DCFunemployment: Tell the people – Who are you?
Stephanie Kiah, Stephanie Kiah Art, Contemporary Fine Artist
Bio: Stephanie Kiah was born in 1987 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and had advanced training in art from an early age. In 2008, she served as an intern at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. She also completed her field studies at the Dallas Museum of Art and Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas as well as at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. In 2009, Kiah graduated with honors from Norfolk State University (NSU) with a B.A. in Fine Arts.
Her first solo gallery show entitled “On Earth & Above” exhibited February through April 2015 at ARTs East New York Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. Her current contemporary conceptual exhibit, In Tune, will be up through early March 2017 at NSU’s James Wise Gallery in Norfolk, Virginia. Kiah’s works have been a part of group shows and events in New York, Washington D.C., Virginia, New Jersey, California, Maryland, and Georgia, and are a part of private collections across the United States, as well as within Nigeria. Some of her more notable collectors are actress Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Empire) and Charles Allen (son of Eugene Allen, the man whose life inspired the movie The Butler.) Her art has also been exhibited at the Pfizer World Headquarters in New York City, the historic Hampton University Museum in Hampton, VA, and has been a part of the permanent collection of the Singletary Art Gallery & African Art Museum in Portsmouth, VA since 2008.
DCF: Why do you love what you do? What makes you funemployment?
SK: I love what I do because I get to create for a living. I can express my feelings and thoughts freely using any materials I choose. I get to travel and have my works displayed across the country, and best of all I work for myself. That’s my definition of funemployment!
DCF: Who was your first mentor and how did you find them?
SK: My first mentor in the arts was a professional artist out of Richmond, Virginia by the name of Jerome Jones. I met him through my Aunt Pearl who would introduce me to professional artists as a young child to give me direction, as my talent with drawing was noticed early on (DCF: Always good to help children flourish in their talents!). He taught me tips regarding pricing art that I still use to this day and he and his family are, and always have been very encouraging of my career.
DCF: What’s your happy place?
SK: Happiness is a state of mind, so to me my happy place is less of a physical location and more of a figurative place. My happy place can be listening to a great song or a charming poem, or simply being enraptured in a good book. (DCF: Sooo true!!) It doesn’t stop there; really the arts in general are my happy place. Spending time with family and tending to my plants is another happy place of mine (I have quite the green thumb!)
DCF: Where do you get your energy?
SK: I get my energy from listening to good music! (DCF: Makes sense, a good song will totally move your soul!)
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find it?
SK: I believe that balance is a hard thing to achieve, particularly for us women. Sometimes it seems as if there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I set out to do. Balance is something I struggle with just about every day. I have come to learn over time, however, that self-care is key. As a workaholic, I have to be very purposeful at times about setting time aside for myself. When I feel myself getting a bit overwhelmed or burned out, I try to remind myself to take a moment to breathe, and then figure out a hobby of mine to partake in to relax myself a bit. (DCF: It’s so important to listen to that inner voice and take care of yourself!). Always back to work the next day though.
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
SK: Everyone sacrifices and that means something different to each of us.
I have sacrificed a ton of time and sleep, among other things, to get where I am now. Years ago when I was living in Brooklyn and had to scrape up pricey New York rent, there were times I ate sardine meals for days or weeks at a time. I’ve had to sacrifice the glamour of having the newest, fanciest clothes at times, or missing out on social events to in order to complete projects. Over the years I’ve called it paying my dues! Every sacrifice big or small has been worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing because everything I’ve endured (and I have endured a lot) has made me who I am today. I can’t imagine my life being any different! (DCF: Our struggles are what make us, forge us like diamonds!)
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
SK: I think it is safe to say that when you are young and a woman, people at times will tend to underestimate you. However, overall I have found that when I do business with clients they do take me seriously and respect my craft.
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
SK: I can’t think of anything.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
SK: What I consider to be one of my greatest failures or disappointments, turned out being exactly what I needed in order to achieve my greatest career advancements, like when I wasn’t accepted into grad school straight out of undergrad. I was devastated and I’m sure I cried for days because all my career prospects required a master’s degree in my field (At the time I wanted to be a studio art professor.) I actually was trying my hardest to avoid being what I am now – a professional visual artist. I wanted the stability that came along with having secure and steady employment and not the unpredictable and at times unstable life of a visual artist. God had other plans for me though! After a year or so of trying with all my might to abandon art, I felt life undeniably pushing me back towards my craft. I took the clue and decided that if I were to get back into my art again, I would need to move somewhere new in which I could find inspiration. That was when I decided to move from Richmond, VA to Washington, DC, and boy did I find inspiration. That was the start of my career as I know it today. I often say I didn’t choose art, it chose me and I truly feel that way. (DCF: Glad you listened when God moved you!!)
DCF: What was your proudest moment to date?
SK: I have a few very proud moments. One was in 2013 when actress Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Empire) purchased two of my paintings at an inaugural ball for Obama. It was also great when I had a chance to meet the legendary Dick Gregory, and to display my acrylic portrait of him at an event in his honor. He also signed the back for me which was pretty cool.
My proudest moment, however, is my most recent body of work entitled In Tune. It is a series of contemporary conceptual work which highlights and seeks to open dialogue regarding many of the perils of U.S. society. Each piece, both visually and by title, is also based on popular music. It is a very powerful and timely exhibit. (DCF: Sounds like we all need to take a trip to Norfolk!!)
DCF: What are you Currently Conquering
SK: Currently I have a collection of my work entitled In Tune on exhibit at James Wise Gallery on the campus of my alma mater, Norfolk State University. There is an artist talk scheduled for February 24th to discuss the collection. The In Tune exhibit will be up through March 3, 2017. Also, I am a part of a group exhibit entitled Women/Color: Women of Color Working with Color, which will be up through March 16, 2017 at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Mosely Gallery.
You can get details for both exhibits on the homepage of my website StephanieKiah.com.