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Creative Network Spotlight: Aliyah Pair



A conversation with Multidisciplinary Designer and Artist, Aliyah Pair, about her time at Calvin Klein, navigating the art world as a queer woman of color and feeling inspired to help out her Brooklyn community.







Ladi Fatade:

Who is Aliyah Pair?


Aliyah Pair:

Who is Aliyah Pair? Well, I will say as a professional and a woman, Black queer woman navigating the world, I'm a multidisciplinary designer and artist. I'm based in Brooklyn, New York. I grew up a little bit kind of all over the place. I was born in Jersey City. I spent a lot of my childhood here, but I moved to Richmond, Virginia, as a teenager. I was there until I graduated high school. After I finished high school, I knew that I really wanted to go to school for art, and I was very intentional about going to an art college and not going to a university that had an art program.



I really wanted to be submerged in the experience of what being in an art community was and it being not just a building that you go to on campus. I accepted a two-year program in Wilmington, Delaware at Delaware College of Art and Design. And there I just started to study and figure out what my focus was, what I wanted to do in art. I went into my studies thinking that I would be a fine artist with a concentration, but there were a couple of different factors that pushed me more towards the design realm.




After I finished my two-year degree there, I moved to Philadelphia and I finished my BSA. I did a double BSA in interior architecture and curatorial studies. And while I was living in Philly, I went to Moore College of Art & Design. It's the only women's art college in the country. It's where I figured out where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be. I realized that I struggled to finish my BSA with design and felt that it was just really rooted in materiality and, as a Black woman, what did I want to say with that? Why was that the kind of work that I wanted to do? So I started to take museum classes and I realized that the way that I can approach space with this social impact mind is through navigating the museum space and going back and forth between what is exhibition design; what is material architecture, and how do they merge?



I wound up coming to New York and joined a master's program at FIT, where I spent two very hard and vigorous years building a portfolio of work that was all about social impact within the museum space and also around the museum space.




LF:

Is there a specific piece you've done that is closest to your heart?


AP:

I think for me the one that's the most pivotal is a project that I did called Melanocyte: Skin, Cells, and the African American Experience. That was a project I did to wrap up my master's studies.



Melanocyte: Skin, Cells, and the African American Experience


Melanocyte: Skin, Cells, and the African American Experience

AP:

I went back to Richmond and spent a couple of months down there and did videos, research, case studies, interviewed a lot of people, but I've always been very fascinated with the slave jail that is in Richmond. It's in the neighborhood called Shockoe Bottom and that's the lowest part of the city. Lumpkin's Jail itself was the second largest slave jail in Richmond during the antebellum and Civil War period. Currently, that slave jail is owned by Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Commonwealth University has turned that landmark into a faculty parking lot.


With Melanocyte, I decided to take that land and actually respect it and use it as a community hub museum space that honored the legacy and the history of our ancestors but also gave to the community of Richmond, the Black community of Richmond, community resources.



Melanocyte: Skin, Cells, and the African American Experience


So yeah, a long-winded answer to that question, but I think that that was a project that I think I'm the proudest of because it really hit the nail on the head about the work that I do and why I do it.


LF:

When did you complete this project?


AP:

I did this project between the years 2016 and '17.


LF:

What is your favorite project that you were paid to work on?


AP:

It's actually a fashion-based project. When I was working at Calvin Klein, I was also working through the stint of time that Raf Simons was there as the creative director. He is a very brilliant designer. I have to give him his props. A lot of the initiatives that he was pushing for the Calvin brand, it may have not been right for the brand because people who are fans of Calvin Klein are loyalists, and they don't want the brand to be shifted because they're used to seeing it in a particular way. But he did some very creative work, and we got to do some really fun work as far as popup experiences.





AP:

Raf was a really big fan of Andy Warhol and we wound up doing a lot of popup experiences within Macy's and Lord & Taylor where we were just doing very cool, dramatized, and artistic based popups. They were more art-driven than commercial driven, but there was something about that that I really loved. It was a lot of hard work and some of it wasn't accepted well by the market, so they ended up getting cut at execution time. But it was nice to be that free in corporate America. It was the only time that I've worked for corporate America.


LF:

Is there anything you're currently working on right now that you can share with us?


AP:

This is a very, very interesting time because I think that for individuals, especially Black folk and also Black folk who belong to the LGBTQ+ community, we're stressed. And I think sometimes where we can be amplifying our work and putting out really progressive and provocative work, it doesn't always work out in that way. To me, I'm currently working on something smaller and I think that that's where my capacity is right now in order to take care of myself but also do what I can for my community.



I live in Crown Heights. There's a lot going on. I've had my landlord come into my building and try to evict Black families during this time. The more important work is for me to figure out how I can help them get resources, and that is how I'm doing my social justice work. It's not about sitting in my space and figuring out how I'm going to make the next big memorial or popup museum experience. Not saying that that's not important as well, but in times like this, I think the smaller initiatives are better.





LF:

Can you speak of any specific resources that you think people should know about?


AP:

Well, this is where I would have to shout out a very good friend of ours, Noel McKenzie, because I think he does very good work in bringing Black and Brown folks who work in the social impact vein, being able to connect them with others when they need them. And that was one person that I went to and I was like, "Hey, my landlord came to my building. I am looking for resources."


He actually had someone that I could go to who was working with them in East New York to make sure that they were not being evicted.


LF:

How do you feel about corporations releasing statements in support of Black Lives Matter?


AP:

There are a lot of companies out there who are giving a dollar amount and are making the posts on their Instagrams and social media platforms, but their teams do not reflect this and their ideas, their morals, and their values and thought processes don't reflect it. So for me, it's like, I have no problem with people stepping up and giving money, not at all because we need that. And I have no problem with people stepping up and making huge and big initiatives, whether it be some sort of popup experience or whatever. But it's like what is the humanity behind all of this? We have to be cognizant of how we move through the world.


LF:

Who inspires you?


AP:

Well, okay. So if I am looking for inspiration, the first thing that I do is get out into my community. A lot of my work is centered around Black people, the Black experience, and the Black urban experience. So when I'm looking for inspiration, I honestly get it from how I navigate my community, who I see in my community; what are our successes; how do we need to be honored; what are some of our disadvantages?



That's where my source of inspiration comes from and then I just pivot off of that. If I have any creative blocks in between those moments, I get right back into my community. I don't like to make work that does not have the sense of Black humanity in it, and I think that the only way that you can do that is constantly being in your community asking questions, talking to people, and people watching.



If you or someone you know is in danger of being evicted, New York City is offering free legal services for all renters right now. Visit https://www1.nyc.gov/content/tenantprotection/pages/covid19-home-quarantine.


To find out more about Aliyah check out her website



 

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