Growing into a craft – and into ourselves – is a journey. Access to opportunities and support are vital when it comes to developing as a creative. Shariefa Kasimbeg (she/her), one half of streetwear brand ViiSUAL DiiALOGUE, shares hers and sister Ra’iesa’s (she/her) experience being part of the newly formed Cousins program.
Designers and other creatives from historically excluded backgrounds navigate nuanced and complex systems.
We might discover that we can pursue a career in creative.
We might find a mentor early in our development to help guide our growth.
With the Cousins program, developed by The Study Group Foundation, we’re trying a new approach to mentorship that creates employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for creatives from our communities.
Mentorship has a powerful impact on career and creative development. We believe that getting that mentorship from a person or community you relate to culturally can create a safer space for learning, making mistakes and fostering autonomy.
When my sister Ra’iesa and I were asked to join the Cousins mentorship program as Junior Art Directors, it seemed like a rare and precious opportunity. Our initial reaction was excitement.
Since moving back to the Netherlands from the UK in 2019, it had seemed almost impossible to meet and connect with other individuals who shared similar interests and goals in the creative industry.
It can be very nerve wracking to start a project especially when you always have this belief that you need to prove yourself or that you already need to be at your best.
The importance of mentors we believe can be underrated. A mentor is someone who you trust to advise you expertly. To now have access to mentors through Cousins shows to us the potential of this newly built, experimental program. We had high hopes when we became mentees and were looking forward to seeing how far we could progress and ultimately learn from each other.
We’ve come to understand that to create a solid piece of work you need a strong and trustworthy team. The creative projects we’ve worked on so far have allowed us to become more confident and assertive to share our own ideas.
We’re seen as creative individuals.
As Junior Art Directors, we’ve had the chance to develop in new areas as well as areas where we already have experience and see our work go into the world through TQTB and Cousins.
We’ve co-ordinated styling for several productions including the soft launch expo for Cousins last summer. We also styled the Cousins podcast now in development. On set, we capture BTS content of the podcast as well as on other productions.
Last summer we were at Unfair, a contemporary art festival in Amsterdam, for the Inspired Flight project with the Prince Claus Fund. We met five Prince Claus Fund Seed Awardees who were exhibiting their work.
We love researching visuals so it was a chance for us to get mood board inspiration from the work they (and other artists at the festival) were showing. We also assisted on the production of podcast interviews with the Seed Awardees and shot BTS video and photo content.
When it comes to new skills, we’ve had the chance to learn about printing with Riso, a type of printer that we’ve not had access to before. Workshops with a local woman-led Riso studio, Riso Pop, on how to use this cool printer gave us the space to experiment with art direction and create posters for the Cousins project.
Not only has Cousins provided us with new experiences in areas like production and art direction, we were also surprised by being given a safe place in The Study Group’s studio to develop a workshop for our fashion brand, ViiSUAL DiiALOGUE.
Here, we have our own space to work and focus on our main design passion which is fashion. Our goal is to create our own brand tailored around streetwear.
With Cousins, the support we’ve had goes the extra mile. Having access to a safe space has positively affected us mentally and physically and encouraged us to chase our dreams. We’re grateful for the opportunity.
We felt grounded from early being part of the program because there was a mutual understanding that the focus of the collaboration is to build each other up. To share an experience and to root for each other. There was respect and a deeper understanding that everything happens at a natural pace. This eliminated doubt and pressure which allowed us to be able to focus day-to-day with a bigger goal in mind.
We were pleasantly surprised to meet and work alongside skilled and talented individuals. To connect with people and see them strive and work hard for their dreams truly motivates us. It gives us a refreshed outlook on how you can handle yourself and it’s inspiring when you see others reach for their dreams.
Cousins has been a valuable opportunity. Having a community where you’re appreciated and taken seriously is fundamental.
We’ve always felt included in this program. Even if it was the first time we tried something, we were consistently told to “have a go, see what you can create.” The trust given was imperative and empowered us to be autonomous and pick up more responsibilities.
When we learnt about how the program was influenced by the Pink Theory by Daniel H. Pink, we realised that having the space to express ourselves and the freedom to develop autonomously was a satisfying process.
There’s a notion that there’s time to develop that keeps us motivated, to work on objectives that we care about and want to evolve in. Individually and together, we work a lot of hours in a week between our day jobs, ViiSUAL DiiALOGUE and Cousins projects but we feel energised, not depleted, because the motivation and support is there.
For myself and Ra’iesa, the overall experience of Cousins has been very rewarding. We’ve worked on many projects and had the chance to meet and build our skills together. It made us realise that we are capable. Before there were times when we thought that our skills were lacking – being part of Cousins helped us realise that instead, it was the opportunities that were lacking.
We had difficulty finding and defining our niche but Cousins came as the perfect source.