Kuumba [koo OOM bah] is the sixth day of Kwanzaa. In the Nguzo Saba (seven principles), Kuumba means “Creativity:” to always do as much as we can to leave the community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.
Bed-Stuy resident Lorriane Natasha West personifies Kuumba in the various ways she uses her creative talents to build, uplift and inspire others.
Already, at age 36, West has illustrated three children’s books: “The Mirror and Me,” “I Like You, But I Love Me,” and “Mixed Emotions,” all of which were authored by rapper and community activist Common.
West says she knew she wanted to be an artist at around age 6, after she won an art contest in the first grade. As a child growing up in Long Island, she counts herself fortunate to have atteneded schools with arts programs and teachers who fostered her gift for drawing and painting.
She went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was during school, she says, she first discovered that her talented reached far beyond just drawing.
“Drawing and painting were my first loves,” said West. “But during my junior year in college I took a wax carving class as an elective and started working with wire and metal and found out I was really good at it.
“I always loved jewelry because my mother always had amazing pieces, and my father was a welder and builder and carpenter. And I think that watching him, later on it came to me I must have gotten a lot of my skills from him. After that class, I realized that working with metals was something I really wanted to do.”
After college, West launched “Lorraine West,” which is her fine jewelry line and “Tasha West,” her designer jewelry line.
Her craftsmanship and avant garde flair has been commissioned by a long list of celebrity clients, all of whom regularly don her handcrafted accessories on-stage, including Erykah Badu, Questlove, Raphael Saadiq and Andre 3000, to name a few.
And her jewelry and other fine wares have been carried at a few well-known retailers, including Rockefeller Center, Anthropologie and dozens of small boutiques around New York City.
“It’s important for people to express themselves, because it inspires expression in others,” said West.
“And sometimes people think creativity is just painting a picture, but it’s so much more: It’s writing, dancing, singing; it’s urban planners, marketers, builders, activists. The creator gave us these gifts, so we’re meant to express ourselves.”
West says she still designs for celebrity clients when requested. But for now, she’s focusing more on everyday clients, doing a lot of wedding band commissions while focusing on building her brand.
“In the context of building community, creativity brings people together, it empowers and inspires,” said West. “Anytime a work can inspire, empower… and build, that’s always a good thing.”