CLEVELAND, Ohio – “I’m a ‘collector’ kind of guy,” artist Dakarai Akil is quick to note. Gathering vintage magazines led him to create the intricate, jarring collages in his new book released in November, “GODBODY.” Retro photos cut from hundreds of publications took on new life under Akil’s darkly futuristic vision.
His newest project is Thisbrandusa, his own brand of usable goods as varied as chairs, tables and even pencils. He’ll launch the line with a one-night pop-up showroom at Cleveland’s Made to Create Studios, 7437 Detroit Ave., on Friday, Jan. 6 from 7 – 11 p.m.
“This is another way for me to put my art out there beyond the canvas,” says Akil. “I’ve always wanted my art everywhere.”
Creating came early for Akil. He had a stint running a clothing brand, Lame Brotherhood, from age 18 to 24 and began exploring art more deeply in his mid 20s.
“Once I got older, I started to understand where it could take me,” he says.
Thisbrandusa won’t be the first time Akil’s work – vibrant, bold and often larger than life – has jumped from the page. His splashy murals have covered the walls of Cleveland, where he grew up, from Gordon Square’s Guide to Kulchur bookstore to Collinwood’s Twelve Literary and Arts Incubator venue.
A few years ago, he began producing hand-cut collage work that would eventually fill the pages of “GODBODY” and be displayed at a solo exhibit at Tremont’s Loop. The book, 100 pages of his art paired with poetry by local writers, celebrates self-pride and individuality in the face of oppression.
“People try to cover their feelings up by just saying, ‘We’re all the same’ or ‘I don’t see color,'” says Akil. “Well, we actually do. And I don’t think we should ignore that. We should celebrate it.”
Works in “GODBODY,” such as “Blandrice,” tackle police tension. The art of “Blandrice” is juxtaposed with a handwritten poem by Oatman in which sections are scratched out until it ultimately reads in unnerving exasperation, “The words escape me.”
“You see no justice,” says Akil. “We can’t even live normal lives without having to worry about certain things. Some people don’t understand. They say, ‘If you’re not doing such and such, there’s nothing to worry about.’ But that’s not always true.”
The mark-ups, such as one submitted by a poet under the pen name Oatman, are left in the book with intention. When Akil gathered writers to view the art and respond (also known as ekphrastic poetry), he handed them pens and paper and used their rough, immediate reactions in the book. It not-so-subtly mirrors his own work.
“You can see some of the ripped edges,” says Akil. “I keep a lot of that in there because it shows the rawness and that things aren’t always perfect.”
He’ll be moving away from the 2D for Thisbrandusa. His eyes were first opened to furniture as art in 2008, when musician Pharrell Williams explored the medium. Akil cites the vocalist and producer, who shares the same skill of seamlessly marrying vintage and modern elements in his own work, as an ongoing inspiration.
“I always looked up to him and everything he did,” says Akil. “He was a black skateboarder and I started skating when I was 10. People didn’t think I should be doing that. He kind of showed me what I could do.”
Collage remains Akil’s favorite avenue for his art, but he’s not opposed to experimentation. A recent trip to this year’s Art Basel event in Miami has planted new ideas already.
“For me, it takes a lot to keep my interest on one thing. I just keep myself going by trying new things. I gotta stay busy.”