Niky Motekallem is an Iranian-American illustrator from Dayton, Ohio. After moving to Minnesota to study in MCAD's MFA program, Niky became increasingly homesick. To meet her longings for home, Niky's sketchbooks conjured the mundane to the macabre: cornfields, coffins, construction sites, spiders and shopping malls alike. Below you'll find Niky's words and images woven into a hauntingly beautiful portrait of a state too many of us ignore.
O H I O
"All places have a story to tell"
— Niky Motekallem
"This is Ohio. It’s perpetually overcast, except when it’s sweltering hot. There are a lot of cornfields, construction, and shopping malls. At first glance it seems calm. Quaint. Maybe even a bit dull. But like all things, there is more than meets the eye. There are ghost towns, giant statues, Loveland Frogs, Hell’s gates, flesh necrosing spiders, and people. But most of all, home. Ohio is home." —NM
"The Lake Erie beaches are not made of sand. They are made of broken relics and old bones. People say to stay away.
But you remember swimming in the lake when you were younger than the you of now. Even though your parents told you not to. There were figures in the distance that you could not go near no matter how far you swam. And you swam so far that your muscles ached.
You remember something tickling the soles of your feet whenever you stopped. You’re not sure what was out there. Your parents called your name before you could find out and you swam back to the shore. When you turned around, the figures were gone." —NM
"Did you know Ohio is home to more astronauts than any other state? But don’t worry. No matter how far they travel we will find them. The void of space won’t stop us. They will return. There is no where else to run." —NM
"You drive down Interstate 71 towards Columbus. It is an overcast and grey day. You can’t recall the last time it was sunny. Towering cornfields pass by in a blur. You see signs for small towns you didn’t know existed. You don’t dare turn into their exits. You just keep on driving, hoping you won’t need to stop for gas. Finally, you see an empty field approaching. You almost sigh a breath of relief at the change in monotony. But you get closer. A black billboard stands tall on its wooden legs in the emptiness, shouting its message at you. HELL IS REAL. It gives you no warmth or comfort. Just a sense of foreboding and dread that has always been there. You continue driving down the highway, holding your breath, knowing something you always knew you knew." —NM
"He once towered 42 feet above the church built on rich soil. His arms pointed up towards the heavens in a gesture of absolution. Or maybe he just scored a touchdown. Who really knows? Either way, it didn’t stop that thunderbolt from setting him on fire. It still smells of soot here. They built him bigger, but his arms sag now and his eyes are downcast. I mean, wouldn’t you? I’d be pretty upset too if I caught on fire and burned until nothing but my charred bones remained. It would take like… a few days to grow back at the least. What a bummer." —NM
"Someone is driving down Interstate 70. The is sky a dull pink and lavender from the setting sun. The car rattles as it accelerates against the beaten road. It drives under a white arch that has a sign. Scrawled onto it are the words “Thank You For Visiting Ohio”.
This person continues on driving. Past cows and cornfields and large burning pyres and wandering ghosts and housing developments. They drive in a single direction for hours and hours. There are no other vehicles on the road. Empty except for a car with a single passenger.
Nothing changes. Finally, this someone sees something in the distance. As they approach it, they see the words dripping in blue and red."
"Welcome To Ohio."