By Collin Frazier
At the crossroads of optimism, opulence, and oppression, Diana Sinclair discusses the weight of history upon the psyches of people of the African Diaspora. Her latest work, and first to appear on the SuperRare marketplace, blends poetry and portraiture by way of video to suggest the comfort of a peaceful dream while simultaneously questioning both the wisdom and right of holding that dream. The subject of the work lies prone, her face nestled against the azure illumination of a gently flowing stream. She cries diamonds that become caught up in the mild current caressing her face. The delicate trickle of the stream can be heard as an ethereality impresses upon the viewer a sense of enchantment that one may find within the pages of a Nnedi Okorofor novella.
“dare I dream in melanin” began as a conversation between Sinclair and her mother, a writer, discussing the Yoruba Orisha, Oshun. The tale of Oshun involves her crying tears that solidify into diamonds and Sinclair recreates this fabulous image, juxtaposing the tale’s idyllic fantasy against a suggestion of the brutal reality of Black life in contemporary society, the latter of which is realized within the lines of the accompanying poem, penned by Sinclair’s mother. The video is suffused with vulnerability: the unawareness of the dozing subject, the tranquil shedding of tears, and the implication of strength that can only be achieved through struggle. The poem itself paints an image of self-assurance and unbridled inner prosperity, but does so only after the initial questioning of the speaker’s authority over those virtues: “dare I”?
Doubt coexists with strength here, and Sinclair uses light and color to highlight the exposed quality of the subject while emphasizing her natural features. The unearthly chill of the water’s glow compliments the golden brown warmth of the subject’s complexion, their vibrancy mingling as refractions dance across the sleeper’s face and disappear around the proud curve of her chin. Crystalized tears, some seemingly frozen on the bridge of her nose, collect among the sapphire illumination of her fluid dreams of security and abundance. This otherworldly effect is no accident. Sinclair is intentionally looking to work against the predominantly negative portrayal of Black people that she often sees in media and art, desiring instead to show Black people in a beautiful light even if the subject matter isn’t, a concept she says is inspired by the photographic work of Tyler Mitchell.
Sinclair’s drive to shift the visual narrative of melanated people is also deeply personal. Homeschooled in a predominantly white New Jersey community, the 17-year old artist struggled with her own self-image as it related to her race, and it was only after serious inner work that she was able to alter her self-perception. “It was really hard to look at myself and say that I was beautiful,” Sinclair told SuperRare. For this reason, the inclusion of Black beauty in her work is an imperative: not only is there a need for the world to see it, but she needs to see it too. “It’s important for me to see myself in my work. I owe it to myself.”
Sinclair began as an artist from a very young age. Her father, a software developer who also studied art, would incorporate creative games into their dynamic, challenging her to complete visual art projects before he arrived home from work. Her mediums at the time consisted mainly of charcoal and pastels, but she then moved on to creating digital art on an iPad and participating in online art communities, eventually exploring film before landing on photography. While her digital art skills were being honed, she was also a very accomplished competitive swimmer, a talent that her family viewed as her ticket to higher education.
While she excelled in athletics, the sport was incredibly demanding and the environment ultimately toxic. As time progressed, Sinclair had diminishing faith in the idea of pursuing the artistic college career that she wanted while sustaining it with swimming scholarships. Eventually, the extreme demand of her training led to serious injuries that afforded her a more stable ground upon which to assert her lack of desire to continue the sport. Fortunately, her artistic accolades were mounting. After winning several national awards, including becoming a National 2021 YoungArts Finalist in Photography, in conjunction with her burgeoning career as an NFT artist, a new path began to present itself, one that bypassed college to take advantage of her mounting success and allowing her to take ownership over both her work and career.
While Sinclair has left competitive swimming behind, she still maintains a close relationship to water. When examining her portfolio, one may notice a return to water and light, a connection that she says is unintentional. “I really do love the way that water presents on camera,” Sinclair said.
The different ways that it reflects light. And I also like the way that [Black] skin reflects light, and specifically how the two can go together. Especially when gold gets into the mix… Water, Black skin, and gold is something that I’m always thinking about, like what I can do next with that.Diana Sinclair
In her photo series, “I Am the Black Gold of the Sun,” she explores Black male vulnerability in conjunction with water and the fading light of the sun. In one shot, the subject stands in a lake, his head and neck draped with the sheerest of gossamers. His face is in profile, chin lifted, eyes closed. One arm swings across his stomach and the other hand caresses his cheek as the sun reflects off of his wet forearms and midriff, the entirety of his lustrous honeyed form in sharp relief against the turquoise water and sky. During a post-shoot conversation, Sinclair learned that the model’s brother had recently died and that he was struggling with the societal pressure for Black men to always be “strong” and “masculine” when he didn’t want to feel that way. Both she and the model were pleased to see that the photos captured his contemplative, unguarded disposition.
Sinclair is only at the beginning of her career, but already she has accomplished a great deal. In June of 2021, she curated The Digital Diaspora, making her one of the youngest curators in the NFT sphere. The three-day event was a physical NFT exhibition held in New York City that focused on the uplifting of Black creativity and creators, an initiative that she felt necessary after recognizing a dearth of support for that specific community. As a young Black female artist, she recognizes that her mere existence is a challenge to the art world:
I do try to challenge [the art community]. I think that me just being here, being successful, is challenging a lot of what path would be set out for me in the traditional world. I mean, obviously, a young Black woman is not supposed to succeed in America. That’s just the truth.Diana Sinclair
In this way, she is both an advocate and an activist, constantly seeking to create opportunities for other Black NFT artists and the Black community at-large, involving herself with groups like herstoryDAO and non-profit organizations such as Towards Utopia.
This month, she’ll be participating in the highly-anticipated Dreamverse gallery event at NYC’s Terminal 5, and she has plans to present work at Art Basel: Miami in December. The ambitious artist also has another portraiture series brewing, one involving layered photo-glitching and animation to impart the story of an Afrofuturistic war. For such an involved and motivated young person, it is easy to forget that she isn’t yet eighteen. Her work has put her in contact with artists from all across the world, but she has yet to take her first flight or experience her first concert. “I haven’t lived my life yet…I was a homeschooled little athlete and now I’m an artist,” she jokes. But with so much work already under her belt, it requires no leap of the imagination to envision her bright future. And the future is a large part of her artistic drive, particularly the future of those of the Diaspora. Whether through the work she creates or the platforms she builds for others, Sinclair is ever-striving toward the ideal of Black security and joy as a universal reality.
Diana’s piece is live on SuperRare and is open for offers now. You can also see her latest drop at Dreamverse this Thursday.