When Nneka Jones saw the email with the subject line that read, “Potential assignment for Time magazine,” she thought it was a scam.
“I thought, why is Time magazine contacting me?” Jones said. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
When she called home to Trinidad to tell her parents about it, they advised her to do her research on the person claiming to be Time’s art director.
So she did, and when she agreed to talk to Victor Williams, she requested to have a video chat so that she could confirm his identity.
That was two months ago, during the peak of Black Lives Matter protests and a more concerted effort to spotlight Black artists. Jones had posted her painting of George Floyd and her socially conscious embroidered portraits on social media.
Williams found her work on Instagram and was incredibly impressed with her embroidered portraits, which he thought were paintings until he noticed a thread that was left unstitched.
He was also impressed by Jones’ accomplishments as a young artist. At 23, she recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a minor in marketing from the University of Tampa.
But it wasn’t meant to be for that particular Time cover, and the magazine went with a different artist. Williams promised to keep her work in mind for another cover.
Last week, Williams kept his word and reached out again, this time for the magazine’s Aug. 31-Sept. 7 issue. It’s a special project issue titled The New American Revolution, subtitled “Visions of a Black Future that Fulfill A Nation’s Promise.” It’s a collection of essays and conversations about America’s racist past and the potential for a more equal future, curated by musician Pharrell Williams.
Victor Williams, the art director, pitched a couple ideas to Jones that would reflect the future of America being Black. Jones became inspired by another idea that was a play on the American flag. Williams requested that Jones use her embroidery technique.
The image didn’t get finalized until Monday, and Jones’ deadline for completing the piece was Wednesday. That was a tight deadline. Jones said her embroidered pieces typically take a week to complete. But she pushed herself and met the deadline, working feverishly to get it done in about 24 hours.
“The flag fades from dark black to the reds of the actual American flag,” Jones said. “That reflects the idea of reshaping the country and elevating Black leaders.”
She said she made the flag incomplete and left the needle to represent that reshaping the country is a work in progress.
When Time posted the image of the cover on their Instagram on Thursday morning, Jones shared the cover on her own page. She said it’s definitely her most liked and shared post.
“I’m overwhelmed and grateful,” she said. “It feels great to have that response and that so many people believed in me to the point that I would get on the cover of Time magazine.”
She said that she would frame and keep the piece for herself. The needle she left is the same needle she has used for all of her other embroidered pieces.
“All the work I’ve done has led me to this piece,” she said.
Jones said having her artwork on such a historic Time magazine issue cover reinforces her path as an activist artist.
“It’s a breakthrough for me that I can succeed as an artist, a Black artist, a Black woman artist, and a Trinidadian artist living in the U.S.,” she said.
Find out more about Jones at artyouhungry.com.