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Artist, Dakarai Akil, standing on top of a rectangle rug and in front of two red chairs and a red wall with a work of art hanging on it.

A Tale of Black Resistance through Collage Artwork

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Artist, Dakarai Akil, standing on top of a rectangle rug and in front of two red chairs and a red wall with a work of art hanging on it.

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.

Magazine clippings of words and phrases spread across a table and overlapping. A pair of open red scissors are on top of the magazine clippings.

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.

Comments (16)

  1. Thanks, Dakarai Akil for the share!

    I was moved by your acknowledgment that we are not a monolith (I was a goth kid in Detroit). I also share the sentiment that our story isn’t just one about slavery, struggle and pain. I often ask, “Why aren’t the fruits of our labor, the joy and success, celebrated with equal focus?” I am happy to see that others are asking that question and letting it inspire their creative ventures.

  2. I too an LA based artist female black Vietnam vet with lots of diagnosis. Art found me I hated art. It’s so nice to see other artist of color being highlighted who are from the LA area.

  3. As an AA Artist residing in OC, I’m always inspired when reading or hearing about other AA artists in LA who are represented during times of Black History Events. The word collage caught my attention because I also use a variety of materials to create art, but using cut pieces of paper to create imagery seems relative to Dakarai’s magazines, similarity as well to AA artist/writer Romare Bearden. Its amazing what one can do as becoming so entrenched in expectations of how the finished product will resemble. Can’t wait to view more of Dakarai’s works.

  4. Nice interview with Dakarai, an LA based artist. As you mentioned, we do “applaud Dakarai for enriching our nation’s creative landscape with new and refreshing expressions of Black stories.” Well written blog Ashley. Keep up good work!

  5. Nice blog to recognize and celebrate our Black history. It inspires me to continue creating, as I am a part of the collage artist population. Proud of you Dakarai. Thank you for sharing this blog with us.

  6. Thank you for introducing me to the term collage art. I have been doing this for years, but never realized it had a technical name. Love it. Thank you.

  7. Enjoyed reading this blog as we continue to celebrate Black History Month. Love to see our creativity at work. Kudos.

  8. Love the blog. Learning more and more about our Black History. Happy to see the relationship between collage art and copyright.

  9. As we celebrate the last day of Black History month, I enjoyed reading this blog. Yes, “There are a lot of amazing artists out there telling different stories.” Continue the excellent work All!

  10. Today, the last day of Black History month, huh? This month flew by. I enjoyed reading this blog. Yes, “There are a lot of amazing artists out there telling different stories.” Continue the excellent work All!

  11. Sounds like you conducted a very interesting and inspiring interview Ashley. Keep creating your wonderful art Akil. Really enjoyed the blog.

  12. Thank you for educating us on what the copyright system encompasses and how we all can participate in it. I enjoyed the blog and I am proud of the artist Dakarai, and all of his creations.

  13. Thank you for making copyright understandable and accessible and showcasing how an African American artist such as Akil is contributing to the copyright system. I love how Akil ties his personal experience in with your theme as he resists the need to “make the same old Black art”. Continue to share your unique creativity Akil. Nice blog. I enjoyed it.

  14. Yes, our very short Black history month has come and gone, yet I will continue to celebrate it all year long. I too am a collage artist and I never know what my end result will look like when I start a piece. I do feel it when it is time to call it my completed work. As an artist, I can relate to Akil on a number of levels. Thank you for sharing this blog Ashley and keep the creative juices flowing Akil.

  15. I was struck by the powerful use of collage to tell the story of black resistance and resilience.

    The artwork featured in the article combines historical images and contemporary elements to create a thought-provoking narrative of the struggles and triumphs of black people in America. The artist’s ability to seamlessly integrate images of civil rights leaders and activists with scenes of everyday life speaks to the ongoing nature of the fight for racial justice.

    Furthermore, the article’s exploration of the legal and ethical considerations surrounding the use of copyrighted images in collage art highlights the complexities of navigating intellectual property laws in the digital age. The fact that the Library of Congress has chosen to feature this artwork on its blog is a testament to the importance of preserving and promoting diverse cultural expressions.

    Anyway, I found this article to be a compelling and informative exploration of the intersection of art, history, and social justice. The artwork featured in the article serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial equality and the vital role that art can play in bearing witness to and amplifying the voices of marginalized communities.

  16. This article pulled back the curtain on a little-known art form that is evidently gaining traction beyond art community borders. Dakari is a soft-spoken innovator who I’ve moderately seen grow from a very solid family foundation in the Cleveland area to a self-styled brand-builder on the west coast and beyond. Writer Ashley Tucker did a great job allowing him to present his testimony.
    There’s clearly a future of integration between collage art and copyright access.

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