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Nia Alexander Campbell

MFA in Design, Class Marshal

Interview

April 2021

Success is growth: One step at a time

Who are you, and where are you from?
Hi, my name is Nia Alexander Campbell, and I am from Richmond, Virginia in the United States.

What made you decide to follow a career in the creative arts?
Ooh, let me think. I know that I grew up in art. It was kind of always around. So, like my dad, he plays musical instruments. My mom, she went to school for art. She actually graduated from VCU on the home campus. I know that my grandmother, she’s very crafty and I have another grandmother who’s a seamstress. So, it was kind of always around.

I went to an Arts Magnet High School, and then I kind of continued in that funnel to get more and more specified into like an art practice. I got a class Marshalship and I’m graduating in a month, and I will have earned my master’s degree by then.

I know that I grew up in art. It was kind of always around.

Nia Alexander Campbell

What did you study and what was the degree program that you followed?
I am pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts and Interdisciplinary Design.

And do you think that needs any more explanation?
Yeah, actually because interdisciplinary design it’s very broad, but in a good way, because it allows different artists, designers or creatives from all different backgrounds, to pursue what they’re interested, in within the same space. For example, my graduating class, I have a background in painting, printmaking, writing and art history, and then we have a student of jewelry design, and another of interior design all with completely different creative backgrounds, but we’re all here in the program because it’s a fit for all of us. I’m getting the sense that that is a good thing.

Nia Alexander Campbell
Illustration by Zainab Al Shibani, 2021 ©Zainab Al Shibani, VCUarts Qatar

Top: Image from 'Reclamancipation: a Story of Brilliance, Resilience, and Transilience' by Nia Alexander Campbell ©Raviv Cohen, VCUarts Qatar
Exhibition View, Nia Alexander Campbell, 'Reclamancipation: a Story of Brilliance, Resilience, and Transilience (detail)', MFA in Design, 2021, ©Raviv Cohen, VCUarts Qatar

It’s really, really great to have people from different backgrounds. Because you’ll find that all of us have certain strengths and all of us have certain weaknesses just because of what we’ve been exposed to. And so, we all come to the program and it’s really beautiful to watch us all learn different skills and then wind up, all knowing the same, basic information. And from that, it’s like all of our jumping off points into something that really speaks to us and everyone’s stuff is so different.

I’m thinking about my thesis right now, that thing that we’re all rushing to figure out before the deadline. And I know that I’m making a board game that is about the experiences of African-American women.

Another student she’s designed these head scarfs that are based off her culturally traditional way of wearing them. And they tell the story of her culture and what her people have been through.

We have someone else redesigning Mashrabia – the patterns that cover windows and feature a lot in traditional Arab architecture. We have someone else designing toys.

It’s such a fun mix to see, when we all have the same basic skillset – plus that little thing extra – to see what we create from there is amazing.

Nia Alexander Campbell, MFA in Design, VCUarts Qatar, Emerging Designer, Middle East, Doha
Nia Alexander Campbell, ©Raviv Cohen, VCUarts Qatar

It's really beautiful to watch us all learn different skills and then wind up, all knowing the same, basic information.

Nia Alexander Campbell
Exhibition View, Nia Alexander Campbell, 'Reclamancipation: a Story of Brilliance, Resilience, and Transilience (detail)', MFA in Design, 2021, ©Raviv Cohen, VCUarts Qatar
My true passion. Storytelling, easy. I love, love, love storytelling. I love learning other people’s stories. I love telling my own stories. I love all kinds. There are so many different types of stories, it’s kind of hard to summarize but that is what I love the most. And I love being able to disseminate those stories in ways that get people engaged which is one reason why I went into design because it’s a way of communicating and it can reach a lot of people depending on how you approach it. So, yeah, I love, I love stories.
Exhibition View, Nia Alexander Campbell, 'Reclamancipation: a Story of Brilliance, Resilience, and Transilience', MFA in Design, 2021, ©Raviv Cohen, VCUarts Qatar
Exhibition View, Nia Alexander Campbell, 'Reclamancipation: a Story of Brilliance, Resilience, and Transilience', MFA in Design, 2021, ©Raviv Cohen, VCUarts Qatar

I want to be a teacher because I see education as a form of activism. So, through being a teacher that is what I want to do. I want to hear students. I want to see their ideas. I want them to see their skillsets. I want to help nurture them and help them grow into the best version of themselves as a designer and, hopefully, as a person. Because I know that a lot of the teachers that I’ve had have contributed to my personal development. So that’s my ambition.

