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San Diego artist uses creativity to uplift Black culture and ‘determine how we are seen’

Yarn artist Domonique King poses with some of her work
Yarn artist Domonique King poses with some of her work in her studio.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Visual artist Domonique King is leading the Women’s Museum of California’s October ‘Craftivism Class: Nail Art Portraits’ workshop

There are ways to use crafting and art as forms of activism, and artist Domonique King continues to master that combination in her work featuring wood, nails and yarn. Her online space, “Wood Wool Steel,” has allowed her dream of creating uplifting images of Black culture to be realized while sharing her creative, passionate and two-spirited energy with others.

“Malcolm X said, ‘If you want something, you had better make some noise.’ That is my point of view, as an artist who makes noise while I’m creating, with what I create, with why I create,” she says.

On Friday, she’ll lead others in finding their creative voice to make their own noise during the Women’s Museum of California’s “Craftivism Class: Nail Art Portraits” workshop at 6 p.m. at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. This series is a complement to the museum’s “Crafting Feminism: Textiles of the Women’s Movement” exhibit and is intended to teach people a crafting skill they can use in their activism. Attendees will get a lesson in creating a nail art portrait of political activist, professor and former member of the Black Panther Party, Angela Davis, and a bit about her work and history.

King, 37, lives in College Area near San Diego State University with her partner and their two sons, a high school junior focused on creative writing and an eighth-grader on the swim team. She took some time to talk about her work, the dualities she’s come to embrace in herself, and how her ideal weekend would happen in San Diego circa 1998.

Q: How did you get started in creating visual art?

A: I’ve been a creative person, in general, for as long as I can remember. I actually attended the same performing arts school as my son, where I was able to dabble in a variety of artistic expressions, with music and instrumentation being my primary interest. I was also able to experience theater, photography, dance and also visual artistry. Now, I am able to incorporate my experience and understanding of these areas into my yarn art.

Q: How did you develop your current style, using yarn and nails to create portraits?

A: I just went for it. I saw a heart on Pinterest back in 2013, which sparked my interest. I hadn’t seen anything like that before, so I tried it and kept trying it. I just kept pushing my boundaries and finally developed a technique unique to my style and vision. It took me a few years, too. I’m very proud of my evolution and look forward to the future.

Q: Your website says that your vision is “to uplift Black folk through beautiful images of Black faces, bodies and culture.” How did this vision begin to take shape for you in your work?

A: The art evolved from the vision. It’s always been important to me to show Black culture and life in a deep and enlightening way. In all that I do I want to represent the beauty, intelligence, resilience, determination and creativity of the Black community in America.

What I love about College Area ...

My favorite thing about my neighborhood is its access to the freeway, lol. And I live by one of the cheapest gas stations in the city. That’s prime location right now.

Q: And why is it important to you to uplift Black people in this way?

A: It’s important because of the centuries of misrepresentation we’ve experienced. It’s important to me to take control of the narrative and the optics. We should determine how we are seen.

Q: You’re leading the “Craftivism Class: Nail Art Portraits” on Friday. How do you see your work with yarn and nails within the context of activism?

A: My work promotes strategic planning, patience, creativity, focus and especially love. I believe all of those are important contributors to practicing activism.

Q: On your website, you have a video that allows people to see a bit of what goes into creating a piece. Can you walk us through your artistic process for creating and completing a portrait, here?

A: Yes, my art is a step-by-step process; it doesn’t allow for much flow. I plan, digitally, what I will create and transfer that idea to the board by painting, sealing, burning the wood, driving nails and, ultimately, weaving the yarn. It takes about 45 hours to complete a decent-sized portrait.

Q: What can people expect at your workshop on Friday?

A: Folks can expect good energy, firstly. I want everyone to laugh, smile and to have a feel-good time. They should also expect to learn something insightful about a Black figure they may not have been privy to before. I love Black history and speak about it with enthusiasm.

Q: Can you talk a bit about why you want to focus on Angela Davis during this session?

A: My aim is to always bring light to and knowledge about Black figures who have participated in the creation of our current zeitgeist. When presented with the opportunity to teach with the Women’s Museum, it was important to me to stay that course. Angela Davis is a figure I believe would be a great addition to understanding and appreciating the crafting of feminism.

Q: What do you hope people get from the experience of creating art with you in this way?

A: I hope people get an understanding of my love for history, beauty, culture and most importantly, my craft.

Q: What inspires you in your creativity?

A: Everything inspires me! Music, food, relationships, new places. My everyday life is an inspiration.

Q: Celebrities, including Spike Lee and Andra Day, own some of your pieces. Who are some other famous admirers of your work, and was there anyone you were particularly excited or nervous about creating a piece for?

A: Yes, I was super-excited when those opportunities presented themselves, especially Spike because I learned about Malcolm X from his movie, not in school, and he bought my Malcolm series. There are many public figures who admire my work. (Shameless plug, you can find some of them following my Instagram account @WoodWoolSteel.) It is always nerve-racking to expose yourself as an artist, to show the world what came from your heart. I love when anyone wants a piece of it.

Q: Who are some artists whose work you’re a fan of?

A: I’m really into this digital artist, X Payne, and an abstract artist named Arnold Butler. You can find them on Instagram. Their work resonates with me because it’s super bold and culturally relevant. I love the colors they use, the subject matter, and the dope energy that permeates when you see their work.

Q: What’s been challenging about your work as an artist who works in this medium?

A: Honestly, the most challenging part of working with this medium is making sure I still have thumbs, lol. Driving thousands of nails into a board means quite a few accidents happen. Also, there’s a challenge in keeping enough nails in stock.

Q: What’s been rewarding about this work?

A: The most rewarding aspect of this work is seeing folks’ faces when they see my art in person. They look excited, inspired and curious. People’s minds formulate the most interesting questions, and it’s always cool to me to expand my explanation of my art.

Q: What has this work taught you about yourself?

A: This work has taught me that I am resilient, focused, talented, masculine and feminine. I’m a two-spirited individual, and I love to be able to go to the hardware store for hours, then hit the fabric or textile store and immerse myself in the patterns and textures of fabric. This work has taught me that I’m both soft and rough.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: The best advice I’ve ever received is to stop and breathe. Take deep, big belly breaths. Breathe through every fiber of your being; it may save your life.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: People would be surprised to find out that I am a lyrical genius. My pen game is phenomenal. I have more bars than the Gaslamp (if you know, you know).

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: My ideal weekend in Daygo would be set in 1998, slidin’ down the (state Route) 94, listening to 90.3 on the radio; a trip to the swap meet to get some fresh cut fruit with some chamoy; head on over to Fam Mart to get my ear pierced for $7, pick up some “Triple A” T-shirts and a bean pie; hit Roberto’s #10 by the North Park water tower for a burrito; then get some wood, slide to Ski Beach, and eat by a bonfire.


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