We had the good fortune of connecting with Tajae Keith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tajae, do you disagree with some advice that is more or less universally accepted?
One piece of “conventional” advice that I disagree with as an artist is the fantastical idea folks seem to have about being a starving artist who has to suffer for their art to be worth anything. I think it’s absolutely awful that the narrative society has created around the careers of artists is so detrimental to our mental health, our financial security, and our overall ability to survive in our professional field of choice as anyone else does. You do not have to suffer, do not have to struggle, and, most certainly do not have to starve for your art to be worthwhile. I wish we could better move past that archaic way of thinking as it leads to the mental and financial mistreatment of some of our most creative workers.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Well firstly, I have to say I am not a company, I am an individual, I don’t have a brand, I make art. I don’t have much to say about my art, I feel like it speaks for itself for the most part. I like to make things that reflect my experience in the world as a queer Black lesbian. The black form has been commodified at every axis and it’s no less true in the world of art; from museums filled with pillaged artifacts from peoples of the African diaspora to displaying actual African remains in museums, we have a very complex relationship with art. In my own work, I am forever striving to heal that relationship within myself through affirming the art of the Black form, I only hope that along the way I can create something beautiful that other Black folks can take something healing from. Similarly, I create work addressing the same issues with my identity as a lesbian, an identity that has been commodified for a voyeuristic gaze that is not our own.
The idea of making something that Black queer people can hang in their homes and feel seen in is what inspires me to create more than anything else, I live and love for my people!
I got to where I am as an artist with a lot of confidence in myself and lots and lots and lots of trial and error. It was not an easy journey and is still not an easy journey as I’m nowhere near fully settled in my career. Being realistic for folks out there who may glamorize the life of a freelance artist, it’s really hard. And even impossible at times, you have to be your own boss and make sure you’re constantly doing what you need to do to secure your next gig, you’re responsible for a lot of things that I don’t think folks realize going into this line of work. Health insurance, taxes, work/life balance, networking, etc, all things that are usually handled by working a more traditional job are things you’ll have to learn about and manage on your own. It’s very overwhelming for me at times, but I have some great people in my corner who help me tackle them.
I think my biggest takeaway after years in this field is to learn how to rest. I spent so much time burning the candle at both ends, taking seven-day work weeks, working all through the night, and just generally prioritizing work over my health. In the last year or so I’ve started setting work boundaries here and there and trying to keep myself to a more realistic and healthy schedule. Rest, rest, and rest some more!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m very lucky to have all my best friends living in the same city as me! But if I had to plan a week-long getaway with the besties, it’d go a little something like this…
Day one and two: Rest and relaxation, traveling is very unpleasant for me and I always need a little time to settle in and assess what exactly I have the capacity for that week. Spend a little downtime together, I’m talking brunch at my favorite cute brunch spot in Berkely, walks along Lake Merritt, and paint sessions at local parks.
Day three and four: Let’s tour the various colorful pop-ups we can find between Oakland and SanFrancisco, meet some cool people and hear about their art! Too cold for a day out? Let’s hit some local museums, gallery shows, and exhibits instead! The Queer Healing Art Center always has the work of local artists on display, we can check out the OMCA in downtown for unique exhibits like Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism that I got to check out a few months ago.
Day five and six: Time to do some touring of the city, with so much beautiful street art, community-driven markets, street vendors, and loads of local business, now is a great time to just feel the day out and let it take us where it takes us. Pick a city, and explore, walk in and out of shops on popular strips or sample some of Oaklands’ tasty food!
Day seven: I like to save the more touristy and kitschy spots for the last day for gifts to bring home and to hit popular attractions like Alcatraz Island, or walking the Golden Gate Bridge.
There are loads to do out here, I’m afraid I’m still so new to the area I haven’t had much time to explore, but finding new spots is half the fun!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are so many things I can say thanks to for where I’m at now in my career as an artist, artists on youtube who inspired me to take up the craft, authors and teachers who gave me direction and knowledge to better hone my craft, and of course the many people who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know in my journey. But that’d be too long of a list so I’ll condense my thanks to some very important people here.
I’d like to thank my high school art teacher and mentor Keith Crockett, a man who guided my early brush strokes and taught me that if no one else does, I should always respect and value my work and what I do. I’d like to thank my amazing and super supportive agent Paloma Hernando as well as the amazing staff at Einstein Literary. I’m sending all my love to my family for their overwhelming love and support for so many years, Reg, Chris, and Kayla help keep me afloat when I feel like I’m drowning, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. It wouldn’t be a proper shoutout if I didn’t send some love to my amazing partner and biggest fan, Hanah, for teaching me to stop and smell the flowers sometimes, I love you baby!
And last but not least, I’m sending a big shoutout to all the peers in my industry whose art I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy in my lifetime, keep rocking on!
Other: Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/blaquerainbow