some use my original artwork. All of them are for pretty.