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by Olisa Tasie-Amadi Jr.

Afro-Tarot, the digital artist's latest project, is a gripping, profuse collage of exploring culture and heritage through post-modern aesthetic and patina.

Born in Congo but raised in South Africa, digital artist Hueman NTR’s work channels an unrelenting urgency to appreciate and redefine how African culture is viewed and understood by the larger society, defying any form of diasporic misrepresentation. “It’s a conversation. It’s planetary alignment, and I think it’s simply about the appropriate portrayal and redefining how our culture is seen in the world. Simply, a different perspective with a message behind it,” he openly explains, speaking on the importance of merging symbolism with the physical.

The South-African hailing artist, who’s chosen to have his identity remain hidden, blithely speaks on his creative approach being deeply informed by the conceptual teachings of Neil deGrasse Tyson, saying “He is able to break down even the most complex scientific concepts into basic information  that everyone can understand which is what I try to achieve in my work, conveying a complex story and message into something that the larger part of society can understand.” Of this statement, there’s a searingly clear understanding that Hueman NTR’s work embodies a truly humanitarian essence in its purpose in the world.

We spoke to Hueman NTR about creating a future for Africa, channelling the heritage of storytelling, merging past and present in his architectural forms, and much more…

So glad to finally speak again! It’s been amazing seeing your recent work unfold. The last time we spoke, I learned a bit about your conceptual approach and hopes for the art you create, and you said “I want to create worlds that are not too far out of reach… environments that we could possibly build within our lifetimes, and take form in our present world.” Can you describe to me how your 3D art and creations function as a blueprint in your vision for the future?

The problem I had, to start, was sort of after watching Black Panther where we see the fantasy world but in a realistic world, giving you the sense that something like that was achievable. I think for a Utopia to be built here in Africa, there has to be a sense of practicality if we want it to take form in the world. My goal is to sort of create an art style that bridges both fantasy but also engineering practical features, so we can look at these structures as more than just an aesthetic.

Let’s take it back to the beginning—tell me a bit about yourself and your upbringing?

I was born into the art scene in Congo, and then at the age of 7, I moved to South Africa which was where most of my point of view developed. Both cultures merged to form my identity for the most part. In Congo, there aren’t many people that are working to bring a change to the world or revolutionize, so I was also lucky to be South African which helped me develop a sense of enacting a difference or becoming something of myself. It allows me to create artistic solutions to everyday problems, which I think is what also informs the message behind my work.

What message stands at the nucleus of your work, above all else?

I’m glad you ask that because it’s actually the path that I’m on right now. My upcoming crypto series is called Melanin but into an acronym of Mlnn, which is also an abbreviation for Multi-Layer Neural Network, which is in theory an AI thar can be used for image recognition. There’s a link between melanin and memory, because melanin actually fights Alzheimer’s. Not to get too abstract, but in that sense, channelling that energy that we possess to change the world, which is also what my work stands to do.

The worlds within your art take on surreal shapes, colours, textures, and evidently a gripping atmosphere. Where does a project start for you, and given each of your artworks are slightly different in their final visual, what does your creative process look like or feel like?

To be honest, I started the 3D art journey just over two years ago, and prior to that, I was an architect. I would start each project with keywords and work on that, and it’s similar to what I do with my work now. I enjoy creating atmospheres with each piece, beyond just 2D images. With my renders too, I like to incorporate the 3D nature if I show that to the people that see my work. Creating a scene allows you to create any entire precipice of ideas, stories, and all the many facets being communicated in the visual. Storytelling is a big part of the work because in African culture storytelling plays a major role in holding history and heritage together.

Speaking on your early work—you explore a lot of architectural compositions, and in a lot of these creations, you’ve beautifully blended both neo-futuristic elements and pre-colonial architectural structures. What informed this creative patina and decision?

I think it came from the idea of, what would Africa look like if it wasn’t colonized? It informed what the architecture would look like, what the purpose of the structures like huts serve, and much more. In my culture, for example, the armadillo is an important part of the idea of where humans learned from nature, prior to current society. We looked at animals and what was around us and incorporated those same shapes into our lives which in most senses was also pre-colonial of a sort. The futuristic nature also came as a result of trying to implement functionality into the building structures.

On this same theme of patina, in art, colour or lack of is an important connecting thread and aspect of every artwork, and in yours, there’s a dominant existence of the pinks and varying tonality of reds and purples which, in some sense, creates a beautiful juxtaposition of brutalist structures against serene and tender atmospheres…

Colour is what sets the mood of a space. In African culture too, we’ve been able to use colour in ways that truly go beyond aesthetic. We use colour as a signifier for purpose or more in-depth meanings, more than what other cultures have been able to do. It’s all about informing function and form, regardless of what the shapes, edges, or angles might look like. My work simply took form through a natural course as it developed.

And the black figures which appear occasionally in the structures; was this a decision to convey a sense of habitability or is there more to their presence as part of your subject matter?

It’s meant to be a super-melanated notion coursing through the work. Beyond the fact that you do need some sense of scale when working. It gives people the idea that Black people can build the structures that are present in my work. Secondly, dark skin is almost a superpower, in regards to creativity, connectedness to the world, and simply radiating life in all senses. Also going back to the colour of pink being present, that also represents the color Black taking on a new form through its creation by Black people. There’s a sense of multiplicity in our existence.

Let’s talk about the project Afro Tarot—the collection aims to morph and constrict traditional African objects, many of which are sacred in their purpose,  from pre-contemporary era forms into futuristic forms, and you didn’t shy away at all from mixing textures and fabrics like knitted raffia, colourful beads, and precious metals. Tell me about the title of the project and some of the symbolism you referenced in the creative process?

It was essentially me trying to explore African spirituality. There was always an awareness of the stars and constellations within the culture, even before the existence of technology. There was a sense of order already established. It was important that the interpretations of it were present. Afro Tarot is a project that, if done properly, brings out the history and true meanings of the spirituality and the gods that have been present in our culture. I want to have people actually explore and appreciate it, and not just see it as some fantasy aesthetic or cool trend. It’s very much still in the process. They would come with cards that tell the stories about each object.

Why was it important to put all these references and objects in dialogue with each other?

It’s a conversation. It’s planetary alignment, and I think it’s simply about the appropriate portrayal and redefining how our culture is seen in the world. Simply, a different perspective with a message behind it.

Follow Hueman NTR on Instagram here.

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