I would, also, like to get some books published or I’d like to be a production designer. I’m really into film. I just created this incredible thesis that I’m working on and I think that there’s a future for that in different mediums. I want to collaborate with other artists and designers.

My ambitions are kind of a list but, to me, they all kind of speak to the same two things, which is activism and storytelling. And also, hopefully having fun. I mean, we need more joy in the world. Like design can sometimes feel very serious and intimidating and a white cube in a white box, you know, but it’s not, it can be colorful and they can be joyous. And there is validity in that just as much as anything else.

Nia Alexander Campbell, 'Reclamancipation: a Story of Brilliance, Resilience, and Transilience' (detail), MFA in Design, 2021, ©Raviv Cohen, VCUarts Qatar

Success looks like growth. I don’t think that there’s necessarily a finite timeline for me, it comes in stages. So right now, the feeling of success is going to, next, come from finishing this program that I devoted the past two years to. Before, success was getting accepted into this program or the first time I traveled abroad in 2017.

All of these things are steps along the way that have contributed to who I am, what I’ve learned, what I want to do. And so, success for me is growth: one step at a time and embracing them and being true to yourself. I think that’s maybe the base recipe for success in any situation that I might encounter.

Insight

When I think of VCUarts Qatar, I see Vibrant. I see Diversity. And that is diversity in thought. I think VCUarts Qatar has a lot of potential for that.

Nia Alexander Campbell
Nia Campbell, Book, Nia Means Purpose, Afro-Americans Women, Illustrations, Book, Emerging Designer
Nia Campbell, Book 'Nia Means Purpose', ©Nia Campbell
Nia Campbell, Book, Nia Means Purpose, Afro-Americans Women, Illustrations, Book, Emerging Designer
Nia Campbell, Book 'Nia Means Purpose', ©Nia Campbell
Nia Campbell, Book, Nia Means Purpose, Afro-Americans Women, Illustrations, Book, Emerging Designer
Nia Campbell, Book 'Nia Means Purpose', ©Nia Campbell
Nia Campbell, Acceptability of Black Hair, Illustrations, Afro-American Women, Emerging Designer, Middle-East, VCUarts Qatar, Doha, VCU Richmond
Nia Campbell, 'Acceptability of Black Hair', ©Nia Campbell
Nia Campbell, Acceptability of Black Hair, Illustrations, Afro-American Women, Emerging Designer, Middle-East, VCUarts Qatar, Doha, VCU Richmond
©Nia Campbell

To her 16-year-old self

I would give her a hug. That’s the first thing I would do. I would give her a hug and I would tell her that trusting your instincts is okay, not to second guess yourself and not to let your anxieties get the best of you, which is easier said than done.

But I know that the experiences I have had over the past couple of years have been chipping away at the anxieties that I used to have, like a decade ago. Like every year I get a little bit less anxious and a little bit more adventurous. And that’s what I would encourage my younger self to do.

I would tell her that it’s okay and you can be yourself. And that maybe the problem isn’t you, maybe the problem is the environment that you’re in because changing the environment can change everything. And that was a big part of what it was like for me, you know, leaving my hometown.

I had barely traveled before 2017, I hadn’t been anywhere. So, like all of these life stages, leaving from your hometown, your community, your country, moving from there to here. This change of environment plays a huge part in my day.

I will tell her that’s okay, you’re doing the best you can best. That’s what I would say. One thing that I have recognized, over the two years being here, it feels like I’m more able to be myself. It feels I haven’t necessarily changed as a person. It just feels I’ve been able to remove layers of baggage. And I’ve always been this person. It’s just that now she’s on the outside more than half the way on the inside. So, I wanted to say that it should bring out the best in you.

ISSUE No.
0

The RAW Talent

MAY–AUG
2021
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