As a teenager growing up in Wellington, New Zealand, Mikka Byarugaba was always the one in the know. He knew where to go, who to see and what to do – whatever it was, Mikka had the answers. ‘You're like Wikipedia,’ a friend once joked. ‘Wait no, you're Mikkapedia!’ A decade later, the moniker has stuck and serves as Mikka's creative persona. It covers his ever-evolving, multidisciplinary work, spanning futuristic self-portraits, sculptural jewelry designs and dramatic 3D displays – all produced using digital technology. ‘Like Wikipedia, Mikkapedia is about the world of knowledge – there are no boundaries,’ he explains.
Art and design are relatively new ventures for Mikka, who moved to Sydney, Australia, in 2019 and quickly became an in-demand male model. But when work dried up during the first wave of the pandemic, the 25-year-old was inspired to get creative with how to make a living.‘I was like, OK, I need to hustle,’ he says, adding that he'd had a lifelong interest in computers and animation. ‘I registered Mikkapedia as my business name, made my website and logo [a twist on the Wikipedia logo], and started creating Instagram filters.’
Mikka's work soon caught the attention of the fashion industry and he was commissioned by fashion house Chanel and featured in Vogue magazine. ‘I was like, “Yes, ma'am” to everything,’ he says. ‘I loved the rush of short deadlines; my working process is basically pressure and stress.’ Next came a collaboration with jewelry brand Westhill LABS – a collection of gold and silver rings based on Mikka's 3D renders. ‘That was my first tangible creation,’ he says. ‘I'm interested in bridging the gap between the physical and the digital. I call it “phygital”.’ Digital art is synonymous with non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Mikka presented his first solo exhibition in May, where he sold some of his animations via NFT platform Culture Vault.
Yet, he's most energized by pieces that people can feel and interact with. ‘While working in these new and futuristic mediums, I aim to incorporate an element of familiarity,’ says Mikka. ‘Ultimately, it's always about the human experience.’
Going back to nature
‘The silence of nature provides a refresh. My special place is the Royal National Park [in southern Sydney]. I use an app called AllTrails that's really good for hiking.’
Staring at my bookshelves
‘Hard Ears, a coffee-table book compiled by British photographer Ronan McKenzie, is really significant to me. This book features photographs by mostly black artists, which is so important and inspirational to me. Another favorite is Mac De Design. [The book] was published in 1995 and breaks down graphics created using an original Macintosh.’
A day with Mikka
‘I like to go to this little point in Vaucluse, eastern Sydney, and see the sun come up. I think watching the sunrise is one of the best things you can do for your day, because it's like, “This is the start!” I ride one of my motorbikes there and back; I have a Honda VTR250 and a Yamaha Fazer 1998. Then I have breakfast at home – porridge with blueberries – a classic grandpa meal that fills me up. Sometimes I'll grab a coffee across the road at [specialty grocery store] Maloneys – but only when I'm stressed with work and need that turbo-charge.’
‘The apartment I share with my girlfriend Emanuela and housemate James has the most beautiful light, and I work from the sunroom. I usually have BBC radio playing in the background; when I was a kid growing up in Uganda, my granddad always had it on, so it's something I've carried on myself. For work, I use my Surface Laptop Studio and, at the moment, my hologram fan. I might have some phone calls or I'll go to The Bonython in Paddington, which is my favorite cafe ever. It's a 10-minute walk from here and it has this secret little garden where you feel like you're in Bali. I like having meetings there or hanging out on the daybed.’
‘I finish work when I see the sun setting over the trees from my desk. It's a sight that fuels me to set times in my day – I generally never work beyond 6pm or on the weekends. You have to keep that balance, especially with creative work, otherwise, you drain yourself out. Once I clock off, I do a little dance – I love music and that's how I like to finish my day.’