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Known for his one-of-a-kind artistic depictions of Michaela Coel, Kanye West and other influential Black figures, designer-creative director-photographer Temi Coker uses his canvas as a platform to elevate and explore Black culture.
The multi-hyphenate artist's latest project with Foot Locker, FOR THE LOVE, proves no exception. During the COVID-19 pandemic, while many are feeling pangs of loneliness in isolation, Coker used his talents to bring people together by designing a digital on-court mapping activation that gives basketball fans and sneakerheads alike unprecedented access to the game. Thanks to Coker's creativity, Foot Locker was able to foster a community, with millions tuning in for connection.
And while Coker creates new communities, he also brings attention to those of the utmost importance; he's raised awareness for Black Lives Matter movement, calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others through his art.
Coming off the heels of his Foot Locker campaign, PAPER caught up with Coker to discuss the power of protest through art, how a love of sports can inform one's creative process and how he's managed to slam dunk his way to success as a Black creative.
What inspired you to get into art? What was that moment when you knew that this was your calling?
I got into art because I realized it was the best way for me to communicate my ideas, thoughts and self-expression. I hated writing, but later realized I could express myself through music. I learned to play the keyboard at age seven and from then on, music became very dear to me because I was able to express how I felt through that medium. I ventured into photography and design years later and still use those mediums as a way to communicate ideas, evoke emotion, spark conversations and tell stories.
How do your West African roots inspire your work?
In West Africa, there are so many cultures, traditions, stories and proverbs. I'm inspired by it all. The colors, the shapes, the vibrancy, the patterns, the symbolism and the people.
I'm from the Yoruba tribe and I'm heavily inspired by the Ashoke that we wear for major ceremonies such as weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals etc. Ashoke is a uniquely hand-woven cloth by the Yoruba people in West Africa and can be sown and worn in different styles. I just love the colors, the patterns and the way we wear it.
One of the biggest things I learned growing up in West Africa was the fact that we worked with what we had. It inspired a lot of creativity and figuring out ways to do things differently. It opened my mind to endless possibilities and creativity.
What does it mean to be a Black-owned business, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement is getting so much attention?
Being a Black-owned business is important to me because I believe in leaving a legacy for my future family and kids. We have to own our own narrative for our families and build up a tradition and history that our future kids can learn from.
Representation matters and I want my future kids to know that they can in fact be their own boss one day like mom and dad. Having a Black-owned business that I run with my wife, Afritina Coker, has really made me see life differently. Our mission is to inspire and hire people that look like us and affirm them in their creative journey as we get awarded different creative gigs.
Take me briefly through your creative process. What's it like?
So, I usually turn on music first to get into a creative mindset. Secondly, I do research on the company/ person and then come up with a few rough concepts in photoshop or on my iPad. After that, I begin designing.
Sometimes I get stuck, but I push through it and as the work starts coming together, it inspires me more to keep going. I cannot create without music. In fact, I have Spotify playlists I've made called "While You Create" and I share it with my community so they can listen to what I listen to when I design.
Foot Locker is a monumental brand to work with. What's it like to collaborate with such an influential brand?
I came to America [from Nigeria] in 2004 and I remember vividly asking my middle school friends where they got their shoes from and they mentioned Foot Locker. I asked my mom if we could go to the mall and get some shoes and we did. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Now fast forward to 2020, and I can't believe I've just done a collaboration with them for their #ForTheLove campaign. It was so amazing working with them, and it really has been a dream come true. I'm so thankful to their team for fully trusting me and trusting my vision with the designs.
What makes visual art and basketball the perfect match?
Visual art is all about attention to detail, storytelling, technique and style. I truly believe the same goes for basketball. Each player has a story, there are different techniques and styles on how they handle the ball on the court.
If you could design an NBA jersey for any team, who would it be and why?
The Lakers, hands down. I use a lot of their colors in my work. I just love the color palette!
You can't have basketball without sneakers. What's your favorite sneaker brand and shoe?
My favorite sneaker brand is Nike and my favorite shoe would have to be the Air Jordan 1's, especially the one from 2019 in collaboration with Blue the Great.
You've created artwork featuring so many influential Black figures. Who from Black culture are you inspired to create a piece of next?
I really want to do an art piece of Pharrell Williams or Angela Bassett.
You're also the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Coker Studio. What's it like to be in business with your wife, another Black creative?
I love running Coker Studio with my wife (Afritina Coker) because we're building something bigger than us. We're building a future and a legacy for our family. I think we need to celebrate more Black women creatives and running this business with her has really allowed me to support her dreams and her vision.
She's grown so much and has developed her own style and voice and it's amazing to see! I love running this business with her and doing life with her as well. Best of both worlds if you ask me!
Your work has been featured in landmark locations like Times Square in NYC and other places around the world. What impact do you want to leave with your legacy?
I want people that look like me to see themselves in my work. I want them to know that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. My job is to bring to attention the beauty that is already in our legacy as Black people.
People respect a Temi Coker piece. What creatives within Black culture do you look up to or respect?
There have been many who have played a huge part in my creative journey, including:
Dara Oke, she's the reason I got into photography and design. Meanwhile, Gary Williams is someone I have major respect for. I emailed him in college about photography and running a business and he welcomed me with open arms. Nine years later, we are still very good friends to this day. Ray Neutron and Joshua Kissi are two men who inspire me intellectually and also creatively. They are always for the community and building people up and I aspire to be like them as I grow in my career. Last but certainly not least, Jade Purple Brown is an amazing illustrator and I just love the vibrancy and authenticity in her work. She inspires me to continue to bring color to this world through art.
If you could have your art hanging on the walls of any celebrity, who would they be and why?
Pharrell Williams. Period.
Fill in the blank: My Black is...
My Black is BEAUTIFUL!
The world is more dynamic thanks to you. What's up next for Temi?
Right now, I'm focused on combining my work with augmented reality. I want people to not just see my posters, but experience them as well. I'm currently one of the new Adobe Aero Residents and it's been exciting to be able to bring my work into reality and scale it up as big as I want. The fun part about this is that I can literally walk through my posters and look at every detail. It is such a cool experience.
Photos courtesy of Temi Coker