A friend, an artist and an inventive soul: Zoe Yibowei is a London-based creative whom I have known for many years, and whilst observing the development of her art, it inspired me to find my avenues of creativity through the medium of writing. Considering her great influence on a personal level, she opened my mind towards the variations within culture; in light of her openness, the idea of embracing a porous socio-intellectual outlook became a central theme which sustains my work as a writer. In this energetic exchange of ideas over the years, it showed me that Zoe Yibowei’s flexibility within art enables her to encompass a wealth of artistic expressions. Ranging from commercial graphic design, illustration and painting, they all reflect her creative dexterity when confronted with the prospect of creation.
In the world of art, the multi-ethnic identity is something of a rarity; as young women of colour, Zoe and I frequently discussed the complications of racial interactions within a Eurocentric culture. Although I felt more insecure in the development of my identity within this setting, Zoe noted that ‘A lot of the work I make relates directly to my identity as a woman of colour – from doodles of girls with afros to more political typographic statements. I come from a very ethnically diverse family and as a result I’ve grown up with loads of different influences – from Maori whakairo (carvings) to West African textiles.’ In being forthright with her origins, I realised that being different serves as a source of inspiration and pride; obscured cultures deserve to be explored and cherished, and by weaving the past and contemporary together, Zoe creates a varied but distinct signature to her style. When she retracts within her interior world, away from the commercial demands of advertisement she uses art to ‘express and therefore understand myself better, so I’m not really worried if people take my more work seriously or not – after all, I make it for me.’ In saying that, it is evident that there is a great integrity to her mind-set, which manifests itself in her grounded and vivacious style which punctuates each work of art.
The variance of cultural influences distinguishes London significantly; as we both grew up on council estates in South London, we became accustomed to seeing the material lack in hand with the vibrant hopes of individuals. Considering the effects of socio-political influences, Zoe observed that ‘you are constantly being influenced and picking up new information – this feeds into your subconscious and subsequently will end up in your work. Call me Freudian, but I believe the subconscious truly guides you through the creative process, regardless of the overall image or product you want to produce.’ By connecting the distinct strands of social influences, the waves of the subconscious are in constant motion towards the surface of the mind. The collection and discernment process of the artist serves as the cornerstone for a nuanced artwork; in doing so, a vibrant collage of experiences are succinctly unified in Zoe’s images. The movement of social change alongside artistic expression has led to Zoe observing that ‘the idea of art galleries being blank, quiet spaces is slowly changing – it’s become a more dynamic, educational and expressive place for the observer…pretention is being reduced this way and allowing more people to open up to art as a form of entertainment.’ So, by maximising the universal outlook of art, which previously was reserved in the higher echelons of academia and high society, the shift towards openness generates a higher sense of inclusivity. From my viewings of Zoe’s posters and prints, the tactile and vivid experience echoes her ideas on accessibility and progressiveness.
The methodology of a visual artist’s mind has always proved to be a source of fascination for me. The intricacies of piecing together a mental image is of a complex nature, and Zoe noted that she finds herself ‘working with core materials like fine liners, coloured marker pens and the letterpress to produce bold, playful work. [She] also find[s] that these materials are versatile enough to allow [her] to create finer work according to different client briefs.’ The variety of techniques that are employed, illustrates a dynamic and fruitful mind at play; gone are the days of specialised artists—in such a fast-paced society, it now appears vital to be able to apply differing skill sets to produce a viable work of art. In a way, as a nostalgic person pining away at pre-Raphaelite or belle époque paintings, I find that the dedication to a singular vision or a Muse are things of the past. Yet, in talking with Zoe, I realise that for images to flourish and be socially innovative, mental and technical stagnancy leads to the death of art. Moreover, nostalgia would lead to key social issues and events becoming obscured for the sake of personal flights of fancy. Being part of the Age of Social Media makes it integral that mass communication is part of an artwork; it does not need to make sense, but it does need to perform to its intended audience. Moreover, for a work of art to express personality, it is vital in Zoe’s view that ‘knowing yourself as an artist and acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses is key to accepting your art and putting yourself out there. Low self-confidence is honestly the biggest creative turn-off. It makes you lethargic and less productive which definitely shows up in your work.’ Self-knowledge and confidence is vital in all expressions of being—and that is what makes Zoe’s vison truly brilliant; by approaching the pretentions of art in such a fresh and authentic way, she transfers her creativity and lets it rise to the surface, inviting her audience to submerge themselves in the artful deconstruction of the world around them.
The illuminating thoughts and approach of Zoe Yibowei’s art demonstrates an agile mind in action; the breadth of her techniques works in tandem with the shifting sands of a mutable modern world. In uniting the conversations of an artist and a writer, it is a tribute to the joys of variety and friendship—the exchange of ideas will always be of the essence within a fruitful and progressive society.