Veil Girl, Digital Collage by Divine Agbeko.

Collaging the Divine

Words by Josue Ramirez, edited by Gisela Zuniga

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Divine Agbeko is a digital collage artist from McAllen, Texas. We checked in with her to learn about her journey into collage making. Divine discusses the inspiration behind creating beautiful images that center Black experiences and about her artwork featured in the Trucha RGV debut article, “Blackness (and Anti Blackness) in the Borderlands” by Nat M.

How did you find collage making?

Becoming a collage artist was totally an accident. I am a graphic design minor and it’s funny because I didn’t know anything about Photoshop or Illustrator prior to last June, so, I wanted to give myself some practice. I started to put images together, to recreate pictures not for other people to consume but more for myself to say, “Oh, I know how to use this tool or that tool.” But I wanted to make it fun instead of work. 

I don’t like when things feel boring, forced and stale, and collaging is really fun. It is something that I can easily give myself to. I’ll spend days on a collage and not feel like I lost any sort of time. I think that is how art should feel or things that you like should feel. They shouldn’t feel forced or stressful or like you’re just giving so much of yourself away without getting anything else in return. 

Alice, Digital Collage by Divine Agbeko.

You mentioned you are a graphic design student, where are you going to school? 

I’m going to UTRGV and majoring in Psychology. I’m in my last semester, which is exciting. Last year I realized that I wanted to major in graphic design but I am so close to graduating that there is so much work to be done if I revert back all those years. It would also put a huge financial strain on me too. I’ve learned that you don’t have to take a conventional educational path when you do design work. You can literally become fully self-taught. Create your own path and make it in ways that maybe taking an educational path couldn’t have led you to. I just feel more confident about this route than going into it with a formal education.

How have your classes impacted your art?

The heavier design classes are one note and very boring to me. If I just let the teachers introduce me to Photoshop or Illustrator and give me assignments and projects to do, I don’t think I would have come across collaging or found an interest in it. Taking the reins and leading myself into it is a much better go around because I truly feel like I am enjoying myself in this sort of way more than in the traditional classroom. 

I am still learning more about [Adobe] Illustrator each day – it is definitely more time consuming. In [Adobe] Photoshop, I feel like I am mastering more everyday and getting more confident every day. With the more confidence I get, the more diverse my pieces start to look. (Editor’s note: Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are a popular graphic design softwares).

During my first days of collaging, I was just using elements I found online, PNG samples, very simple stuff. I look back at my old work and think, “Wow, what I am making now smokes what I made before.” Even though it was my first time handling these different kinds of tools, it’s cool to see the vivid progression of my work. It’s really cool for me to say, “I was there but now I’m here. Look at me, no one can talk to me crazy ever.”

 

What are you inspired by and what is the motivation behind your art?

When I first started collaging I told myself if I actually finalized pieces that they would include Black people. The only people I will ever amplify in my art are Black people and a lot of my pieces are for and about Black Women. It is always done on purpose. I don’t think there is enough of that visibility. Just to have me being a Black woman who is a collage artist is not enough. I want to give room for Black women or Black people in my work. For me combining these things makes me feel seen. 

I also like to make myself look pretty. If someone said that I did my design for the aesthetic, I would agree completely. I like the things that I make to be beautiful. It can be with traditional beauty, or messy, or psychedelic but at the end of the day is something that I think is cool and something I wish I would see more of. So if I don’t, who is going to make it? The motivation is to make things look beautiful in my eyes, that will always be the motivation. I think that is all that matters and if people take kindly to it then that is a bonus.

Past and Future, Digital Collage by Divine Agbeko.
Somewhere, Digital Collage by Divine Agbeko.

What was your experience in developing artwork for the “Blackness (and Anti-Blackness) in the Borderlands Essay?

It was a challenge at first because I had never done anything with a forward message per say. Since a lot of my work focuses on the visual aspect, it was new to do something with commentary but I wanted to try it. I remember last year being such a weird year, especially for Black folks all over the nation, all over the world. I just remember when all of those things were happening it felt like a bad event after a bad event for Black people and it was just not getting better. Of course through the history of this country and the history of the world Black folks have never had it easy to begin with. 

So much of Black history is American history, Black Creativity moves the world. People are so disgusted with that. They have a hard time celebrating Black people and instead of being decent and minding their business they make our business their business. It is all this poison that comes in, all this violence, enough for people to lose their lives. Racism is real and has existed forever and it has really not gotten better. It will always contort and mesh with us and become invisible but it is so very real. It’s horrible, there are so many things to say about always being looked at and stolen from. Black people just want to be granted humanity and that feels like it is just so much for people to give out, it’s unfortunate.

 

Any closing thoughts?

In Nathan’s article his sources of information were absolutely correct. People think that because we live in the Valley we are immune to all this anti-blackness and vivid racism but that is never the case at all. It is always easy to say things like that when you are not a Black person, whenever Black people are not around you, when you don’t uplift Black people, and when you don’t listen to Black people. It is easier for people to feel better about themselves by tuning everything out that involves others, especially people of other cultures and races. There is a lot of violence in that, it is more silent but it is definitely violent and harmful to people like me who live in the Valley. So it is so strange when people say that racism cannot happen in a predominantly minority-filled space but that is a really bad misconception.

 

Follow Divine on Instagram @divineagbeko for more of her artwork.

The above interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.
Veil Girl Grown Up, Digital Collage by Divine Agbeko.

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