Understanding What it is to Be a Black Woman in Brazil through African Digital Collage

Understanding What it is to Be a Black Woman in Brazil through African Digital Collage

Our Series of Interviews is part of a global discussion on the process, ethos, and practice of digital artists. We are sharing the experiences of some of the best contemporary artists around the world who are defining their own African visual language and culture.

Kellem Monteiro is a graphic artist from Brazil. She is a multi-disciplinary digital artist, combining graphic art, typography, and photography in her brilliant portfolio filled with African digital collage. Brazil hosts the largest population of African descendants outside of Africa, a fact that is largely unknown to many Brazilians. Brazil’s complicated African legacy has been a source of exploration for many contemporary artists including Kellem Monteiro who used African digital collage as a tool to learn more about her identity and cultural heritage.

Africa represents in my work a desire for connection, for a past that we do not know, the idea of belonging to a place, a return.

Kellem, can you please tell us more about yourself, where are you from and how did you begin your journey into art.

Well, my name is Kellem (or just Kell) I’m a graphic designer and visual artist, 26 yo, I was born and raised in the countryside of Rio de Janeiro in Campos dos Goytacazes in Brazil. It was right after college that I started to understand that I needed to communicate. I was beginning to understand what it is to be a black woman in Brazil, and it was in this search I was introduced to collage.

Does your art represent something about you, does it represent a message about the world, does it focus on history or look to the future?

My art represents everything in me, it is an extension of who I am. I live in the suburbs of my city, where the majority of the population is black. I see my work as an opportunity to tell our story through a more optimistic and real vision, always looking to the future without forgetting the past.

Kellem, Can you tell us about the process of making your work? We want to know a little about the significance and scope of your work. How do you make your work? Are there particular tools/materials/software/technology that you use? Is there a connection between your process and your artwork’s message?

I really like to research what I have in mind, so I dig into the idea until I reach something that I consider more mature, and that keeps me original. The photography varies a lot, I can just see a nice photo and want to work on it or I call my models (who are the girls in my neighborhood) and I photograph, in a very intuitive way because I am still learning photography, after this process, I go into another completely different one which is to transform the photos in Photoshop which is my main tool. 

And yes, there is a very strong connection between me and the girls I photograph, first because they are black girls, I know their stories and there is something very interesting about how they see themselves after being photographed, their self-esteem changes, their confidence, it’s beautiful! It’s exactly how I want people to feel when they see my work.

What is African art? How would you describe “African art”? What does African art mean to you? Do you think African art is important? Do you think that Africa is reflected in your work? If/so how? why not?

African art is the cradle, I can see Africa’s influence in everything, the colors, the shapes, the architecture, the sculptures, I have great respect and love for everything that the continent represents.  As a black Brazilian artist I believe that Africa represents in my work a desire for connection, for a past that we do not know, the idea of belonging to a place, a return.

Do you think you were born an artist? or Do you think you became an artist?

When we are children we are not afraid, right?! Everyone is born an artist and we forget. So, I had to remember after I grew up haha!

If you never found recognition for your work, would you continue doing it? why/why not?

I already thought about it, and the answer is yes! And because all of this is so much bigger than me, I see recognition as something subjective, as long as it makes sense to me, I will always express myself in some way.

Do you create to understand or do you express what you have already learned?

Definitely both, sometimes I learn in the process, it is very magical how the artistic process teaches us, questions us, transforms us.

When we are children we are not afraid, right?! Everyone is born an artist and we forget. So, I had to remember after I grew up haha!

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