Original doesn’t try to be original Q & A with Tiff Massey


Tiff Massey is an interdisciplinary artist from Detroit, Michigan. She holds an MFA in metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Her work, inspired by African standards of economic vitality, includes both large-scale and wearable sculptures. Massey counts the iconic material culture of 1980’s hip-hop as a major influence in her jewelry. She uses contemporary observances of class and race through the lens of an African diaspora, combined with inspiration drawn from her experience in Detroit.


Tiff Massey is a 2015 Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellowship awardee, as well as a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge winner and a Michigan Chronicle 40 Under 40 award recipient. Massey has participated in several international residencies including Ideas City (in Detroit and Athens, Greece) hosted by The New Museum of New York and with the Volterra-Detroit Foundation in Volterra, Italy. Tiff Massey’s work has been widely exhibited in both national and international museums and galleries.

Q & A

What is essential for you to create?

There are three elements essential for me to create:

1. Support is what every creative needs. I prefer support in the form of currency and hugs. Checks and hugs at the same damn time please. But for real, it’s the checks that keep the creative juices flowing! Support your local artists.

2. Environment. I need to be in an environment that’s conducive to making. Studios are sanctuaries for the creative mind. It is essential not only for the physicality of making but most importantly for mental health. I find having access to nature is best for my personal self care. I choose my studio location close to the Detroit River for that very purpose.

3. Resources are also essential. Artists can’t make without materials and can’t grow without a network. “You’re only as strong as your network” is a well known phrase for a reason.

What does it mean to be original?

What is means to be original is heavily rooted in my experience of growing up in Detroit. Detroiters know how to stunt! Attending school, church, concerts and the club, we are gonna show up and show out! It is a conflict of interest to show up at an event and somebody has your same outfit on. There is no twinning happening here in the D. Thus, my creative practice has been rooted in creating original pieces. Wearable or not, I make works that are one of a kind, rarely repeating myself because who wants to be a one-trick pony? Now in the midst of creating a jewelry line, I’m starting to think about limited editions that still stay true to my original thought process. Originality is everything to me!

How do you remain authentic and true to yourself?

I remain authentic and true to myself by simply doing me. I keep my head down, eyes on the prize, and I always keep it moving forward. I have created a lane for myself as a black woman metalsmith, and I’m going to continue to ride this lane and open it up for other people of color, especially for my fellow black women.


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