Image: Oye Diran
FOR AMIN AMEEN, EVERYTHING, INDEED, IS ART!
“Instagram can often feel like one endless scroll; a pointedly empty search for some kind of inspiration. But once in a while, our zombie-like commitment to this social media app is rewarded when we come across a profile or an individual who has curated something so bright or so specific that it sparks something in us. Such is perhaps the feeling when one stumbles upon the Instagram page or hashtag, Everything Na Art – it certainly was for me. ENA, run by Engineer, Amin Ameen, has become a digital community with a tribe far more equally engaged than a lot of other online communities or influencers can boast. With 20-plus thousand followers, Amin’s approach to visual presentation, breaks the fourth wall, as it were; inviting her followers inside the world of online influencing and marketing, teaching them – often for free – how they too can build, create and curate a digital presence that will stop people scrolling past and draw them in. I had the opportunity to chat with Amin about Everything Na Art, the freedom to create, and more”.
One of the biggest things that I think makes you stand out from a very crowded pool of influencers is that you and your community, truly function as a tribe. What did you do right/differently/more of/less of, that attracted your audience in such a full way?
Thank you so much. This tribe is actually truly remarkable. I am honoUred to be the catalyst and conduit that started this community. I believe what I did differently was “treat the janitor with as much love and respect as the CEO”. So many of us are searching for a sense of connection and a place to call “home”, a space that fosters growth and community. I believe that I have created that space with this brand. I answer every DM. Every email. Every comment. Every question. My response to them serves them; so, my audience, in turn, feels right at home. We no longer feel like followers but more of a family. I believe herein lies the “secret sauce” and the fullness that you described earlier.
How would you describe the core of Everything Na Art in three words?
That’s a hard one. I would say Service, Innovation. Love.
What do you think Nigerian online brands need to learn about engagement and how to improve their relationship with their audiences?
I think it’s simple. Give before you take. People that follow me know that I love to reverse-engineer everything. I did an Instastory tutorial once about how I tripled the following on the tribe page (@TribeCalledENA) by simply starting the engagement process instead of waiting for followers to engage with the page when they followed. Pretend that your Instagram page is a storefront shop. If someone walks into the door (in this case, follows you); welcome them! The same way you would greet a customer in person at your store. Show them around, tell them what you are about. Make no assumptions. Again, the spirit of service.
You’ve now reached a point where people can point to you as a great source for visual inspiration but I’m curious about your earlier attempts and when you felt like you were finally on the right track?
Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Michael Jordan didn’t always have the killer jump shot and neither did I. I am still on the court practicing and building and shooting airballs and missing free throws every day. You may not see it because you get to see my best work manifested on the ‘Gram, but it has been a long time coming.
Today we are 20,000 strong but we started from the bottom now we are here.
I started my first Instagram page in 2012. My brand has had many reincarnations since then. Many people don’t know this, but I used to do wedding photography; then I started making my throw pillow designs and selling them online on an e-commerce site while working full-time as an Engineer. Then I moved on to just documenting my travels and love of art and my personal photography. Then one day I started the hashtag of all hashtags #EverythingNaArt while in Paris in the summer of 2017. That was just my way of documenting the things I found beautiful and worthy to be called “Art” in my world. The hashtag now became a call to action. And 10,000 uses of it later; it went from a personal hashtag to a global community hashtag that started right on my Instagram page.
Community is at the heart of ENA. Why is that sense of collaboration so central to the creative process for you?
Two heads are better than one. There is power in community. There is power in a team and a sense of diversity that is attached to collaborative work. Diversity of thought; diversity of skill; diversity of leadership and what everyone can bring to the table. Everyone has that special ‘egg” that is the critical ingredient in the cake (team) we are trying to build to complete a particular task or project. We need each other. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
Did it take some convincing to get people to not just join the tribe but to participate in the way that they have?
Yes and No. There will always be critics or let me say skeptics who are wondering who you are, why people like you so much and what your motive is, and whether or not it’s ulterior.
Outside of that group of people, you have what you call the “brand evangelists”. The folks who see how hard you work and how much you give and have been benefactors of your service and value. These folks don’t need convincing. They see you in action and make it their business [to allow] others to see you as well. That’s the core of this community.
You’re an engineer by day and my instinct is to ask how you balance that with this job but instead, I’ll ask, do you see art in your work as an engineer? And what form does it take?
Absolutely! There is art in the AutoCAD drawings we produce. There is art in the way we communicate and work together as a diverse team; there is an art to seeing a project from the idea to initiation to planning to execution all the way to the closeout of the project. Everything Na Art!
When we first met, we exchanged stories about the experience of taking photographs around Lagos, we eventually realised that we both had experiences of being verbally attacked by men who didn’t want us taking photos. What did your experience teach you about the potential difficulties that come with being a creative in Nigeria?
In my humble opinion, the creatives in Nigeria are badass! I have so much respect for them. It can’t be understated. They’re truly the epitome of the word creative. When you have to struggle to create content because of the inequities in society and the lack of basic resources and you can still manage to flesh out rad ideas and dope content? You are a hero in my eyes. Whether they are photographers, artists, fashion designers, architects, writers, bloggers, freelancers, you name it! These people are doing their thing every day with serious disadvantages in front of them. They are battling against infrastructure, access, and the ignorance of the “gatekeepers” when it comes to taking photos in a public place.
Did that experience in any way influence the way you interacted with art (creating or curating) in Nigeria and in general?
Yes, a bit. I was not free to create. But I sense a change sweeping through as my last few visits and attempts at public photography have not been as tense. You’ll even have an amazing restaurant have their security stop patrons from taking photos. But why? This photo is what led me here. I found your place of business on Instagram because of a great photo someone took there. Artistic freedom is so important. I think ignorance is the main issue. I try to educate the “gatekeepers” as I resist them. (Laughs)
Fast forward to the future, a retrospective is being done on your life, what would you hope that profile includes about your work with Everything Na Art?
All I want it to include is that I did it my way, despite all odds. That I took others along with me, that they made a way for themselves, which in turn created a pipeline for others to do the same. Service. Leadership. Innovation. Love and most certainly, Legacy.
In our discussion leading up to the interview, you mentioned ENA’s desire to “empower people with tech and digital skills to take care of themselves financially”, do you think this is the next frontier for creatives in terms of the earning potential? Has digitization created an easier route to earning money?
Absolutely! I have witnessed it. Innovators in tech will indeed be the new wealth builders in Nigeria regardless of the socio-economic climate. Beyond all the English I just spoke, if you have a smartphone and you are ready to learn, you can make enough money to feed your family and take care of yourself and save. If you are business savvy, you make a whole lot more doing what you are already doing each day on Instagram. ENA has taught thousands of tribe members how to beef up their networking skills, grow their brand, grow their email list, approach businesses and brands for paid collaborations, market their services and products and so many more business skills required to move from just being a creative to actually running a business as a creative whether you have a 9-5 or not.
Finally, what has been your most significant experience with a piece of art thus far?
My most significant experience with a piece of art was meeting the artist behind “Planets in My Head” (Trumpet Boy).
I met artist Yinka Shonibare (MBE) while working on the production/digital team for ART X Lagos in 2018. He is a brilliant man. An icon living. Meeting him in person and hearing him speak about his life and never treating his physical disability as a reason for him to limit or restrict himself. I am deeply moved by his work and his life as a whole. I think many of us can take a chapter from the book of his life and hold on to the valuable lessons there about true grit and perseverance.