Zsudayka Nzinga is a multi-disciplinary fine artist, curator and arts educator from Aurora, CO living in Washington, DC. She considers her work cultural anthropology, largely focusing on mixed media portraiture and interior design installations that reflect American culture. Her pieces explore mixing patterns and textures to create collages using acrylic, oil, decorative and hand dyed paper, fabric, thread, linocut stamp and ink on canvas. She also makes metal jewelry and builds, and reupholsters found furniture.
Nzinga started out as a spoken word artist and performer. While attending Hampton University and Metropolitan State College of Denver she pursued a journalism degree and self-published 3 books of her work. She spent several years touring the country performing, hosting and curating spoken word and special arts events before focusing on her own art. She has shown her work and performed in galleries and museums all over the country and been featured internationally in blogs and reviews. She has curated multiple exhibitions, received a curatorial grant with the DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities. She served on the board for Freedom School Arts and Entrepreneurship, served as Vice President of Black Artists of DC and participates with the exhibition committee Women’s Caucus for Art DC. She is a proud mother of 3 children and wife to artist, James Terrell with whom she runs their family business selling and exhibiting their art, managing their merchandise line, and assisting teachers and homeschool families with arts integrated education.
Her interest in fabric and textiles is why her subjects are clothed in intricately designed patterns. The designs mimic the history and style of African Ankara fabric and introduces bright color and patterns to high end clothing designs. She has recently begun recreating the designs for a clothing and home décor line using textile designs created from the artwork of her and her husband. Her pieces are to create a narrative and archive of Black American history, identity and culture.
Nzinga began her career as an artist in Denver, CO. She painted abstract and realism portraits and ran an art gallery. She also created art programming for nonprofits and private and charter schools and ran a Black Arts Festival. She made a name for herself in her early 20’s on the spoken word poetry scene and travelled the country performing her written work with her art on the cover. While traveling Nzinga felt more and more inspired to create images, particularly the missing story of the black woman. “I felt that when I was telling a story in a poem, people had to have read what I read, seen what I’ve seen to sometimes get the deeper purpose of my work. When I paint my story, a person can look at it and come to their own conclusions in their own time. I can really hit them hard but not have to bear the responsibility of having TOLD them.”
She started learning to paint in acrylic 8 years ago. The transition made her focus more on line work in her paintings. She began to study stained glass windows and the ways portraiture can be broken up for messaging. This led her to study the work of quilt and collage artists to loosen up the images and create more movement and include symbols specific to the Black American culture. Her subjects are all powerful and composed. It is especially important for her to highlight the pride and the beauty of her community.
In her murals and public works, Nzinga feels she has the opportunity to promote pride and connection. Her figures are juxtaposed together and expressing joy, hope and the love of everyday life. While her work features Black women, it is an opportunity to highlight the beauty of American culture.
Zsudayka Nzinga Terrell is currently working on new pieces and creating a community art space in Washington, DC’s Ward 7 with her husband, James S. Terrell and their 3 children. She serves as Vice President of Black Artists of DC, a 501c3 arts organization for Black African identified artists in the DC area. The Terrell’s have a line of home goods, accessories and products featuring their artwork on their website. She has been featured on multiple news outlets including Voice of America and Washington Post.
I am a multi-disciplinary mixed media artist, educator and curator. My work uses portraiture to capture the magic of everyday moments, through the lens of Black identity. I consider my work social-cultural anthropology as it seeks to define aspects of what is Black culture-specifically the culture born and grown in America. My work aims to challenge the notion that Black culture and identity is separate from American culture, rather, American culture is very steeped in Blackness, from its evolving use of language, fashion, interior design, music and adopting of cultural norms. As an American who is not always seen and engaged as American due to the complexities of the diaspora, I invite viewers to interact with my works and find the similarities between us while celebrating the differences.
My paintings use acrylic, fabric, vinyl, linocut stamps, ink, hand dyed paper, decorative paper, and oil bars. I often have a subject I am researching and collecting narratives around. Each piece is a part of the story, told by how the people place themselves and interact with the interior design element.
I am a self-taught artist. I started out sewing with my mother, a fifth-generation seamstress and descendant of slavery in elementary school. I learned quilt making, how to make clothes, weaving and the historical significance of creating and collecting art to Black Americans. Our home and other homes we visited utilized Afro Bohemian decor with artwork, masks, statues, plants and things we find reverent in our culture. I include these experiences of interior design in my work and play with reoccurring historical themes blending Victorian and American fashion and African design.
I taught myself how to paint first in oil, before transitioning into acrylic in 2015. My focus was always portraiture and I moved toward realism before beginning to cube my portraits and experiment with abstracting them using black line and stitch patterns in marker and by sewing machine. I got into collage and chigiri to mimic quilt designs but with a softness different from cut fabric. I started weaving hair onto my figures and that led to the marriage of all of my practices.
I enjoy creating large scale multimedia pieces on canvas. I sometimes stretch my canvases and build decorative frames around them and some of my pieces hang as loose tapestries. I approach each figure and element like a piece of a quilt. I’ve begun doing more multi layered work quilt stitching on elements of the piece and letting the portraiture stand on its own and exploring the textures the paper and fabric create with the paint. When there’s paintings within the paintings I freehand with oil bar and ink and layer collage. I am fascinated by color theory and the cultural impact of mixing color and design.
As a curator my focus has been on Black American art both historically and modern/contemporary. I’m interesting in assessing the narratives emerging from the experience of Black Americans as we define our culture and identity and gain more opportunities to engage our complex lineage and history. I have been studying our use of color and pattern, the influence of Black artist groups on the art market, and the segregation of the fine art community and how Black spaces have continued to provide spaces for artists to thrive and collectors. I lean toward portraiture in my curatorial practice as well but appreciate abstracts or still lives with powerful narratives on identity.
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Images by Mariah Miranda Photography