When you look up “rad femme” in the witch-ionary of all things powerful and fly, we guarantee that Kayla Jones is listed as the definition. Oh, you don’t have a witch-ionary? Well, Kayla probably does. We were lucky enough to get Kayla’s thoughts on everything from cultural resistance to childhood crushes. In addition to being an all-around badass artivist who creates beautiful and thought-provoking visuals and environments, Kayla is also the mastermind behind Mala Forever’s logo and branding, and we love her so so so much.
Check out more of her work on instagram: @dame_danger
Q: Do you identify as a radical femme?
A: Yes I do!
Q: Tell us about what you do.
A: I am a graphic designer, art director, and activist.
I primarily work on building brands from the ground up (strategy and positioning, copywriting, and logo development), illustration (everything from hand drawn pieces to iconography), digital applications (social media suites and website design), as well as larger scale brand activations (environmental design, experiential design and installations). I also direct and often do photography for client photoshoots! I have hands in almost everything a brand touches.
As a queer, black woman, I have chosen to work almost exclusively with marginalized communities, organizations, and initiatives. My design and branding work often centers racial justice, women’s empowerment, and queer identity.
My personal work explores the intersections of design as art, art as activism, and activism as cultural design.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
A: I have wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I drew, painted, worked with clay, wrote short stories, and staged mini plays with my friends all through my childhood. I don’t know if I had any language to describe art direction, but my favorite activity as a little girl was creating small dioramas or elaborate scenes with my toys that included handmade elements and imaginary backstories. I’d spend hours arranging things and then pull my mother in to come see while I talked her through what was going on. As a teenager, I began tinkering with digital tools: designing covers for my freshly-burned Napster compilations or tricking out my Myspace page. I taught myself html and made really bad websites. My sister and I would pose our friends in local parks or sets we made and shoot polaroids around our suburban hometown. I spent a lot of time laying out scrapbook diaries, zines, and collages while listening to music. I was still thinking I was going to be a classic illustrator until I took a tour of the Academy of Art my senior year of high school. When we got to the graphic design floor, I saw everything I was doing with my spare time. I knew I was made to do this.
Q: A creative work that inspires you, and never gets old:
A: Right now I’m obsessed with a video piece by Arthur Jafa that SFMOMA just acquired, Love is the Message, the Message is Death. It’s an expertly cut seven minutes of footage from various aspects of the black american experience: from Obama singing Amazing Grace, to snapchat twerking videos, to the Million Man March, to police brutality, to Serena Williams C-walking after a victory. The journey it takes you on is immense. It excludes almost nothing: our highest highs and lowest lows—all set to a gospel-inspired Kanye song. The choice of Kanye alone is a lot to think about. I really felt like we were held by loving hands, in all of our complexity and contradiction and beauty in that 7 minutes. I’ve been to see it three times and think about it often.
Q: What is the role of design in political resistance and social liberation?
A: My job as a designer is to bridge the emotional and the functional. It’s easy to conjure up images of resistance from the civil rights and anti-war movements because they had an emotional and cultural impact. Though working within commercial art, I believe designers should be conscious about how we add to the cultural conversation, how we use our tools. This belief determines the jobs I take, the photography I choose, and the messaging I employ. As a queer woman of color, I’m particularly sensitive to the inclusion of minority voices and perspectives. I have a well-seasoned background in multi-million dollar corporate design and it’s amazing how little attention goes to addressing implicit bias in the creation of the visuals that surround us every day.
To manifest an inclusive culture, we also have to honor that all parties are both creators and receivers. That the separations and roles are less rigid than we have previously assumed: artists can be augmenters of accessibility. Audiences can be influencers. Institutions can be advocates. We must understand that the movement of ideas is not linear but circular. Social perceptions, communities, movements, and conversations influence culture. And culture influences them in turn.
Design is always about using aesthetics in a strategic fashion to meet a particular goal: the dissemination of information, encouraging or discouraging behaviors, creating emotions around ideas, people, or products.
As a branding specialist, I often discuss relevant differentiation with clients. That is: does your brand address a relevant need or question for your audience? Does it do this in a way that is unique from competitors? Essentially: are you creating a relationship with your audience based on listening and adding something necessary to the conversation? A successful brand does, and will often be disruptive in its field. I believe if we apply this thinking to design for social (rather than commercial) gain, we will start conversations and support movements with visible and far-reaching impact.
We cannot position art and design outside of the social fabric: this cripples its ability to serve as a catalyst for social change. Artists are not separate from the communities they live in. Institutions are not faceless entities—they are made up of people. Dialogues, spaces, and social relations should reflect this if we are to create the relationships necessary for working toward a collective dream of justice.
Q: What’s something in your self-care practice that everyone should do?
A: Self care is by necessity very personal, so I always encourage people to find what actually works for them. Sometimes self care is taking a break, and sometimes it means working through discomfort to the thing that is actually good for you, you know? Self care for me can mean pushing through anxiety and making a dentist appointment, and other times it’s letting myself watch Netflix all evening when I’ve been working really hard. As a workaholic, one practice I’ve enjoyed is pouring myself a hot bath with scented oils and fancy soaking salts, lighting candles, and then listening to the Brown sisters’ How to Survive the End of the World podcast. I have a hard time taking time out to do things that aren’t considered “productive,” but you really can’t take the phone and computer into the tub. The podcast focuses on survival, particularly that of marginalized bodies, through different types of apocalypse, and their voices are calm and familiar. It gives me a focal point and perspective. Plus, knowing that I have the exact time-span of one episode, I can actually relax. Focusing on a single, time-specific, activity satisfies the need to do something productive and actually lets me let go in the moment.
Q: What’s your dream project?
A: One with unlimited budget and creative control! I think the older I get the less certain I am about working for a particular company or institution or person: you learn that everyone (even cool organizations) are just people. I’m more excited about having the resources to explore issues that matter to me and the communities I inhabit: queer, black, femme. I’m dreaming up more physical spaces and experiential design as of late.
Q: List 5 things that are currently feeding your spirit.
A: The Power, by Naomi Alderman (the idea of young girls electrocuting assaulters with their hands is the only thing that got me through the Kavanaugh hearing)
Those mini dark peanut butter cups at Trader Joes
Killing Eve (I just rewatched the whole thing with my sister and I love it and Sandra Oh so, so much)
Making my own juices
It’s finally summer in SF!
Q: Childhood crush:
A: Unfortunately, if you babysat me between 1994 and 1998 I probably had designs on you. Also, because I’m as old as the hills, my original childhood crush was Tula from Pirates of Dark Water.
Q: What are you working on right now? What’s next?
A: With midterm elections around the corner, I’m deep in creating art to galvanize voters! I’ve been working with She the People, Acronym, and Amplifier on visuals that speak to women of color in particular, to try to get people out to the polls in a major way.
I am also busy collaborating on a zine with with Napaquetzalli Martinez that features my photography and her spells for queer healing and self-love. We’re going to be selling the zine, my affirmation cards for QWOC, and lots of other witchy goodies and prints at Queer Magic Makers in Oakland December 2nd.
I’m also researching a project around Black migration, space exploration, and extrasolar planets inspired by Octavia Butler, Sun Ra, and Marcus Garvey. This has been sketched out as part web portal, part physical installation but right now it’s just piles of research!
Thanks for being a radical femme, Kayla!
Again, check out more of Kayla’s work and life vibes on the gram (sorry ladies, she’s taken!):