The supply and demand graph for Black art is wildly skewed. In modern times, the work of Black creatives is highly coveted, but these artists' opportunities for success are comparatively rare. Cold Picnic, the Brooklyn-based rug and textile company responsible for the original “boobies” bathmat, is combatting this inequality with its annual BIPOC Student Designer Capsule Collection, a limited-edition, pre-order-only collection of knitted cotton throw blankets designed by Black art students, with 100% of the profits going to the artists. (Pre-orders for the collection will close on January 16, so hurry up and get to carting if you love these museum-worthy home goods as much as we do). This initiative was launched by Cold Picnic founders Phoebe Sung and Peter Buer just last year, and 2021's contest winners included burgeoning artists Moraa Stump, Kiwii McLaurin, and Sjournee Quaidoo). This year, the brand launched original designs from 21-year-old Parsons graduate Imani McIntosh and 22-year-old Neena Bui, recently of Drexel University.
Each of the artist’s bold designs blend seamlessly with Cold Picnic's vintage-esque, abstract textiles while simultaneously reflecting their own unique aesthetics and perspectives. We interviewed both creators, got some inside info from the founders, and reveled in never-before-seen art that doubles as a must-have home good. If we've already sold you on snagging a knit blanket, head over to Cold Picnic now, or scroll down to hear the voices of these BIPOC artists, below.
Imani McIntosh, Artist And Parsons Graduate
After she was asked to replicate Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Monkey, (1938) for her middle school art portfolio, Florida-based designer Imani McIntosh truly defined her artistic spirit. “[Self Portait With Monkey] awakened a self-awareness within me and has influenced the way I approach my work now,” she mentioned. “I saw a strong woman in the art world, and I saw how beautiful the art of storytelling could be. Now more than ever the idea of using one’s voice through art resonates strongly with me.” Since then, the 21-year-old creative continues to intertwine strong narratives into her art pieces.
Her design, She Gaan A Merca, expresses her experience as a Jamaican immigrant forced to navigate the United States in her younger years. You can spot this motif through the zebra, which are popularly associated with African safaris and are a main attraction for many Jamaican tour companies, but are in fact non-native to the island country. According to Cold Picnic’s on-site description, “Here, the zebra becomes synonymous with both a literal and metaphoric concept of the foreigner.”
With my art, I want people to feel confident in sharing their personal perspectives.
Imani Mcintosh, ARTIST
In instance of Black representation actually — gasp — functioning to create a snowball effect of empowerment, McIntosh was inspired to apply by last year’s BIPOC winners’ creations. “What Cold Picnic has done is create a space and opportunity for Black voices to share and connect not only with each other but to the larger artistic domain,” she explained. McIntosh hopes to embolden other underrepresented creatives, inspire them to inject their own stories into their mediums of choice, and come back for more of her alluring pieces.
Neena Bui, Designer and Drexel University Graduate
“I first started my textile art journey with crochet when I was in first grade,” Bui replied when I inquired about her artistic roots. Needless to say, this Brooklyn-based artist was destined to wield her numerous creative talents and put them on display for the world to admire. Crochet, textile and fashion design are just a few of the mediums that helped Bui’s submission sparkle in a sea of competitive talent. “I saw [the contest] as a great opportunity to have a design that’s super special to me reach a wider audience,” she explained.
Face To Face stems from her senior thesis collection, “Apopheniac.” (For readers who, like myself, are unaware of this word, Merriam-Webster defines apophenia as “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things, such as objects or ideas.”) It speaks to the humans instinct to extract deeper meaning from, well, everything — even if the connection is completely contrived. And, according to the on-site description, the faces themselves echo the “19th-century face jugs made by enslaved African potters in the southern US.”
The raised awareness of different backgrounds breeds compassion!
Neena bui, ARTIST
Ironically, prior to the interview, I immediately committed apophenia as I stared and formed a personal connection to this eye-catching piece. Luckily, this was a part of Bui’s intentions. “I want people to feel connected to my art when wearing [or] using it as well as feeling connected to themselves," she said. "I want them to feel like they are expressing themselves boldly in a way that’s grounding and empowering.”
For more of her earth-conscious, up-cycled slow fashion designs or her landscape-inspired art, take a peek at Bui’s website here.
Phoebe Sung and Peter Buer, Cold Picnic Founders
Cold Picnic is abstract art meets function, sustainability, and activism. The online shop is brimming with Sung and Buer’s personally designed and hand-tufted rugs, bathmats, blankets, and more — we'd go as far as to say the site could inspire those most spreadsheet-oriented accountant to pick up a paint brush. Jokes aside, the retailer supports a long list of activist organizations, is sustainability-focused, and these founders use their platform with intention.
When asked about the vetting process of so many impressive submissions, Buer and Sung gave a simple, but respectable answer: "When you know, you know." However, when I queried about the origins of the contest, they did mention, "Each of [the winners'] submissions felt recognizable yet completely original. It was fascinating to us how both artists used their symbols to tell stories about themselves and their culture and history, with such unique and beautiful results."
Neither of us remember very many Black classmates at any of the art or design schools we went to...and it’s clearly not from a lack of talent or ambition.
Phoebe Sung AND Peter Buer, COLD PICNIC FOUNDERS
We applaud Cold Picnic for their activism and hope to see more retailers spotlight BIPOC artists with an assortment different backgrounds, ages, and skillsets — it's truly a worthy investment.
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