Keiko Nabila Yamazaki on Creating Joyful Art for New Yorkers
She recently came into the limelight when his work was broadcast on 3,500 LinkNYC displays in New York’s five boroughs as part of a public art project called #ArtOnLink. While artwork featuring New York icons – from the Empire State Building to hot dogs – may seem cliché, they have brought a sense of hope during the pandemic for New York’s full recovery.
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, she has since created exhibitions, commissions, design works and has released her own line of some products, which she sells at New York craft fairs. These are affordable and adorable pieces that include postcards, stickers, tote bags, and silk scarves.
She also created cover designs for a Jakarta-based company. Fuzzy buddies, and recently released its own line of designer socks, which feature rainbow clouds and stars emblems. Yamazaki is busy curating an exhibition to launch this winter after winning an artist grant from the Queens Council on the Arts. She also presents at FAD Market on Governors Island, which takes place in August, and has an exhibition at Usagi Gallery At New York. She explains why she loves Queens and why it is important to make art accessible to everyone.
Your artwork was recently on LinkNYC billboards across New York City as part of their #ArtOnLink campaign, why did you choose this image?
Keiko Nabila: The #ArtOnLink team liked my New York themed artwork, as they were looking for a piece of art that represents the city. With all the conflict, loss and suffering caused by COVID-19, New York City felt so dark and different from what it was before the pandemic. My artwork was going to see the light of day at a time when most people were only just beginning to venture outside of their homes, so I wanted to create something fun and joyful to brighten up people’s days when they were were outside.
Why are the iconic symbols of New York always found in your work?
It started during my first year of college. I was driving home to Indonesia for the summer vacation and went to a gift shop in Times Square to buy New York themed souvenirs for my family. I didn’t think much about it but when I did the same the next year all the designs were still the same. It’s so generic, and it’s no fun. It doesn’t make me feel like I should get this for them. It is rather: “this one is the most beautiful of the group”. So I thought I could do something fun and vibrant, showing what New York really feels like to me. From there, it’s hard not to do some uninspired New York art. It comes naturally. I mean, NYC is timeless, it never gets old, and I feel more at home here in New York than I ever have anywhere else. I love this city, and I belong here.
Why do you like the idea of making your art accessible to people?
Since I was little, I like to collect beautiful things. Whenever I see a cute object, I always want to have it. I can’t afford a $ 20,000 painting, but I can own a $ 20 print, $ 2 stickers, or a $ 25 hat. Art can be expensive – sometimes for good reasons, as artists go to great lengths to create this piece – but it also means that it is prohibitively expensive for most people to own and enjoy the art. To me, that’s not fair – I want everyone to be able to enjoy my art, whether it’s looking at my paintings in a gallery or buying something small. They can take home a piece of my work, something they can call their own.
Why is craftsmanship such an important part of your artistic journey and how did your education in Indonesia help you create your vision as an artist?
I think being surrounded by art throughout my life has influenced my own art. Indonesia is a very culturally rich country and I was surrounded by a multitude of skilled crafts and artisans throughout my childhood. The highly ornate and decorative styles of Indonesian art, such as intricate woodcarvings in homes and furniture, depictions of ‘wayang’ (Indonesian shadow puppets) during holidays, and hand-stamped batik dresses. hand for formal events, were part of my daily life. I am also half Japanese, which culturally also places great importance on craftsmanship. Japanese craftsmanship is so beautiful and of high quality – even the mundane items are made to feel special. This artistic richness that surrounded me continually inspires me to continue making art and has shaped the artist that I am today.
The Borough of Queens is an upcoming topic of an exhibition you are organizing with designer Saneun Hwang. What is it in Queens that you don’t always see?
We feel that Queens has so much to offer in terms of cultural diversity and culinary experiences. For us, food is often the gateway to a new culture, so we decided to create an exhibit that explores Queen’s culturally diverse community with a focus on their cuisines. We want to do this in order to promote our local restaurants and businesses that have suffered from the pandemic and to show everyone what Queens has to offer. We are grateful for the support provided by the Queens Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the City Council.
What’s your next upcoming exhibition?
My next upcoming event will be a craft fair at FAD Market on Governors Island, which takes place on August 21 and 22. This will be my first market since winter 2019, so I’m so excited for it! I also have an upcoming exhibition at Usagi Gallery, dates are yet to be determined, so be sure to follow me on my social media for updates.