Multi-passionate and super talented artist Makeba Rainey—call her KEEBS—is a Harlem-bred, Philly transplant living in the city of brotherly love whose iconic pieces are part of NiLu’s intentionally curated selection of art. Her work, which is centered on inspiring the people of the diaspora, is a breathtaking mixture of visual arts and social engagements that include her personal pieces, curated works, produced events, and activist initiatives. The common thread being a determined dedication to build community through artwork in our charged social climate. With KEEBS recent series “Africa, America” featured in NiLu, we wanted to know more about this visual artist and what fuels the creative genius behind her diverse body of work.
NiLu: How did you get started as an artist?
KEEBS: I’ve always been an artist. Although I have had much classical training in studio art, I am primarily self taught. A lot of the work I create is digitally made using computer programs that I taught myself how to use. I believe it’s important for artists to have a basic foundation, but also to use the appropriate tools to create artwork as they originally envisioned it to be. Often that means expanding your skill set beyond the traditional artist tools.
NiLu: Tell us about your creative work. We know you’re a visual artist among other things. What else do you have going on?
KEEBS: I do many things outside of just being a visual artist. I am a curator, an event producer, an activist, and an organizer. My creative work is centered on inspiring Black folk to recognize and utilize their full potential. Part of that work is creating portraits of historic and contemporary Black icons. While another part is community building with Black artists who support and encourage each other. I recently directed a short film, a collaboration between a group of unique individuals, to discuss what it means to be a Black creative in America right now. The film explores the different processes I go through when I create art and the experiences I have to filter through. Directing this was a step to continually build a community through socially engaged artwork that “incorporates” storytelling and documentation.
NiLu: Although you’re a Philly transplant now, you’re originally from Harlem. How does being a Harlemite influence your work?
KEEBS: Being from Harlem influences my entire aesthetic in terms of creating art. My work is intentionally stylish and unapologetically Black which is what Harlem is to me. I am beyond grateful to showcase my work in my hometown and infinitely thankful for all the women in Harlem who continuously uplift, empower, and provide me with opportunities to share my work. Women like Leanne Stella of Art In FLUX Harlem, Edith Van Slyck, Omo Misha, Stephanie Calla of La Maison d’Art, Marline A. Martin of Arts Horizons LeRoy Neiman Art Cent, Moikgantsi Kgama of ImageNation, Sandra Daley, and Katrina Parris.
NiLu: We got the chance to carry some of your art here at NiLu. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind them?
KEEBS: The series at NiLu is called “Africa, America”. It was inspired by iconic Black folk who we either know too much, or not enough, about. I am inspired and impassioned by powerful Black women and queer folk who don’t get enough recognition for the work that have done to uplift the Black community, the Black people unjustly taken from our communities by criminal justice system, and the transwomen who are murdered for daring to live their truth. The pieces at NiLu is just a small sample of the many multitudes within a “race” of people.
NiLu: What’s the one thing you want people to take away from your art?
KEEBS: I once showed a coworker (a black woman) my artwork and she responded “This is Black AF. I LOVE it!” That is what I want all Black people to feel when they see my art. To see themselves in my work, to have a sense of community, to feel belonging, pride, and encouragement. And for those who are not from the diaspora, I want them to recognize and acknowledge the contributions that Black people have made to build this country. A country which diminishes our humanity, denies us our freedoms, and takes our lives.