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Using art to start a conversation

by Jori Ayers

It started off with me drawing,” said twenty-two year-old artist and creator, Nneka Jones. “Then that developed into me having a passion for creating things and using my hands to create things.” 

Nneka Jones is from Trinidad and Tobago but now resides in Tampa, FL where she is a current student at The University of Tampa. Jones is now in her last year of college, graduating in May 2020 and ready to make a name for herself and her work. It all started with doodles that has now led Jones to the center of attention and award winning contests. 

Nneka has always been drawing or doodling somewhere for as long as she can remember. It all started at the age of five, she would always be sketching. When her mother, father and three sisters would look into their books or notepads when they get to work or school, they would see random drawings that Nneka would leave for them. 

That love for drawing soon blossomed into something more and here she is now pursuing a degree in something that was just merely a doodling in the margins of her family members notebooks. 

“I think the more I did it and the more reactions that I got is what made me really fall in love,” said Jones. “The fact that I could have an influence on so many people and connect with so many other people that I wouldn’t be able to if I just sat there and had a conversation with them.”

When starting at UT she wanted to do art but something else along with it such as her love for business or marketing. These were her backup incase she didn’t have a fulfilling career in art, but she knew that she wanted to be an entrepreneur and sell her artwork either way. 

When this came into play, Nneka had her doubts about majoring in arts. Many people where second guessing her choice of major. There even came a point to where Nnkea was doubting herself and wanted to switch majors. 

“I had my first semester here and I heard those views of why are you doing art you should do something else,” said Jones. “That really got to me and I wanted to switch majors to business.” 

Even though there were some questions on why she chose her major she went out for advice from her advisor on what should be her next move. Her advisor encouraged her to continue in art and told her that she has a gift and should continue to use it and let it grow.

“And so I did that and I gave it one more semester and I actually really fell in love with the art program here and that’s when I added the marketing minor, so here I am,” said Jones

Nneka knew that she had talent and something special when it came to creating things. She wasn’t just putting things on a canvas, she was telling someone’s or society’s story as well. From her mind to the canvas Nneka wants people to know that there is more to art than just what meets the eye.

 “A lot of my artwork features a lot about social issues specifically in regards to women. I don’t think that there is a specific theme that my artwork is because it’s ever changing and involving,” said Jones. I would dip in  and out into certain issues going from celebration to victims to empowerment just varying on different things so I can’t say there is a specific theme that my art represents but it’s multi fasitive.”  

Nneka doesn’t just paint a picture on a canvas simply for the beauty, she emphasizes the importance of conversations that come up in today’s society that people brush off. She recognizes these real world problems and with her artwork it’s easy to have a dialogue about it and comment on the piece. 

“It’s more like drawing your attention to it its used as a channel to help people talk about certain issues and I think I’m using my artwork as a tool to help people to communicate,” said Jones.  

With her different approach to art and using her controversial talking pieces, Nneka landed herself the name for best new emerging artist at the Gasparilla Festival of Arts in her first ever public show. 

Showcasing pieces such as a piece of work she used condoms as a structure for her series to bring awareness to sexual abuse and sex trafficking and also her oil self portrait which was selected  for the Jurired show and won her the award for the Gasparilla Festival of Arts show. 

It felt surreal at first, especially because it was my first public show, and I was honestly very shocked that I had won,” said Jones. “But I felt rewarded for all of the hard work I had put into making the pieces.”

Nneka sees herself in having traveling exhibitions she wants her pieces to not only be exhibited once but she would like her artwork to be in multiple galleries across different countries because she would like to see how people of different cultures connect with it. She also hopes that one day her work will be showcased in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 

Nneka is still the little girl from Tobago who doodles in books but now her art has turned into something that is making an impact in the world around her. The risks she’s taking, the things she has done and accomplished Nneka is nothing more than grateful for her opportunities at hand.

“I would like to say thank you to my parents and my sisters and my friends for not only their support but them believing in me and allowing me the opportunity to expand on my passion,” said Jones. “I’m thankful that they actually support me and believe in it because that’s what actually keeps me going.” 

Jori Ayers can be reached at jori.ayers@spartans.ut.edu

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