Hiyasmine Gaskins, known in the art world as Artistic Afro, is a non-binary visual artist based in Jersey City, NJ. They create art around self-awareness, authenticity and idols they admire in skateboarding and street culture. Monika Navickaite, the curator of White Sheet Stories, had a pleasure to interview Artistic Afro about their journey.
SP (Self Portrait), 2022.
M.N.: Describe yourself in a few sentences.
A.A.: For the Real Ones, Artistic Afro (FRO) is an art and lifestyle brand that creates art
inspired by their many interests including skateboarding culture, nature, portraiture, street
art/graffiti, anime, and more. Their mission is to evoke change that will lead to a better world for humanity and the planet.
M.N.: How did you get into skateboarding and street culture? What were you into first?
A.A.: I grew up in Jersey City, which is right next to New York City. I saw skateboarding and
street art together in music videos, movies, and on the streets. I saw the two worlds collide as a young skater riding by DIY spots decorated with tags. Skateboarding and graffiti were, and are, major forms of expression that go hand-in-hand. The skaters want to be writers. Writers wish they could be skaters. Some kids are good at both. I think it’s dope how vulnerable artists can be, putting their sketchbook pages out to the world. I loved travelling somewhere with my family and looking for certain names like PK KID and GOOMBA, not just my city, but in neighboring towns and states. It gave me the courage that I could paint anywhere.
Artistic Afro assisting BK Foxx on her mural.
Self Portrait (2020-2021).
KB (2019). Colored pencils on paper.
M.N.: What specifically interests you in both? Does skateboarding culture enriches/inspires your visual art?
A.A.: I look at art as my mental release and skateboarding as my physical release. Whenever
I’m overthinking or my anxiety is messing with my thoughts, skating helps me relax. When I feel like I’m spending too much time out and about, I make art, sometimes inspired by skating. Skateboarding has started to visually appear more in my practice as I’ve gotten older. Because of certain medical conditions, sometimes I can't skate when I want to, but I get satisfaction re-creating my favorite moments from a clip, Thrasher Magazine, memories from hanging out with friends, or portraits of skateboarders I admire. Art keeps my love of skateboarding alive and vice versa.
Artistic Afro next to their mural "Stand Out".
'I don’t strive to fit in anyone’s box. I belong wherever my heart feels the most cared for. I want my message to take up as much space as possible.' - Artistic Afro
M.N.: Describe your visual art in 5 adjectives.
A.A.: Repetitive. Symbolic. Tranquil. Organic. Surreal.
M.N.: How does living in New Jersey/New York affect your work? What is your personal experience with the art scene there?
A.A.: Ain’t nowhere on this Earth like the tri-state area. Great place to people watch. Everyone is such a character. I really appreciate growing up in an environment filled with a huge variety of street art. I think it’s what keeps me going and pushes me to do more. Since I’ve been involved in the NJ/ NY art scene, I’ve curated art shows, shown my work at different venues, galleries, and events, worked for a few non-profits, and painted several murals for local and well-known artists as well as clients. I’ve been able to share my knowledge teaching younger artists how to paint murals and create a legacy. It’s hard to find anywhere like here, but I am curious about other artist communities in other countries.
M.N.: As a black, non-binary artist, how do you navigate the art world that is dominated by white artists and artists who conform with gender binary?
A.A.: I feel like we’re living in an amazing never-before-scene time in history, and I want to
leave my mark in a way that the next generation of artists will have a point of reference on how to express their way of living. I look at revolutionists like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Muhammad Ali as huge inspirations to my lack of fear of the unknown. I see the world as my canvas. I find ways to coexist with people while also staying true to who I am. I am not attached to a single location. I don’t strive to fit in anyone’s box. I belong wherever my heart feels the most cared for, and I want my message to take up as much space as possible.
Growing up learning about white art history has made me aware of the lack of representation of black non-binary artists in many spaces. I don't strive to make my art solely about identity, but, to rather highlight how unique my life experiences are. Living & studying abroad in Italy made this idea even more prevalent. It drove me to think critically about how my art can impact others.
When it comes to street art, I do feel this pressure of whatever I do has to be amazing just because there are so many awesome artists out here consistently crushing it. I don't paint with the intention to prove myself to anyone. I'm competing with myself to be the best artist I can be.
EGO (2021). Acrylic, spray paint, markers and pen & ink on canvas.
KARMA (2020). Acrylic, spray paint, markers and pen & ink on canvas.
M.N.: In your opinion, what changes are needed in the art world? What changes are needed to the way street art is approached by the public?
1) Equal opportunities and spaces for queer & POC people in the graffiti/street art/mural
community so the public can get a real idea of our stories.
2) More professional development and business finance resources for artists
3) I’m still battling the question “Once an artwork is out on the streets, does it belong to
the artist or the public?” However, I will ask if people could tag or mention the artist’s name
when they take a photo, repost the art, or share the art in a publication of sorts. That gesture will always be appreciated.
Beatrice (2021). Acrylic and pen & ink on cardstock.
M.N.: Do you agree that street art can be a very strong tool for resistance?
A.A.: Absolutely! I’m watching it in real time. Artists fighting against gentrification. This is our city!! We’re not gonna let developers and yuppies take it without providing a stance on the matter. When you live in a system that prides itself on following corporate interests over the people’s, you can’t not expect the people to have something to say about where society is heading. Street art is for the people.
M.N.: Which artists inspire you?
A.A.: James Jean, Wangechi Mutu, Kara Walker, Distort, Shepard Fairey, and Yusuke
Nakamura to name a few.
M.N.: Where can people see your work?
A.A.: You can see more of my work on my website: artisticafro.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter: @artisticafro.
Briana King (2020). Colored pencils and markers on paper, 18" x 24".
FRO ( Lil Birdie), (2021). Spray paint on wall.