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Ancient Modern: Designer Hadiya Williams on Her Work and Inspiration

in Aesthetics + Design by

In 2018, we’re launching a new section: Aesthetics + Design. Our love of architecture, the arts and timeless design is married to our commitment to supporting the brilliant creatives that produce the work that adds value and beauty to our lives. Featuring architects, curators, artists, creators and makers, we’re excited to celebrate those most visually talented amongst us. Additionally, we’ll be sharing inspiration from homes and spaces that inspire.

For our inaugural feature, we sat down with Washington, D.C. based designer, Hadiya Williams, whose design has left in indelible mark on our lives, literally and figuratively. She was the mastermind behind our gorgeous wedding invitations for the #BlackestWeddingEver bka the ORIGINAL Jolloff and Jambalaya. (Believe it or not, some people actually stole our hashtag. Can you imagine?) But I digress.  She also recently completed a few larger scale projects in our Philadelphia home that was featured on HGTV’s Sneak Peek with AphroChic.

Check out what Hadiya had to say about her own personal aesthetic and process and look forward to more gorgeous inspiration to come.

Shantrelle P. Lewis

SB: Where are you from and how did you start working in design?

HW: I was born and raised in Washington, DC. I started designing while I was attending Bowie State University. I decided to take some computer graphics classes for an elective. I fell in love with the class and continued to teach myself how to use the design software. I eventually received by BFA in Graphic Design from Columbia College in Chicago.

SB: HBCU LOVE! And shout out to Columbia College. The Museum of Contemporary Photography(MoCP), on Columbia’s campus where Dandy Lion was on view in 2014, was one of the best things that ever happened to my career. Oh wait, you actually came to Chicago and saw the show there.

HW: I did! It was great to be back in the city. And of course, the exhibit was all of the things.

SB: Please describe what you do. How you self identify? As an artist? Designer? Creator?

HW: I would call myself all of the above. Depends on what I’m discussing or referring to. Ultimately, I am an artist. I know for a fact that what I do is art. I work intuitively most of the time. My work evokes emotion and very rooted in spirituality. Always has been.

SB: What inspired you to launch your 100 days of Black and white?

HW: I follow designer and book artist @eisroughdraft on IG. She shared a creative challenge, #The100DayProject with Elle Luna & The Great Discontent and I decided to do it. I was in a really tough space, creatively, at the time and thought the challenge would be a good way to help me focus and explore what I could do within that space. I had no idea how dramatic that release would be. I highly recommend a challenge like this where you do something for at least 21 days.

SB: What gave you gumption to start Black Pepper Paperie?

HW: #theblackestweddingever was the tipping point for me actually starting my business.  I did the invitation for this dope ass wedding which we all knew would be out of this world.

No one could have know just how amazing that experience would be. I came back from New Orleans in a completely different state of mind.

Before I left I was focused on working at my nonprofit gig and building up my position there. But I got back home and I knew I had to do work that I loved and that was exciting.

I began to plant the seeds for my stationery/event design business. Hence the “paperie” part of my name. I was pumped about that but there was still a part of it that I hadn’t figured out. I’m still learning and figuring out where this is going but it’s going definitely in the right direction.

SB: What are the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of owning your own business?

HW: The most challenging part about my business, so far is the learning. I have spent my career learning technical skills and design and being very focused with in the graphic design world.

Being an entrepreneur requires you to know so much more outside of art and design. That part is definitely challenging for me as a creative person. Like many artists, I just want to make shit.

The rewarding part, however, is the learning. Lol. Everyday I am faced with a new challenge. Creative and otherwise.

SB: Where do you pull inspiration? Who or what are your muses?

HW:  Black women. I am surrounded by an array of amazing, talented, dynamic women who guide me. They’re my muses. I’m also inspired by so many things around me. I have tons of design books, I go to vintage shops, thrift stores, outdoor markets, Pinterest.

I love West African art and design. It has always influenced my design thinking and the way I see.

SB: Tell me about your favorite personal/professional project?

HW: Ha! So, recently I painted designs on two walls in this home in Philly. Of course this is your home. That was something I hadn’t explored before and almost told myself that I wasn’t capable of. I consider it a favorite because it taught me that I have so much more work to do. And it reminded me that my work is spiritual.

I was inspired by the home itself and the history of the historically Black neighborhood, you and Tony’s roots in West African culture, and the open-minded spirit and boldness that you have.

Your curatorial work is bold and is all about taking risks. No one really thinks of home decor as risk-taking but it is the place where we are our most vulnerable and most comfortable. It says so much about who we are or at least it should. When people see our living space, if we are fortunate, it should tell them what we value most.

SB: Is there such a thing as a Black or African aesthetic?

HW: I think there is a thing that comes from Blackness that is innate, intuitive, not something that can be counted and measured. You know it when you see it and you actually feel the aesthetic, energetically.

I don’t think there is one specific aesthetic that is Black or African. I believe that we have a common aesthetic thread throughout the Diaspora.

The way we create music, dance, paint, and experience art in many forms, is connected. The evolved version of Black Americans is still connected to the Continent.

The same for the Caribbean. We all belong to each other. We consistently birth new art forms everyday. We are the cultural creators of the world.

SB: How would you describe your own personal aesthetic?

HW: Currently, my work is an amalgamation of West African cultural art, Black American cultural art and design, and early 20th century, western, abstract art and design that is essentially an appropriation or reinterpretation of West African art forms.

People who see my work tend to know or think they know it’s mine. So clearly I have an aesthetic, I have not found the words to describe it yet.

SB: What’s on your coffee table?

HW: A handmade vase from a fellow ceramics classmate, a book of matches, candle, my “genie bottle,” Dandy Lion by Shantrelle P. Lewis, Black Panther by Emory Douglas, Remix by AphroChic, The House Book, a Fire!! reprint, Black Society by Gerri Major, Taschen Publishing’s Logo Modernism.

SB: These days I’m becoming more and more selective about the kind of images I want to see in my social media fees. Who should we be following on IG? 

@BLKMKTVintage, @nicolecrowder, @justinablakeney, @andreapippins @ShoppeBlack, @nayyirahwaheed, @xnasozi, @tactilematter, @Afrominimalist @WalkieChatter, @ProfessionalBlackGirl and @Nachesnow. There are more but these are the first to come to mind.

SB: Lastly, what are tools that you can’t live without?

HW: My laptop.My cell phone (camera). #2 HB Pencils.

You can follow Hadiya on IG at @hadiyawilliams and @blackpepperpaperieco or visit blackpepperpaperie.com to inquire about projects, to purchase items and for more information.

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