meet an artist mondayAya, also known as Faith Umoh, is an interdisciplinary creative whose range of expertise and practice includes data science, African history, media culture, storytelling, generative art, and speculative technology. Her multi-platform digital art collections unfold at the intersection of Afrofuturism and Artificial Intelligence, seeking a true collaboration between human imagination and computer algorithms moving towards a singularity with the power of evocative beauty and restorative social consciousness. Aya is currently working through a Stanford University BlackAIR Grant to develop “an AI co-creative system that enables her to imagine and render new worlds based on books and music lyrics,” as well as in a broader project to supplant negative media portrayals of women and Black with a vibrant revitalization of erased histories. Her work is currently part of the intercontinental and actually, interdimensional, exhibition Artists Who Code on view simultaneously in London, West Hollywood, and on Artsy’s corner of the metaverse.

generative artist aya

Aya: Blends of Sunrays

L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?

AYA: As a Nigerian-American, I grew up in a household that was pretty strict. My siblings and I were not allowed to watch television on the weekdays during the school year because my widowed father wanted us to focus on our homework. As a child, clearly, my homework only took an hour or so to complete. This left me with a lot of free time after school. One thing my father gave us the green light for was to buy all the school supplies I wanted. School supply shopping was one of my favorite days of the year because I got to choose the folders and notebooks with the coolest illustration designs. This was the 90s so I had so many Lisa Frank and Strawberry Shortcake folders.

 

One day, when I was 9 years old, I finished my homework and looked at my folder designs, and decided that I wanted to draw my Strawberry Shortcake folder. A few hours later, when I put the paper down, I was shocked at what I’d drawn. It was so unbelievable that I had to tear it out of the folder and just stare at it for a long time to be sure of what I saw. It looked just like my original! It was like lighting up a match for the first time and seeing a flame for a few seconds. I saw an artist in myself at that moment; and soon after I drew every folder and coloring book I had. I eventually turned my room into my own solo artist gallery filled with my drawings paired with my academic honor certificates.

Aya: Restorative Afrofuturism

What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?

I co-create with Artificial Intelligence to generate visuals inspired by storytelling. My animation shorts explore the questions: How can we co-create with AI to transcend stories centered around black trauma into visual narratives that invoke a sense of inspiration, empowerment, and healing? How can we use augmentation technologies to reveal artifacts and cultures that have been/are in the process of erasure?

 

Experimenting with the blend of natural language processing and computer generative rendering, my work invites a dialogue that opens a realm to an alternative speculative interpretation of historically marginalized experiences.Currently, my two generative art collections — Generating Binti Worlds and Restorative Afrofuturism — are by Afrofuturism texts that cast visions of the future centering on the African diaspora blossoming with advanced science, technology, and culture.

Aya: Intergalactic Voyage

What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?

This is actually a pretty hard question to answer because at 32, I’m currently wearing several hats along with being an artist. I’m a data scientist, meditation teacher, muse, poet, and writer. And prior to that, I spent almost half of my 20s as a global health professional where I had the privilege of designing and implementing humanitarian assistance projects in countries like Senegal and Liberia for the Peace Corps and United States Department of International Development (USAID). At the core of these experiences, I’ve always been intentional about making an impact that inspires others and improves society.

 

Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?

Although I turned my room into my own gallery as a child with my artwork, my parents never enrolled me in any art classes. This is because my Nigerian father came from the school of thought that aligned with most immigrant parents’ expectations for their children’s careers. I was really only given three options — doctor, lawyer, or engineer.

Aya: Rainbow City

Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?

There are three main reasons why I am excited to live and work in L.A. compared to anywhere else. Firstly, L.A. is leading the way in advancing the intersection of art, tech, and NFTs. At the core of my artwork is to collaborate with artificial intelligence to create visuals inspired by storytelling and music lyrics. I am excited to bring my new media technology to the entertainment industry in L.A., specifically working with creative directors, producers, concert set designs, marketing teams, authors, and musicians to bring their narrative concepts to life.

 

Secondly, the community I have found in the new media and wellness spaces has really made L.A. feel like home. As a nomad, I have lived in 6 different places in the past decade and L.A. by far is the first place I feel like I’ve found my people.

 

Thirdly, the main way I de-stress and rejuvenate is in nature. I am obsessed with catching the sunset at the beach, admiring the majestic palm trees. I’m an avid hiker because I’m a glutton for beautiful views. I love how the city is almost fully surrounded by mountains. I love having access to several different beaches and a plethora of hikes. And I draw inspiration for my wellness and artistic practice from L.A.’s landscapes and architecture.

W1 Curates x Artsy: London Public Artwork

When was your first show?

My first show was in 2019, the Women Who Run with the Wolves exhibition in Washington D.C. Curated by the Omi Collective.

 

When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?

My current show is W1 Curates x Artsy x Vellum LA presenting Artists Who Code — a group exhibition and online art auction featuring NFTs by women and non-binary artists, curated by Mieke Marple and Sinziana Velicescu. Artists Who Code explores the use of generative art techniques from AI to algorithms as empowering tools honed by artists to forge a path for new languages in the realm of digital art and beyond. As a response to the public perception of the NFT world as a male-dominated space, the exhibition foregrounds the central role and major impact women and nonbinary creators have in digital art and technology.

 

My two generative NFT artworks can be viewed in two locations: Vellum LA gallery in West Hollywood through April 10; and W1 Curates gallery in Soho, London through April 5. The online auction for the collection is now being held on the Artsy NFT platform through April 5.

generative artist aya

Aya: Introspective Galactic Dreamscape

What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?

This is also a hard question to answer because there are so many artists! At the top of my current list is Refik Anadol and Janelle Monáe.

 

I experienced Refik Anadol’s aesthetics of machine intelligence artwork for the first time in 2019 at ARTECHOUSE in Washington, D.C. and it blew my mind! It was my first exposure to seeing an artist utilize data and artificial intelligence to create art. His works create a hybrid relationship between architecture and media arts with machine intelligence. I’m interested in working with him to build upon his hybrid relationship by exploring how we can use augmentation technologies to reveal untold stories of cultures that have been and/or are in the process of being erased through a co-creative blend between architecture and media arts with machine intelligence.

 

Janelle Monáe is a futurist who creates speculative visuals through her music and she is about to release a sci-fi Afrofuturism book in April entitled The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computers. I would love to work with her to co-create speculative visuals inspired by her book.

 

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

I listen to three types of genres while I work: Deep House when I’m coding and want to really get into the zone; Reggaeton when I want to dance and feel the beat; Lofi Hip Hop when I’m a little groggy and tired and want a peaceful tempo to keep my flow.

 

Website and social media handles, please!

Website creativeaya.ai

Twitter: @ayascientist

IG: @creativeaya.ai

LA Weekly