Shithouse Series


“To defend the place of millions of immigrants and their progeny in American society, we need not only protest of political changes but also more art. We need to bring the ambitions, the foibles and the soul of immigrant America into the collective American mind. And for that we need television shows and movies, and more novels, poems, paintings and songs. High art and low.”

-Héctor Tobar for The New York Times: We Need Protests. And Paintings.

As a creative studio, we are asked to ‘output’ ideas and information all week long. To keep our thinking fresh and nimble, we make it a point to take time to gather as a team and ‘input’ new perspectives into our work — specifically those of artists. During our “Input Fridays” series, one member of our staff shares the work of an artist that has influenced or inspired them each week. This allows us to keep our minds open, participate in socially and culturally relevant dialogue, and push us forward to create better and more intuitive work for our clients.

We organized the latest iteration of Input Fridays around a specific theme, creating what we’ve called The Shithouse Series. As an answer to President Trump’s now-infamous question, “Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?”, we decided to learn more about art being created by people from the huge swath of the planet that was being dismissed. Each of us researched an artist with roots in a different developing country and shared our work with the TM team, opening doors onto a diverse range of new perspectives.


To further celebrate and bring recognition to the importance of these artists, we hosted the Shithouse Party this past summer, transforming our studio into a momentary gallery of global art. We invited our friends and colleagues to view homespun exhibits of some of our favorite works from the series, in media that ranged from paint and sculpture to music, poetry, and 3D animation.

Take a read below to learn more about each artist and why our staff decided to highlight their work.


Johannesburg, South Africa

Pieter Hugo documents the people and landscapes of all Africa, addressing the complex political realities of race and identity through the conventions of portraiture.

This quote, which explains his interest in the marginal, says it all: “My homeland is Africa, but I’m white. I feel African, whatever that means, but if you ask anyone in South Africa if I’m African, they will almost certainly say no. I don’t fit into the social topography of my country, and that certainly fueled why I became a photographer.”

I can connect with Hugo on a personal level; as a first-generation immigrant, I often feel confused. I simply don’t fit here (USA) nor there (Serbia) anymore…



Lagos, Nigeria

I started out by looking into film production in Africa, and learned that Nigeria’s film industry is not merely established and sophisticated, but among the largest in the world. In terms of movies produced annually, Bollywood (India’s film industry) is first, Nollywood (Nigeria) is second, and Hollywood in the US only third. This absolutely blew my mind.

When I stumbled upon a viral animated short called “Ovie and Wale” about two Nigerian men dancing, I loved it. I wanted to know if there were any more videos like it. I found that the animator, Richard Oboh, started his own animation studio in Nigeria called Orange VFX Studios. I went to their website and learned that they have a whole range of major clients they do amazing cartoon/character animation work for.

I’m embarrassed to even admit it now, but in a way I’d always thought that American culture was so dominant throughout the world that animated cartoons and computer/graphic design was basically a Western export.



Nairboi, Kenya

There’s a psychological phenomenon known as facial pareidolia — we perceive human faces where they don’t exist. It’s in our nature to gravitate toward faces or want to see them in inanimate objects.

African masks have fascinated the world since the beginning of civilization, and inspired many Western artists such as Picasso. Cyrus Kabiru’s work tells a moving story from Nairobi, Kenya, using nothing but garbage. He makes art that changes people’s minds and hearts, and makes it clear that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” His masks are brilliant, raw, and, to me, melancholic.

Having grown up partly in the developing world, Kabiru’s work reaffirmed what I have long known:

1. Humanity has more in common than many people imagine

2. We often forget that Africa is where it all began (and we are all Africans)



Tesker, Niger

I came across Mamane Barka when I was searching for lesser known desert blues artists. Barka was already a master of a traditional string instrument called the ngurumi when he sought out Boukar Tar, the last remaining master of the biram, a boat-shaped 5-string instrument. Barka was taught how to play this ancient instrument by Tar, who has since passed away.

Today, Barka maintains the musical tradition of the Boudouma, an ethnic group of nomadic fishermen from eastern Niger, single-handedly.



Lod, Israel

I wanted to research a musician — specifically a hip hop artist. Since new school hip hop in the US generally focuses on the artist’s experience living in inner-cities and under-served communities, I thought there would be commonalities in theme and expression with hip hop artists from places Trump would call “shithole countries.”

Tamer Nafar essentially pioneered Palestinian hip hop, coming of age in a land in perpetual turmoil. He was inspired by the work of Tupac Shakur and began teaching himself English by translating Tupac’s lyrics into Arabic. He founded the group DAM, a word meaning lasting or persisting in Arabic, and blood in Hebrew. The members of DAM are from a generation who challenge insults to Palestinian identity and who object to racism and inequality — rapping in Arabic, Hebrew, and English.



Mumbai, India

I find it inspiring how, after studying engineering in college, Sanket Avlani still had the courage to move to London and pivot to design, using his time abroad to figure out how he could contribute to India’s design landscape when he got back.

As an Indian-born professional currently working in the US, I found myself comparing my own journey to his. I, too, want to keep my country visible in the rear-view mirror as I continue to explore the power of design in driving long-term social impact.

