Since its initial observation in the United States in 1976, Black History Month has afforded our country a dedicated occasion to celebrate the unique and profound achievements, contributions, culture, and history of African Americans.
This year’s theme of Black Resistance is a reminder that while Black history holds captivating stories of innovation, triumph, pride, and joy, we must also acknowledge the many ways that African Americans have had to resist historic and ongoing oppression.
Every year, the Copyright Office takes this opportunity to recognize the impact of Black artists and their creations as well as the significant role that the copyright system plays in protecting them. As part of this year’s celebration, Office staff sat down with Dakarai Akil, a dynamic, Los Angeles-based collage artist, for a conversation about collage art, creative process, identity, and Black resistance. Akil has engaged with the copyright system, and over the span of his career, he self-published three art books and had his work published in The New York Times, Wired Magazine, and Readers Digest. Akil’s website describes his creations as “small windows into the worlds of Black surrealism & afrofuturism,” and he describes his own work as challenging expectations.
DA: “I studied Fashion & Retail Management in college. Before I went to school, a family friend who works in the fashion industry gave me a big box of fashion magazines to study for school. I didn’t do that.” Akil lets out a regretful chuckle. “I should have, but I didn’t. So the box of magazines just sat in the corner of my bedroom. When I moved back home from college, I was trying to explore some other mediums. I happened to find a collage artist on Tumblr and thought it’d be interesting to try. So I looked in my room for materials, found that box of magazines, and immediately fell in love with it.”
Akil, who has been creating visual art through a variety of different mediums for as long as he can remember, shared his process with us.
DA: “In every other medium, you can come with an idea in mind and translate it through what you’re doing. Like drawing for example . . . you come up with the concept in your mind already. When I sit down at my desk, I have no idea what the end result is going to look like. It’s like a relationship between me and the paper. We’re building as we go along. I can literally feel it in my chest that this is done. Like, I need to leave this alone now. Then, it’s done.”
As an African American creator, Akil professes that Black resistance is not only represented in his artwork but also in who he is as an artist. He says that for him, Black resistance is “resisting the need to make the same old Black art. We are not a monolith,” he says after explaining how he grew up as an “alternative kid.” He goes on to say, “There are lots of amazing artists out there telling different stories. But the art that is pushed often focuses on the injustices. That’s not all that we are . . . There is more to our story than slavery.” Akil uses his chosen artistic discipline of collage to tell some of these stories.
Collage art, a term used to describe both the technique and the resulting work of art, is achieved by combining various colors, textures, shapes, photographs, text, or other materials, to create a new concept. In many cases, this will result in what copyright law refers to as the creation of a derivative work. Collage artists might choose to produce their work from the selection, coordination, and creative arrangment of elements from their own prior work. If they choose to incorporate preexisting materials produced by others, this can implicate copyright rights and may require permission depending on factors such as the amount taken and the purpose of the use. The Copyright Public Catalog is your starting point for finding more information about copyright ownership claims within records held by the Copyright Office.
We applaud Akil and other Black creators for enriching our nation’s creative landscape with new and refreshing expressions of Black stories. Our goal is to broaden everyone’s collective understanding of what the copyright system encompasses and how to participate in it. The Copyright Office’s current Strategic Plan places a strong emphasis on the concept of copyright for all. This means working to make the copyright system as understandable and accessible to as many members of the public as possible, including individuals and small entities as well as historically underserved communities. We are committed to this goal and excited to see how African American artists such as Akil continue to contribute to the copyright system in the years to come.
For more about Akil and his work, visit dakaraiart.com/collage.