Artist Behind the Sankofa: Zakiya Mason

Zakiya Mason is one of my oldest friends from New Jersey -- and it's been seven and a half years since she moved off to the west coast. She is also the painter behind the Sankofa featured on this site. Currently residing in LA, Zakiya is a barista, all-around lovely person, and artist. We had a brief chat about art, life, the importance of having a creative outlet, and everything in between. All artwork by Zakiya.

See more of her creations on Instagram here and purchase a few at her Etsy shop.

 Zakiya's painting of a Sankofa.

Zakiya's painting of a Sankofa.

CYRENA: How do you define "artist"? I always remember that tee-shirt you wore in high school that mandated the pronunciation of the word to be "art-teest". 

ZAKIYA: I think "artist" is a title you earn just like "doctor" or "mechanic."  It comes with a mastery of skills, intense studying, and the development of specific sensibilities.  To me, the title represents a high level of understanding in how to use experience, aesthetics, form, and intellect in order to communicate and affect an audience.  But since there's no certificate that comes with the mastery of these things, I rely on my peers to decide when I've earned the title.

CYRENA: I think you've earned it. What do you usually paint or draw?

ZAKIYA: I probably draw women more than anything.  Overall, there's probably an even split of drawings from life and from my imagination.  If I'm not drawing from life, the work is very introspective, and since I am a woman, I'm very interested in the role.  There are so many female archetypes: the man-eater, the virgin, the workaholic, the mother, the slut; Medusa, Persephone, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite.  I'm completely fascinated with each of these roles, the way in which women wade between them, and each of the feminine, masculine, and androgynous layers woven within them. People are so interesting and complex, but women in particular are so misunderstood.  I enjoy exploring the female psyche and physicality.

 Alessandra Ambrosio 

Alessandra Ambrosio 

CYRENA: What inspires you, motivates you to make art?

I think I need to make things in order to be happy.

  ZAKIYA: I've been drawing, painting, sculpting, and dancing since I was a little girl.  I do it mostly compulsively.  There was a short time, about a year or two after I graduated college, when I created almost nothing.  I was in a failing relationship, I was working a job I didn't enjoy, and I felt completely uninspired to do anything more than go to parties.  As soon as I started keeping a sketchbook and going to life drawing workshops again, I instantly felt better.  I think having a creative outlet is important for everyone, but I know for myself it's the only way I can release negative and/or static energy.

CYRENA: I 100% agree. I think a lot of us, as we get older, lose that creative drive to consumeristic or vain desires. How does your art now compare to the art you created when you were younger?

ZAKIYA: After working with high school students here in California who have little or no access to arts programs, I am completely grateful that I had so many art classes and clubs in my public school (in New Jersey).  Every quarter, I took at least one class in the art wing, whether it be drawing, painting, photography, cartooning, printmaking, or cooking (not in the art wing, but an art nonetheless).  It was such an integral part of my elementary and secondary education that I can't help but ache for the children growing up in schools without it.  My teachers may not have had the skills of Rubens or Hitchcock, but I think at that age, you really just need ambassadors into the arts world.

CYRENA:  People definitely underestimate the importance of liberal and creative arts. But with the popularity of social media, it's easier for artists these days to get there work out - and to find inspiration! How do you use social media as a source of inspiration, and how do you prevent it from being a source of distraction?

ZAKIYA: I love social media, especially Instagram!  I think it inspires me in two major ways.  The first, is that I not only want to create things for myself, but I want to create things to share.  If I have an idea I think is particularly fun or clever, I like to sketch it out so I can share it with other people. 

The idea that I can instantly share a tiny painting I've done on a 2.5"x3.5" board with anyone in the world who searches for "painting" in the app, is so thrilling to me! I can reach a wide variety of people who can also reach out to me. 

The second, is that I love finding artists who I never would have otherwise.  I've discovered amazing artists in Los Angeles and across the world who I might never have seen otherwise.  The informal forum also encourages these artists to share sketches and developmental stages, that they wouldn't have been able to share otherwise.  I love this, because I think you can learn a great deal when you're able to watch someone's process from start to finish.  

As far as distraction is concerned, I don't really find anything to be a distraction.  I think if I'm compelled to spend an entire night reading a novel or entertainment news or scrolling through instagram posts, it means I need a night to draw up inspiration.  I can't force myself to do anything I'm not compelled to do, so if I don't feel I want to draw, or have anything to draw, I accept this and spend time doing some thing else I want to do.  I suppose it would be different if I were my job to draw, but everything I make, including the painting for this site, was a project I gave to myself because I wanted to do it.  

CYRENA: Yeah, accepting circumstance and letting things go is key. Onto a bigger question: how do you currently define the meaning of life?

ZAKIYA: I have no idea how to answer that question.  I can say that I don't believe the meaning of life can be written down and processed intellectually.  I think it can only be intuited and felt.

CYRENA: Your favorite memory?

ZAKIYA: When I was around five years old, my brother would read this children's book about a goofy dragon (the title of which I can't remember), almost every night.  I begged him to read it to me, though I could read it perfectly well by myself, but I loved having him beside me, reading it aloud, and taking on the voices of each character.  Afterwards, he would tuck me me in, literally cucooning me into the sheets, and turn out the lights. I'd feel so warm and happy.

CYRENA: Squee. And finally: the last dream that you remember?

ZAKIYA: The last dream I remember was in a tropical forest setting that had the structure of a building- no apparent walls, but with levels and elevators to navigate them.  I was walking through the forest with a good friend of mine, who was pushing a stroller with a baby, though in real life she is baby-free.  At some point, I lost her in one of the elevators, and found myself on a level where a number of painters, including a good friend of mine who works as a professional painter and teacher, were painting a still life.  However, they were painting the still life from a projected photograph on a flat forest surface.  It was shortly after this odd scene that I awoke.

CYRENA: I love that dream. If I were to dream about art / painting, I'd want it to be like this movie:

See more of Zakiya's creations on Instagram here and purchase a few at her Etsy shop.