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Jewel Ham: Redefining What it Looks like to be a Creative

Jewel Ham: Redefining What it Looks like to be a Creative

Interview & Intro by Caroline Skou '20
Check out our Howard University Collection & Jewel's artwork

When it was time to ring in the new year, our instagram stories lacked the usual popping champagne and instead were flooded by followers showing off their top songs & artists with Spotify Wrapped. And while we loved learning about our friends' binge-worthy podcasts, what captured our attention most was the origin of Spotify Wrapped itself. Though Wrapped has been around since 2016, only in the last year did Spotify make the transition to Instagram Stories thanks to Jewel Ham, a past design intern. 

Jewel is a recent fine arts graduate from Howard University who is actively working to foster conversation through her artwork. Her portfolio displays the incredible range she garnered from her time at Howard; from paintings that explore the non-physical emotional experiences of the Black community to the now-iconic digital design of the Spotify Wrapped Insta-stories. 

In this interview, we discussed the impact Howard had on her as an artist, the conversation she inspires in her artwork, and her optimism for 2021 as a year to “reexamine what it looks like to be a creative.”

My work aims to visualize themes and otherwise intangible emotional realities related to reparations for the Black community.

What led you to choose Howard to pursue your fine arts degree? 

Howard was my only choice for college, incidentally. I came into my sophomore year of high school pretty much completely delusional about my future. I had been doing art, but no one had made that seem like a viable career, so I was just floating on vibes. But you, know, my mom was not having that - so, I took a college assessment and Howard was my first and only match. FKA Twigs was performing at a club in DC the same weekend I took the assessment, so I was suddenly HELL BENT on getting there - she was my fave artist at the time, never in the states, and I loved Washington, DC - it seemed like it was meant to be! When I finally did have the opportunity to visit, I fell in love immediately. Howard felt like home in a way no other place ever has for me. Don't follow my lead but - it was the only school I wound up applying to, and I received a full ride! The more I learned about the legacy of Black art at Howard, it felt like the natural choice.

Do you find that there is a common theme running throughout your recent artwork? 

Absolutely. My work aims to visualize themes and otherwise intangible emotional realities related to reparations for the Black community.

How has your style and general themes of artwork shifted throughout your time in school. In other words, how has Howard shifted your point of view as an artist? 

Without question. Originally from Charlotte, NC, being an artist was unheard of. Especially a Black woman artist. With that being said, no one was interested in asking the who, what, or why related to my artwork, so it was really....images I liked. That's it. Howard taught me to think critically about what I am trying to say with each piece, and how that can relate to be manifested in a variety of ways. Also - Howard taught me to do the reading!! I think artistry and response/reflection go hand in hand, so I am extremely grateful for my time at Howard for giving me the resources to approach my practice mindfully.

I'm over fighting for a seat at the table, we have to make our own.

What are your personal career aspirations in the art world?

So often, Black artists are made to feel like they either do not belong in many fine art spaces or that their narratives have been tokenized. I'm fresh out of undergrad and already pretty tired of trying to exist exclusively in spaces meant to exclude me and people that look like me. Instead, I look forward to using my artwork to inspire others through representation as well as to create opportunities and accessible arts education resources for my community. I'm over fighting for a seat at the table, we have to make our own.

How did you develop the initial idea for the social media aspect of Spotify Wrapped? 

I loved Wrapped and I loved the idea of making it accessible to people who didn't even have Spotify on their radar. I was assigned an intern project to make Wrapped more Gen-Z friendly, so I immediately thought Instastories! Their ideas were more focused on new social media platforms (that I, as a member of GenZ, had never heard of), but I know that IG and the usual sharing socials are really how we communicate most. Because, Spotify aside, music holds communities together just like art does. I wanted to remove it from a one-dimensional email/microsite to something everyone could share. However, them using the idea was part of the deal. The perks are not "free" and you sign over any idea rights to the company when you onboard. The thing is, I knew they used it, and I mean, I would hope so - it was a damn good idea! Many articles have cast me as "taking to twitter" but, in reality, I had an incredibly modest following before going viral and most of them recognized it as old news. I have talked about it in passing before, I posted about it on my instastory the year it actually happened, and I've even had people I interned with congratulate me for my contributions. I wasn't tweeting out of anger or even frustration, really. It was more of a "damn, remember when that happened? crazy lol"

I do hope to bring attention to the power of our ideas and how much greater the return could be if the work was self-directed and community driven.

Did you expect your tweet & story to go viral in the way it did? How do you see your story impacting the industry? 

I had the usual 1k followers on Twitter before the post, so absolutely not! But I am grateful that the story was able to be shared on such a large scale. As a realist, I know capitalism-driven corporations will likely never change their business models to benefit artists and innovators, however, I hope that serious creatives - especially Black creatives - take heed to my story and recognize that at the end of the day, these corporations will succ you dry! I completely understand the necessity to "do what you need to to do" to get to the next step, so I will never knock any one finding their way thru these spaces, but I do hope to bring attention to the power of our ideas and how much greater the return could be if the work was self-directed and community driven.

Thanks Jewel for taking the time to interview! Check out more of Jewel's amazing work HERE

Check the HBCU collections! We will be donating 20% of the proceeds from the HBCU collection to the UNCF, an organization that provides aid to young Black men & women as they apply & complete college! 

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