Msanii Kijana offers students an opportunity to investigate works of art through specific questions or themes of their choosing, build their portfolios, and gain experience to highlight on college applications and scholarships. The young artists’ original artworks will also be featured on the National Museum of African Art’s website.
Assad Manjakaze Mahdi Jenkins
2020I have been drawn to art ever since I can remember. Nurtured during frequent trips to the Smithsonian Institution where my older sister participated in many Culture at Home field trips, I always had a sketch book and crayons to keep myself busy during these homeschool outings I was too young to participate in. This lifestyle exposed me—a homeschooled teen raised in Silver Spring, Md.—to various forms of art and culture, and I developed a love for many art forms such as sculpting, coloring, drawing, and painting. I still have drawings I did when I was a toddler and I have not stopped creating. One thing about me is that I have a very active imagination and can stay in my head for hours (even days) if life lets me.
I started venturing into all things art when I taught myself how to sculpt action figures with craft pipe cleaners. Who knew adult conversations and being “forced” to play upstairs in my aunt’s room would lead to a boredom that sparked creative genius. As my sculpting skills grew, I was able to sell some of my mini-action figures to neighborhood kids and, in 2016, was invited to a youth entrepreneur showcase where I made over $500 selling out of my figures and dragons. Soon after, a mother who had been unable to purchase one of my figures commissioned me to make a Stephen Curry action figure as a birthday present for her son.
My talent and skill set continued to grow as I challenged myself with new mediums. I was 13 or 14 when I started drawing more. My inspiration went crazy when my father showed me a picture of a pirate character he had drawn. I liked it so much I spent a week trying to copy it, even tracing it a few times until I got the exact line work right. I moved from pipe cleaner sculpting to drawing cartoon, Marvel, Anime, and my own imagined characters. The more I worked on and practiced my craft, the better I became. Over the years, I have entered my artwork in various contests, including the annual 4-H Montgomery County Agricultural Fair where I won first place and champion ribbons.
My discipline to draw several hours every day has helped me to become a stronger visual artist and I am determined to keep improving. This tenacity to become better helped spark the idea of launching my business, AJ Art, LLC. I also started to expand my ideas and share my talent via social media where I have amassed a 500+ subscriber base and a 3,000+ follower base on my You Tube and Instagram platforms respectively. As a youth apprentice artist since 2019 with Montgomery County’s Arts on the Block (AOB), a “creative workforce development program that transforms talented teens into apprentice artists,” I have been consulting with an array of clients to design projects, manage budgets, create and install profession mosaic and three-dimensional artworks, and evaluate the process.
When asked about my artistic ability, my response is, “Art is my peace.”