‘As Long as It’s Useful, I’ll Keep Doing This Job’: Watch Artist Azikiwe Mohammed Make Plush Toys for the Masses

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the “New York Close Up” film “Azikiwe Mohammed is a Guy Who Makes Stuff.” © Art21, Inc. 2022.
Production still from the “New York Close Up” film “Azikiwe Mohammed is a Guy Who Makes Stuff.” © Art21, Inc. 2022.

The first thing that Azikiwe Mohammed wants you to know about him: “My job isn’t the capital ‘A’ art person.”

A self-proclaimed “guy who makes stuff,” the list of what Mohammed creates is long: jewelry, plastic objects, paintings, puppets, embroidered tapestries, neon sculptures, and clothing, to name just a few. You might come upon Mohammed in Astor Place, where he holds court in front of a bright orange drop cloth, beckoning passersby to sit down at makeshift easels, telling them that “the only rule is that you get to say yes to you.” 

In an exclusive interview with Art21, filmed as part of its new season, New York Close Up, Mohammed is shown in one scene at work, in his fun-house-like studio in Jersey City, making plush food toys. In the next scene, he is handing out bags at a Lower East Side food drive. A native New Yorker, Mohammed grew up in Tribeca, but is quick to clarify: “A lot of people talk about lofts and artists. I didn’t know any of those people.”

Mohammed’s humble approach to the idea of being an artist was instilled in him at an early age. His father is a working photographer, who also takes school portraits, and so he always thought of the job like any other. Ultimately, he says, he considers himself “a maker of objects—this seems to be useful to humans, to whatever degree. So as long as it’s useful, then I’ll keep doing this job.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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