I’ve come to realize that Sanket’s view of Mumbai is slightly different from mine. His idea of turning Mumbai’s iconic black-and-yellow taxis into mobile works of art reflects his optimism and admiration for the city. It reminded me to keep my imagination alive and remember that in loud, vibrant, complex, dynamic cities such as Mumbai, every subject and surface is an opportunity for transformation.



Tehran, Iran

I find Arabic calligraphy to be the most beautiful written language. It’s expressive, personal, and great calligraphers put an enormous amount of craftsmanship into their works. Through my research, I came across the exhibition SHTSHOW (the Seattle, Havana, Tehran Poster show), where contemporary artists were combining my passions for calligraphy and design in ways I hadn’t seen before.

One of the featured artists, Mojtaba Adibi, has created his own unique style by combining traditional Iranian folk art with hand-drawn calligraphy and graphic design. His incredibly detailed work really resonates with me because he always seems to find the perfect balance between type and image; if you were to remove the slightest piece of one or the other, the whole design wouldn’t work.

Today we tend to turn to the internet or computer for ideas, and too often it leads a regurgitation of the inspiration. Adibi reminds me that the best ideas derive from working on paper, and that the computer should never be the main tool when designing.



Bangkok, Thailand

While traveling in southern Thailand, my husband and I met a couple on a boat who told us about Sak Yant. Neither of us have even the teeniest of tiniest bit of spiritual bone in our bodies — like, I don’t even believe in luck or horoscopes or mercury in retrograde or vitamins or anything — but I thought maybe this would make my cold, unbelieving heart feel something.

We hired a translator and met Arjan Neng for a spiritual consultation. After I gave him an offering of fruit, flowers and money, he gave me a protection yant. It shields me from black magic and gives me strength to conquer the darkness inside me. It’s also meant to remind me that I have peace and a good side, and to be more patient. He read me hard.

There’s a touristic, glowy, yoga perception of Thailand, and some Westerners expect everyone and everything they encounter there to be vegan (by choice), to live on Pad Thai, and to have a blind, spiritual obedience. Clearly inaccurate.

Thailand is a place of contrast — especially in Bangkok. There’s a clash of Buddhism and a kind of seedy, vice-tinged aura. I found Pornwipa Suriyakarn as I was digging into this darker side. I wanted to know how and where artists defaming spiritually might exist in a city like that. Pornwipa’s work is balanced on the edge of spirituality and profanity.



Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I was researching street artists from Malaysia, and the name Kenji Chai kept appearing in every article or blog post I found. His design sensibility and how he uses his work to advocate for animals and the environment is what really stood out to me.

It was refreshing to learn that even as Kenji’s popularity has risen and brands have begun to collaborate with him, he focuses all of his projects on issues that are meaningful to him. For example, his partnership with Johnny Walker was part of an initiative that advocated for the proper treatment and care of stray dogs in Malaysia, while another project of his was a collaboration with Tiger Beer and the World Wildlife Foundation to bring awareness to the diminishing population of tigers worldwide.



Los Angeles, CA by way of El Salvador

Yesika Salgado’s work was alarmingly personal and intimate for me when I first encountered it, both as a woman of color and an immigrant from El Salvador — one of the so-called “shithole countries.” I couldn’t help but be drawn in and inspired.

I left El Salvador when I was 23 months old. Having grown up in the US with very little exposure to El Salvadorian culture, I am very aware of my juxtaposed identity. Until recent events with the current Presidential administration, El Salvador was a speck on the world map, so it is electrifying to see artists and writers like Salgado amplifying the El Salvadorian experience. They are bringing exposure to the rich culture and brilliant thinking coming from this beautiful country.



Oaxaca, Mexico

I was inspired by a recent exhibit at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum that focused on west coast tattoo art, which includes Mexican influences. When I came upon Dr. Lakra, I fell down a rabbit hole for a couple of weeks, exploring everything from his tattooed found objects, sculptures, and painted murals to his music playlists.

Having grown up in Colorado and lived in Los Angeles, I definitely had a preconceived notion of what Mexican art was. The more I dug into Dr. Lakra’s work and life, the more I discovered about how international his influences are. His father is an important artist in Mexico in his own right, so he grew up traveling around the world and visiting various museums where his father’s work was shown. Looking at his murals, you will see references to everything from African and Hindu deities to Frank Zappa.



Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

I had recently listened to a podcast about Air Dancers, those goofy guys you see outside car dealerships, for which I’ve long harbored a deep love. Although there’s some controversy, Peter Minshall is largely credited for inventing my floopy friends as part of a team designing the 1996 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in Atlanta.

Air Dancers wound up being my gateway into the amazing Carnival designs Minshall is more widely known for. I didn’t have much exposure to the global Carnival tradition prior to this, and in learning about it through Minshall’s work I was heartened and inspired by the continued power of art to bring communities together.

I love that Carnival band designs are at once totally otherworldly yet timeless, but I was most struck by the community support and involvement that goes into Carnival each year. Minshall’s (and other Carnival artists’) bands are full creative expressions–each sequin, feather, and foot step is considered and rehearsed to bring to life a world of characters and narrative for a one-time-only performance.


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