Finding a New Voice: Bianca Xunise

Photo by April Acevedo

Photo by April Acevedo

Bianca Xunise is the epitome of black girl magic. The 29-year-old graphic designer and full time artist is unapologetic in every aspect of her life, but it took her some time to get comfortable with that. Xunise has bylines with HelloGiggles, Bustle, and her latest and proudest venture, the political cartoon space, The Nib.

Hooligan had the chance to sit down with Xunise in her picturesque Ravenswood apartment.  She is a voice for younger black female designers and artists and while in the prime of her career, she has nowhere to go but up.

How did you decide to become an artist?

I, like a lot of artists, have kind of always been an artist. It’s second nature to me. It’s almost like asking when did you decide to become black? It has always been a part of who I am. It really wasn’t a choice so much as when I decided it was something that I wanted to do full time, and that came later in life. I’ve always been involved in the arts. My mom is an artist, both of my parents are artists. So I’ve been surrounded by it my whole life.

What does your day to day routine look like?

I’ll give you two versions of it. So, the boring day to day with my 9-5 [job], I get up, go to work, and I come home. That’s it. My artist day to day—because I’m taking some time off from work now—is doing comics full time. It’s mostly meetings and pitching to people. I try to seek inspiration everywhere. Recently it has kind of been a nonstop brigade of things happening in the world that have inspired me to illustrate. I know for me, illustrating and doing my comics is a method of therapy. It’s kind of just workshopping what’s going on inside of me and inside my head. Getting it on paper helps me feel not so anxious and overwhelmed and bothered by what’s going on in the world. And I can see that progression from when my work first became public—from when I was working for HelloGiggles until now. My comics are less about “how many slices of pizza can I eat?” and more about my womanhood and blackness and things like that.

How does your role as a black woman impact your art?

There’s statements that’ve been said before that I’ll say now, which is that there’s really nothing more punk, or nothing more political than just being a black woman. It kind of comes with the package. Even if your grandma or your mom or auntie don’t call themselves a feminist, listen to the way she talks. There’s nothing more feminist or intersectional then some of the stuff our moms or grandmas or aunts have said. It just comes with the weight of being a black woman. I got tired of the sugary sweetness of my work, and I just felt like there [weren’t] that many voices like me out there. I would go to the places that I do have my work now and see no voice from a black woman, or maybe just one or two and I feel like that’s not nearly enough. You can have twenty white male points of view in the world, and one black woman voice isn’t enough. I would see comics drawn by white men of the plight of the black woman and be like, “okay, well this is your idea of it but this isn’t necessarily true.”  

[Like the movie Loving], I have issues with films like that because it’s written and directed by a white man. How can you tell the voice of this woman of color in this relationship when this is something that has never affected you? You could’ve at least had a black female write this.

I just feel like my work is conscious of what’s going on in the world. When I was doing a lot of my work in the beginning I was kind of speaking out of what was just plain, old-fashioned depression. I was 26 when I started so I was going through a quarter-life crisis as well. Now I have a stronger sense of who I am. I was afraid to show my blackness when I first started off as an artist, because I didn’t want to be known as that “militant black cartoonist” and now I don’t care.

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far as an artist?

Honestly, my proudest accomplishment so far is the work that I have done for The Nib, and being able to write longer form stories than just Instagram squares. That’s been about a ear and a half long journey for me to be able to express myself without kind of stopping halfway and getting frustrated. That’s what would happen before when my comics were so short and I would get stuck and feel like no one cares and make something short and sweet. I realized the phoniness of Instagram and social media in how we view things. You see it, you laugh, and you move on, but you’re not breaking down this meme or comic throughout your day and asking “what does this mean?” Now that I have gotten some attention, I feel like I can take that same cuteness or ha-ha of my work and keep my audience captivated for longer.

What is the importance of artists getting paid for their work?

It’s incredibly important for artists to get paid for their work. I was offered a job to do something and they didn’t want to pay me—they wanted to pay me in stuff. I come from a [fashion] blogging background, and I remember the day I stopped blogging. I stopped blogging because they didn’t want to indict George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case and after that I realized I [didn’t] care what I’m wearing anymore. But I did the whole thing of going to Fashion Week, took pictures of clothes and got a free pair of shoes as compensation--as long as I took a picture of them. I can’t survive on free shoes. I don’t want that. I don’t just want exposure.

I feel like a lot of that comes from the removal of art programs from many schools. If you’re not teaching children the importance of art, when they become adults and run these companies and try to work with artists, they will [think] that they’re not worth being paid. I feel like you have to start them young in appreciating art so they can understand that I’m not just this person who does this magical spell and then there’s some art made. Artists are constantly putting pieces of themselves into their work. It’s pieces of ourselves that we will never get back, but you can find other ways to replenish yourself. You’re paying for this piece of an artist. It’s so important. I’m all about telling artists to get their money. If that means putting your work on Etsy, or working with different newspapers or like me as a graphic designer—that’s a way of me making money for my art. It’s so important for them to appreciate us and understand the importance of what we do to keep this world functional.

What advice would you give those wanting to be full-time artists?

My advice is that it takes time. No matter how instant this world becomes, real success will still take time. Your Instagram or your social media is your portfolio but it doesn’t show the grime that comes on the backend. The grime goes into your 30’s. In high school, I had this perception that by the time I’m 30, I’ll have three kids, a mansion and a dog. But now I’m almost 30—I have ramen, a pack of beers in the fridge, and let’s keep it moving.

Besides taking time, the other step for people in college who are interested in pursuing the arts is to always be working. If your time is spent on Instagram or Tumblr looking at someone else’s work, sighing and saying “ugh, I had this same idea but they already did it so what’s the point of me doing it?” you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. Even if all you have is your Instagram page, at least it’s something to start from. If you spend your whole time being wistful and wishing to be an artist but you’re not actively working as an artist, opportunities are going to come and go, and you’ll miss a great [one]. For me, things have come and gone and I wish I had been ready, but the ones that were right for me always came when I needed them.

Read the whole spread here.