Christina Rountree believes to be a designer or an artist in any field, is to be a historian, a storyteller, and a voice for communities. With a strong background in design, and a passion for the arts, Christina has extensive experience in the creative industries.
We talk to Christina about her relationship with art, experiences as a Black American Muslim and journey to launching her first collection of Islamic art NFT’s.
Where are you from and how did your journey as an artist begin?
Salaam Alaikum, I’m from Detroit MI. My journey has been a continuous flow from other artistic expressions. I played multiple instruments as a child, mainly flute and trombone, and I understood basic chords on a piano. From there, I understood the vast potential artistic expression could have for a child like myself. I wasn’t great at expressing my feelings through words, but boy ole’ boy could I play the hell out of Beethoven's Pathetique 2nd movement for flute. (Sounds fancy but it’s actually a great beginners piece for kids) And with that, I grew to love the arts in all its forms.
How does your faith and heritage influence your practice?
When I first converted in 2006, I was told that music and images were haram. That hit extremely hard for me because I grew to use music as my own very deep and personal self expression. I mulled with that for over a year, until one day I saw an ad for Alvin Ailey’s Revelations performance coming soon to Detroit. I went on YouTube to relive the performance because it’s a classic and I wanted to experience that part of myself again. There’s one scene that brought me to tears, and I mean heavy weighted sobs. It was Wade In The Water. When I saw the yearning and pulling movements of the dancers and heard the songs of my ancestors that literally brought them to freedom, something clicked for me. I realized that song, dance, art, were not uniquely mine to use as expressions. I come from a tradition of music that is deep in my DNA. Enslaved people would use songs during their labor as a means to mourn their dead because it was illegal for them to have funerals or gatherings or any kind. They would use songs to pass on messages, celebrate births, and lead them to freedom. How then, could God ask me to deny that part of myself? My history and where I come from? I reevaluated the rulings of art in Islam and found that there’s a space for it. You can’t imagine the relief and joy I had when I found out. I felt seen by God himself. I felt like Islam could be mine, in all of who I am. I began all kinds of art projects, from joining an 11 person mystic jazz band, to graphic design and illustrations.
What made you pursue NFT art and when did you start doing NFTs?
I was wary of NFTs because I didn’t understand what was going on, and it didn’t seem like anyone I knew or could relate to was in that space. A few people would tell me I needed to create NFTs for my work every time I posted a new piece on Instagram, but it wasn’t until a friend of mine offered to onboard me that I finally felt ready to at least learn about it. He spearheaded my journey and all of a sudden I was spending hours researching and learning about NFTs, crypto, and as an extension FIAT. I was a Finance Baddie!! I never thought I’d be financially literate, and how cool was it to be able to do so through art. I spent months learning and networking and finally launched my first solo collection in Jan 2022.
What are you bringing to the NFT art world?
Honestly, I find this to be a strange question for me, and should really be asked to the people who follow my work. I think I bring a unique view of Black Muslims and particularly Black Muslim women, but what do I know! I think art means different things to different people. On the surface, however, I am an Illustrator. Vibrant depictions of Black Muslims actively participating in Islamic worship is central to the theme of most of my illustrations. I rarely saw Black Muslims in popular illustration styles so I decided to create my own. I wanted to bring the faces and vibes of Black Muslim culture to the forefront of the illustration art scene in a way that could resonate with many types of people, not only Black Muslims or Black Muslim women. It’s important to me to center active states of Islamic worship in my illustrations. The beginning of putting on a hijab, the kneeling during the ritual prayer, the burning of incense, are all moments in time that reflect these states of worship for Muslims. Drawing these scenes lifts a veil to the mystery of what we (Muslims) do, and is the purpose for much of my work.
Do you make other forms of art?
I write my own nasheeds! They’re kinda blues, jazz, indie acoustic vibes. At my day job, I am an Experience Designer at an agency that works on the many facets of marketing. My main focus is working on mobile apps for Ford and Lincoln. I’m also involved with a new mentorship program through my company. It’s a program built to break through systemic racism that can be found in my industry, and is meant to uplift and educate youth that would not otherwise have access to the ad agency world.
How did you come up with your specific style?
For real for real, I just be drawing. I honestly don’t know what’s gonna come out at the end. I think if anything, my style found me. It’s not particularly detailed work, but that’s what I love about it. It’s simple yet expressive, and if we’ve learned anything about me so far, it's that I love self-expression!
Is Islamic art growing in the NFT world?
The Center for Global Muslim Life just came out with an article, that my work is featured in, that touches on this. It’s brewing heavily, and I think in 2022 Islamic art on the blockchain will gust through like a high-speed sandstorm. I personally know of at least four major projects aimed to be released in the next few months. What I find interesting is that Islamic art in it’s traditional name, will be confronted and reformed. We aren’t going to see a whole lot of traditional calligraphy or mosaics, the blockchain will bring us generative AI artworks, landscape photography, and digital illustrations. This is a new era for what it means to be called Islamic art.
Are NFTs about adding self-expression to crypto?
Absolutely. NFTs have already added self-expression to crypto through the gaming world for years. You could purchase a uniquely authentic coat, weapon, or trait for your avatar in online gaming. There's a possibility to create a completely new and unique player with NFTs. I even heard of a game that allows you to buy, breed, race, and sell digitally thoroughbred horses. It’s kind of insane to think about, but these horses are built purely from code, and perform based on their code being quality or not. Think Tamagotchi, but instead of pushing buttons to make sure it lives or dies, you’re actually coding it to do so. And it’s all certified and verified through blockchain technology.
What do you think of the visibility of NFT Muslim artists?
There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding crypto in Muslim communities let alone NFTs. Joe Bradford wrote a great article about crypto and Islamic finance that I like to point people to. I think since this is all still new, there isn’t much visibility for Muslim artist. However I do feel like those who enter the space now will prove to become pioneers and leaders in the space in times to come. In terms of the broader NFT space, there are loads of people who support Muslims coming onboard. There’s a large Black artist community and women-lead projects community, both have been warm and welcoming of me and others.
What are you most proud of with your NFTs?
I’m more so honored that I have the opportunity to be one of the first people listing my kind of artwork on the blockchain. Black Muslim women are often left out of the conversation when it comes to Muslim representation. So to feature them as one of the first projects in Islamic art on the blockchain is just a huge honor.
Do you have any upcoming drops?
Yes! I have a collection called Kufi Kings. It’s meant to bridge the gap Muslim men find themselves in, in terms of fashion, art, and illustration. This series is for the brothers that uplift the Ummah. The brothers that love their women fiercely and cherish their families. The brothers on HAQQ!! The brothers that exude true masculinity, and inspire other menfolk to do the same. The gentleman. The protector. The Man!
What does the future of Islamic art look like to you in relation to the NFT world?
I see it growing to include all kinds of forms of Islamic art. Up until now, Islamic art mainly meant calligraphy and mosaics to people and nothing boarder. With the digital age upon us, our future generations may see Islamic art as VR experiences, sound baths, or 3D renditions. The possibilities are only as limited as our imaginations.
The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.