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How an Anonymous Collective Brings Creative Activism to Global Brand Campaigns
How an Anonymous Collective Brings Creative Activism to Global Brand Campaigns
by The Luupe
The many talents at MZ Icar are finding new ways to illustrate a better future.
Mz. Icar is an anonymous art collective led by Black women illustrators, photographers, designers, prop stylists, mural and collage artists. Founded in 2018, they use street-art-influenced techniques to "imagine the best case scenario future from the perspective of women and people of color."
Their rich experience and energy crosses over from art galleries to public installations and collaborative projects with global brands, magazines, and agencies like Etsy, Publicis, Nickelodeon, Essence and one of our personal favorites – Ms. Lauryn Hill's 2019 world tour.
We spoke, anonymously, to learn more about the passion behind their work.
Anonymously... the Mz Icar Collective
The Luupe: You describe your creative process as being all about “arranging things.” How does this show up in your work?
Mz Icar: Everything is a contextual arrangement. Photography is the arrangement of light and shapes, prop styling is creating compelling arrangements that elude to a world or lifestyle. Art direction arranging of the artistic aspects of a narrative.
It's all a collage with an acute understanding of the parameters of the tools used to create. In the past, we have used this skill set to arrange products, build sets, photograph people and things, and design, things, environments, and murals.
The Luupe: You've moved from individual roles working with brands as prop stylists, creative directors, illustrators, etc to becoming the Mz Icar collective. How did that come about, and why?
Mz Icar: Basically we figured we need to put our talents towards telling stories and elevating voices that we truly align with. Thus the murals, art, short film, etc. It's all incorporates photography and arrangement, Once the styling site expires...that's it. We even told our agent to align with our new path or kick rocks (gracefully).
As awesome as it's been to work with other photographers, we were playing ourselves short and simply being too little. It would be silly in these days and times not to create our visions and offer full-service styling and photography for select clients. We have the skills, tools, experience, and vision. Basically, why be out in these streets being exposed to every variant of ‘Rona and panic when we can do the work in-house under happier conditions?
Fluidity Mural. For Seismic Art Museum. Houston, Texas. 2021
The Luupe: We imagine the shifts to remote and socially distanced work over the past few years impacts your practice on some level...
Mz Icar: We got really brand new during the pandemic. There was so much shifting and external panic, but we had so much clarity. It was a good time to basically hyperspeed that plan that we had. So much for commercial photography work is centered around elevating aesthetics that are rooted in exclusionary philosophies and ordained roles. We were done with that.
We reached out to a bunch of our existing clients and pretty much pitched ourselves to handle the shoots remotely. This is how we ended up shooting and styling the Essence Gift Guide. We were already working on geometric photo-based murals and decided to put more focus and energy into that and our public art practice.
Basically, if we can tell compelling stories that help uplift brands we can certainly do it for societal notions and people that we believe in.
A still from Mz Icar's film titled Of Expansion. It’s inspired by quarantine musings and art-making. This trippy studio visit follows 2 puppets through an art exhibition distorted by time and space. Originally screened at the Museum of Black Joy
The Luupe: Did you have any influences early on who helped shape this way of thinking about visual culture and working with clients?
Mz Icar: I wished so long for mentors but to be honest when I was starting out it was a very rigged industry transitioning from film to digital with very few people who looked like me in decision-making roles and close to none behind the lens.
The Luupe: That being said, did you get advice early on that you hold with you to this day?
Mz Icar: Carve space...try things... learn your tools...ask questions and find community...make it joyous.
"Make it joyous!" © Mz Icar for Bombas
The Luupe: What were some of your early inspirations?
Mz Icar: I was inspired by The Fader, material culture, but I knew even these models needed better femme representation. My shaping came from trying to carve space and make a world out of those influences.
The Luupe: How about creative heroes?
Mz Icar: Heroes often disappoint, so I don't have those, but there are wonderfully dynamic people and projects that I continue to be inspired by for various reasons:
Glen Ligon-Perspective George Clinton-I like a big crew and spacey things Lorna Simpson-arrangement Tristan Eaton-Career path Kanye west- Audacity Cardi B -Authenticity My Parents/ancestors- Brave shapeshifters, Dedication to doing exactly what they want Suede magazine-It was just so Bold Trace Magazine-It was so beautiful Colors magazine- The exploration of Topics Futura- To be able to be an iconic graffiti artist and continue to develop and evolve is dope Michel Gondry- so imaginative....just wait til I get a budget like his! Dapper Dan- Showing us how to be fly and honoring the remix
The Luupe: YES! Lorna Simpson is an all time favorite - we're so excited about the new edition of her book with Phaidon! Do you have a creative philosophy?
Mz Icar: Is if fun? Let's do it.
The Luupe: You mention on your website that you have an amazing tape collection….
Mz Icar: Ahhh… I was referring to adhesive tapes, gaffers, scotch, masking, duck etc. btwn both blades and tapes I got you covered. I don't currently have any cassette tapes, but the vinyl collection is embarrassingly large.
"My latest endeavor has been on love, joy, beauty, elation and inner peace. It's thrown a wrench in my process of using old imagery to collage and reconstruct ideologies. That being said, this new theme has forced me to create new works from the ground up. I realize that in this day and time there just aren’t many fabulous images of black people being joyous and peaceful. Now my mission is to create that."
The Luupe: HA! Ok - what are a few recent records that are inspiring you, your work, or just moving you right now?
Mz Icar: Stevie Wonder stays on rotation. Steely Dan has been getting spins these days because we have been in a yacht rock phase, and this as a genre is a funny inspiration for a particular version of 'best life.' Anderson.Paak and Jane Handcock have been in heavy rotation too...probably because we are currently in Los Angeles...
© Mz Icar for Lauryn Hill's 2019 World Tour
The Luupe: You collaborated with Lauren Hill a few years ago, right?
Mz Icar: One of the most inspiring projects was designing/illustration for Ms. Lauryn Hill's World tour. My team and I handled flyer/poster designs, merchandise, visuals etc. for the 20 Year Anniversary Tour Of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
It was a wild, intense year and some. It was very full circle as that album was one of the most influential in my teenage years, particularly regarding representation, and messaging - it was one of my favorite stories. The team and I were honored to have been able to lend visuals to its narrative 20 years later and have our work featured on the tour.
The Luupe: What projects are you most proud of from the past year or so?
Mz Icar: I am still processing. My team and I did Murals For Doritos, BET, The City Of Boston, We connected with so many people through Mural Art's Black Fellowship program. We chatted with students in Oregon. Did Murals in Brooklyn, Houston, and shoots for Revlon's Creme of Nature, Bombas, and Essence. We even did a short (award-winning) film, called Of Expansion.
'Visionary in You' was commissioned by @Doritos for their #solidblack initiative, and coordinated and installed by Pearl Media.
The Luupe: What brings these projects together?
Mz Icar: All these projects are focused on celebratory storytelling. They were wonderfully collaborative and very mindful. We have some fun projects lined up for 2022 (too early to announce). First, we will rest and recoup. We just hope to keep moving with love, purpose, and connection.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Luupe is a one-stop production company that is raising the bar for professional brand imagery on a global scale. With a highly curated and diverse network of professional women and non-binary photo and video creators across 80+ countries around the world, we are reinventing how brands produce original, local, and authentic visual stories that connect with a global audience. Our mission is to champion and amplify diverse perspectives from around the world — in front of and behind the lens.