The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most.
This week we sat down with two of the creators of Tone Study, a Black art and cultural commentary publication. Nana Adu Poku and Michael Nyarkoh shared the inspirations that led to the creation of their project, and offered insight on the future of live events and the essentiality of the arts and culture sector.
Q: Can you share a little about each of yourselves and your backgrounds in the creative field?
Nana: I am a support analyst in the tech industry who lives in Toronto, Ontario. I’m a mostly self-taught photographer and writer, and I don’t have any formal education in a creative field. I learn from looking at and reading other people’s work, and from friends and colleagues who work in creative spaces.
Michael: I am a creative producer from Scarborough, living in Toronto. I went to George Brown for Fashion Business, where I skipped most of my classes to work on a poetry zine using Keynote; which I would say brought me to this publishing space. In addition to not attending my Fabric Science classes I dreamt of making clothes and building universes with my friends. I would say that is what makes up the majority of the work I do with Tone Study. Finding new and old friends to come create a world in a perfect bound book.
Q: Is there a quote/ mantra you live by, if so, how has this shaped your practice?
Nana: I don’t have a quote or mantra that I live by, but I’m always trying to continue growing as a person and as a creative individual. I’m attracted to work or ideas that help me in this regard, and I hope to share some of what I’ve learned with others.
Michael: My dad would always say these two things, “There is no free lunch!” and “Life is not easy.” It’s important to have the Ghanian accent there because it really brings the truth hammer down. For me this is a reminder that one you have to push yourself to survive and there are no shortcuts, or hand outs.
Q: What led to the creation of Tone Study magazine? Can you share a little about each of your roles in the project and the creative process?
Team: Tone Study was a response to a desire to see Black imagery and work made by Black people centered within the art publication space. We felt that magazines were not doing so sufficiently four years ago, and wanted to fill this void. Our aim was to create an innovative space for critical conversation, and the sharing of work.
Nana: I’ve mainly focused on the philosophical ideas underpinning the work we’re doing, and I’ve tried to make sure that we’re consistent in the direction of the work we’ve featured in this issue, and in future ones. I’m also responsible for helping source written content for the magazine, and for shipping out the orders from our online store.
Michael: I wear a lot of hats, but I mainly manage the relationships with our contributors, designers, subjects and operational contacts. Most of the things that bring concept to execution are the pieces I handle.
Q: Your debut issue is currently sold out online. This is a huge success for your first run and launch, Congratulations! Where can folks purchase more copies, will there be more available online/print?
Team: Thank you! We are honored and incredibly grateful for the positive response to the first Issue. Unfortunately, we will not be printing additional copies of issue one and will instead shift our resources, time and focus to the development of the second issue. Issue two will certainly be more readily available (increased production quantities and stocklist distribution); it is our aim to distribute this work to all folks that are interested.
Left: Photo by Othello Grey. Cover Image by 97
Right: Photo by Othello Grey. Spread by Lotte Andersen
Q: (How) Has the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you and your family/your art?
Nana: It’s been tough to be apart from family and friends for so long; I enjoy solitude and the moments of reflection and enjoyment it brings, but also value being amongst friends, family, and colleagues. I’ve been privileged in that I can continue my work by working from home, but it’s been difficult for my work/life balance. Because of this, I often feel drained of all creative energy and I’ve had to be very intentional about making time for art and other creative pursuits.
Michael: The pandemic has felt like a very long Sunday. The adjustment was odd at first, but I am happy for the space and pace of the pandemic. It has provided me the opportunity to dig within and try to grow. I definitely miss seeing my family and fortunately since we can’t see each other much we have gotten closer.
Q: How do you envision the future of in-person/ interactive events like art shows, panels and live music events, given physical distancing measures and reduced capacity of indoor spaces? Is the future all digital?
Team: Over the past decade we’ve seen the closure of an increasing number of live venues (in Toronto). The pandemic has only served to accelerate these closures and the reduced frequency of in-person events. Art and music are essential to the health of society and it’s unfortunate they tend to be viewed as non-essential.
It’s clear that the continued development of digital events and spaces is inevitable, however, it will be important for all of us to have an opportunity to decide what we want digital or hybrid spaces to look like. We should ensure that marginalized people are included in these decisions, or that they’re empowered to create their own digital or hybrid spaces for events.
Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector?
Team: There are a lot of ways to address systemic racial inequality in the arts and culture sector. Reforming existing spaces can only happen if Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of colour are listened to separately to understand the specific systemic inequalities they face. Companies, collectives, and local organizations must also commit to doing something meaningful with the information they collect. Token gestures often benefit the organization that committed harm (through positive PR and an absolution of guilt), instead of benefiting the people who have been harmed by these organizations.
Some spaces and collectives may need to step aside and make way for new ones that aren’t plagued with the problems of existing spaces. New organizations or collectives built specifically for different racialized groups by people from those groups should be celebrated as improving the reach and diversity of the arts in a way that existing organizations or collectives cannot do.
Photo by Blue Girl. Courtesy of Tone Study Instagram.
Check out tonestudy.com for publishing updates for Issue Two.