Her style is characterized by a collage of photography, graphic design, and typography. It strikes me as iconic, like I’ve seen it before, but I’m not quite sure where.
The first time I physically saw Samiyah’s work was in the Atlanta Photography Group’s white-walled studio space located in the Tula mocaga Business Center. One of her photos stood out like a neon sign, luminous and striking. Atlanta’s high rises and SkyView Ferris wheel were distinct and familiar, but Samiyah had infused the cityscape with some of her own special sauce — warped steel and concrete against a bubblegum sky. It struck me as a tribute to Salvador Dali and his paintings of melting clocks, and I wondered if the photo was a depiction of the dream state.
Like her other photos, the image is high voltage, although a softness that I interpret as nostalgia is still intact. This contrast intrigued me, and so I followed up with Samiyah to learn more.
“It kind of mixed the darkness of my soul with the light,” Samiyah said of her unique style coined “Glow in the Dark.” At a Barnes and Noble, the freelance artist explained a duality in her work that is similar to the concept of Yin and Yang.
Samiyah cleverly selected her brand name insamniyah to serve as a play on words with her actual name, but it also stands for the long sleepless nights where she looked to art and faith for reassurance.
“I’ve never actually been diagnosed with insomnia, but I have experienced it, and it really sucks because sometimes you do want to fall asleep, and you can’t. But it’s just like you look back, and it’s like oh, you created this masterpiece,” Samiyah said. “That’s what it stands for: the beauty in my pain.”
As a pre-med student at Georgia Institute of Technology, Samiyah would spend hours designing collages and graphics when she should have been studying. Gradually, Samiyah realized that for her, art was not a mere pastime, but a viable route to create a new life and pursue happiness.
“I guess I got to this point where I had to be really honest, and it almost felt like what I was doing before was like putting up a front, so I just couldn’t keep writing that story, I had to find something that made me happy.”
Samiyah refers to the period that followed as an “identity crisis,” although it was truly the waiting period before her metamorphosis. During that time, she reevaluated her perspective on occupation, gender, and sexuality and reexamined the very fabric of her being. She gravitated towards her faith.
“I also started wearing hijab and practicing modesty, which also enlightened me in many ways, and it was like a new chapter that I never explored in my life and in my faith and in being a woman,” Samiyah said. She experimented by choosing to wear the hijab as she pleased, braving the criticism on social media and from those who did not understand her purpose.
“As an artist, you have to be authentic, and you have to be who you are; so yeah, it was an integral part of my process, and it still is. Sometimes at certain exhibits, I do want to wear my hijab. Like I was just at a women’s art exhibit, and that empowered me to wear my hijab.”
In August 2019, Samiyah graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Media & Communication with a concentration in Social Justice. In the months following her graduation, Samiyah broke free from the chrysalis.
Just weeks after completing her coursework, Samiyah received a job offer at a local coffee shop and art venue called Ebrik. She worked at the shop part-time for four months, assisting under the resident curator until he decided to move on, leaving shoes that needed to be filled. Samiyah rose to the occasion as the head curator for “Welcome to Atlanta,” a mixed media exhibit. Her following exhibit titled, “Heart on the Wall: a self care affair” is now on display at Ebrik. Among the participants were 18 visual artists, one performing artist, and a radio show.
“Even within the visual, [there were] different mixed medias, so that’s one thing I’m really proud of . . . it’s reached artists that aren’t typical painters . . . you’ve just got to see it! And people have mentioned to me that the exhibits have so much texture and dimensions, which I think really pleases the eye and the mind and the soul.”
At this stage, Samiyah feels a peace about her decisions and the life she has chosen. “I’ve really grounded myself in what I do, and I’m starting to understand my power,” she said.
So far, 2020 is a year for bold steps. Samiyah’s first solo exhibit “In the Moon for Love” was displayed until the end of March at Tassili’s Raw Reality near West End Park in Atlanta. Simultaneously, “Comfort Zone” was on display at The Bakery, featuring over a dozen mixed-media artists, as well as two of her own pieces.
As she brings her passion for creating and coordinating together, Samiyah has decided to branch out from her individual brand to create a platform for other emerging artists. “Habibae” (Arabic for beloved) is Samiyah’s latest brainchild, a safe space for brown and black artists to express themselves.
Through Habibae, she is exploring different creative avenues to promote acceptance, such as the sober bar she put on at the opening night for “Comfort Zone.” With the help of her friends from Queer + Sober, they created a pop-up menu of non-alcoholic drinks for the reception. “I wanted to offer that experience and lifestyle to those who want to attend parties and art events but not be exposed to alcohol, and it was a great turnout, experience, and response,” she said.
Today, Samiyah comes from a place of plenty and feels nothing but gratitude for the community that took her in when she was in search of a path. Going forward, she hopes to share the opportunities she has been given. And for those who want them, the opportunities are plenty.
“Literally, all you have to do is put yourself out there and get connected,” she said. “People are willing to share things for you; they’re willing to recruit people for you. They want you to be in these spaces. . . you know equal opportunity; it’s for all, and it’s not based on merit or the price of your work or your accolades. It’s really truly about the healing and expression and the depth of your creative abilities and mind.”
Something about Samiyah’s iconography, the layering of digital and analog textures, a hybrid medium that really hits home for ‘90s kids. I guess that’s the nostalgia I see in some of her pieces, a recollection of the rise of digitized cameras mixed with the eager anticipation for the next iPhone update. But, of course, there’s much more to it than that.
“We do have that youthful energy, and we’re really positive for ourselves because we’re all kind of in that age where we want more and we want to be independent,” Samiyah said of the crowd she’s been working with lately. “That’s the whole point of this: to encourage others to find their independence and be who they are.”
Her journey is far from over, but if anything can be learned from Samiyah, it’s this: hard work pays off. Even if it starts off small, with perseverance and consistency, others will begin to take notice.
And here’s my two cents: No one remembers the caterpillar when the butterfly spreads its wings.