ALL her life, Nneka Jones was drawn to the world of art but without the support of her family and encouragement from teachers, she may not have realised her true potential.
The 22-year-old art major at the University of Tampa was recently featured on NowThis Her, a branch of the online media company, NowThis. Her feature focussed on her pieces with condoms entitled, Targets.
Sunday Newsday, in a WhatsApp video call, spoke with Jones, a past student of Bishop Anstey High School, about her love for art, her introduction to it, and her vision for herself beyond the four minutes and 23 seconds of fame.
Targets focuses on victims of abuse. To complete the pieces she arranges condoms in target signs, waits for them to dry and then paints over them to reveal the message. Her colour choices are based on the subject and the emotions she wants to elicit from her viewers.
Since completing the pieces, two have been sold and, as a marketing student as well, Jones seeks a balance in the business side of being an artist.
"My passion drives the profit,” Jones said. “You can tell when an artist is doing it for passion and for profit.”
The concept for Targets was given to her by her lecturer, last semester, who challenged the class to look beyond paint for their pieces. Since her artwork has always been conversational starters, she decided to focus on victims of abuse to tell their stories through art. When she began it used to take her up to three weeks to complete the pieces but now it takes half that time.
Jones, the last of four girls, laughed, as she recalled being told to get “hundreds of condoms” for her work by her lecturer. She also had to figure out a way to explain to her parents – Arva Cordner-Jones and Anthony Jones – her need for so many contraceptives.
She thanked her parents who recognised her talents and fuelled that passion, cementing it in form three when it was time to select subjects for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), encouraging her to choose art.
“I can’t remember my first art piece but I recall my siblings and mother telling me that they would open their daily planners and notebooks and see drawings that I did, so even then I was into it.”
Her decision to pursue art in school meant she had to take on an additional subject. This was repeated in CAPE and the rewards were worth it in both instances.
“In CSEC, I placed first in the Caribbean in art and then again when I did CAPE. In both CSEC and CAPE, art was the additional subject I chose. My parents were always supportive but they emphasised that I need something to fall back on, so I added business subjects as well.”
Jones topped the Caribbean in Visual Arts Unit 3 in CSEC in 2014, and repeated her success two years later in Art and Design Unit 2 for CAPE, after which she decided to go abroad.
“As much as I love TT, I wanted to experience art in a different setting,” she said, adding that she applied to and was accepted to top art schools in the US but chose Tampa because of their excellent business programme.
Her winning streak in art did not stop when she boarded a plane to Florida. In her second year at Tampa, she reluctantly took part in the Gasparilla Festival of Arts and won the William P O’Dowd Memorial Emerging Artist Award.
Now with one more semester to go at university, Jones hopes to earn an internship as a curator after graduating. A partial-government scholarship recipient, she also intends to apply for every available scholarship for a masters degree. She hopes to open her own art gallery both abroad and locally.
“I want to come back home to give back. I want the world to know that there is talent in TT through all my success. Our small twin-island country is filled with talent.”
Jones thanked her teachers such as Sherlann Peters, Lisa Hutchinson and Leona Fabien who guided her and believed in her throughout her journey here at home.
“My message to the young “Nnekas” and “Nnekos” is to take a lot of risks. Don’t second-guess yourself. I was nervous when I applied to the Gasparilla Festival at first. You may think you will fail or maybe you will not, put yourself out there.”
And again, she said, the support of the family is crucial.
“My family are extremely proud of me and I am thankful that they allowed me my artistic freedom.”
* To view some of Nneka’s artwork follow her on social media @artyouhungry on Twitter Facebook and Instagram.