Tenbeete Solomon, better known as Trap Bob, is a visual artist, graphic artist, and illustrator. Creative director of the collective GIRLAAA, her work is committed to fighting against any type of discrimination. She doesn’t like to be labeled and she is making sure that this doesn’t happen to any other person. Amazing example of activism through art and creativity characterised by bright colors and spot colors, Trap Bob’s illustrations (or animations) are ironic and of great impact, immediate and extremely pop, so they manage to convey social messages to a transversal audience.
GRIOT: Where does your nome de plume, TRAP BOB, come from?
Trap Bob: My name came from a childhood nickname (Bob) and pays homage to my all time favorite rapper, Gucci Mane. When I began my art career, he dropped an album called “Trap God” which was a huge inspiration for me, so I decided my name would be Trap Bob. I also really love the ambiguity and perception of my name, you don’t really know who or what to expect, and I love to remind my audience that we don’t need labels!
What was your cultural background and your artistic path?
I am Ethiopian, first generation growing up in America. I am very inspired by my culture and got my style from it. I never had formal artistic training, but grew up in a very artistic and creative way. I never took art seriously until I was finishing up my undergrad studies in marketing, then I realized I had never found my passion. I began drawing again for the first time since elementary school and there was no turning back for me. I taught myself many mediums, including traditional illustration, Illustrator and then animation. I do a mix of digital and paintings, and I love trying new things.
Your work as an illustrator and a visual artist has very often a social content: you are not afraid to take a stand. Do you think an artist can be an agent of change?
I truly believe art will save the world, and for me having a message about current events or social issues really comes naturally. For me art is the ultimate form of self expression, so I always have something to say with my work. For some artists, I think this kind of work can be intimidating or personal, so I understand we can’t all be agents of change. I believe art has the power to spread messages and make people rethink things, without telling them what to think. Instead the viewer has the chance to make their own interpretation and realise how they truly feel.
Have you ever faced any problems or difficulties related to racism or gender discrimination?
As a black female artist, I’ve known since the beginning that I wouldn’t always be accepted or taken seriously. I believe art has no gender, age or race, so I create work that is MY vision, not the vision of my different categories. Of course, my experiences as a black woman come into my work though. There have been plenty of times that people see my name or work and assume I am a male, and it just goes to show that we need to remove these labels and assumptions. People also assume I must have a team, or someone making all these great things happen for me, but I’m proud to say I’ve done this all on my own, along with a great support system of friends and family. I want to be the example to show others it’s possible, and it’s about the art, not the person!
In your opinion, what are the most urgent battles to face in our society?
Discrimination and equality have always been the biggest concerns to me as as person, and as an artist. There is nothing that bothers me more than people having to deal with these things that have nothing to do with who they really are. To judge someone by how they look, or where they are from is tragic, because we really miss out on being the best community we can be and working together.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration literally everywhere, music especially has been a big part of my work. I love highlighting and celebrating talented people and especially women of color. Also in my community here in DC, there is so much talent and drive, I really do my best work just being home.
Who are your models and “masters”? Who are you favorite artists/intellectuals and inspiring people?
I look up to my parents so much, they are the definition of strength and love. I know having them in my life, I can do anything. I look up to powerful artists, like Lisa Frank — a phenomenal artist and business woman. I also look up to so many talented musicians, including my all time favorites: Gucci Mane and Curren$y.
You make art through different tools and techniques: illustration (digital and traditional), animation, video making…What is your favorite? And which is the one that leaves you more freedom and that is more suited to your creative and artistic feeling?
Illustration (digital) is my favorite medium. I feel it lets me fully express my vision, and is sort of my mind on paper. I illustrate how I see the world and different subjects. I even deal with situations and people, through illustration. I can manipulate my designs more, and it allows me to save time, leaving room for me to create even more!
Which is your favorite project among all yours?
My favorite projects of mine are my GIPHY stickers for Instagram and iMessage, I love that not only are my designs being so widespread, but people are able to express themselves with my work as well, adding it to their stories and sending them to friends as reactions. Also my “7 Days of Trappin” candles and “Women in Powers” illustration series. With these projects, I highlighted inspirational, talented, powerful people of color across all industries. I wanted to see the people I look up to celebrated in a major way that I never got to see, so these projects are very special to me.
What are you working on right now?
I am finishing up a mural project for BET, promoting Lena Waithe’s show “Twenties” premiering in March which I’m so excited for! Also doing a lot of exciting illustration projects for my community and beyond. I love freelancing because it allows me to work with so many talented creative people, and I love bringing people’s visions to life.
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Half Italian, half Egyptian, I was born in Marche, I lived in Bologna fora while, and I’ve been adopted by Milan. I work in the field of communication and media. I write about music, street art, counter-cultures and I’m deeply fascinated by cultural contamination at any level.