“How important is art as a form of protest? Very.”- Jeremy Deller
It feels like an opportune time to examine all the ways in which Black creatives are using this time of turbulence to cultivate art. Art as a form of activism is one of many ways we as a community can actively practice resistance. Over the the past few months, we have seen countless examples of brilliance from Black artists all over the country, and I am lucky enough to be friends with some incredible talent.
I had the opportunity to interview my homegirl and one of the illest visual artists in the game, Janel Young. We chopped it up about art, activism, and creating your own path in a world of uncertainty.
How long have you been working professionally as an artist?
That depends on how you would define “professionally.” I’ve been working as an artist full time since the start of 2018. I was already creating and selling my work in shows and online for about three years prior to leaving my corporate job.
What pushed you to make the switch from marketing to working full time as an artist?
I was in a position where I was managing other creatives (graphic designers, video producers, animators, web and UX designers), and I really missed being on the other side of things where I could just create. My creativity was limited by the industry and agency I was working with, plus a lot of rejection from other agencies/companies, so I decided to do my own thing. And it turned out to be in my favor.
What project are you currently working on?
What am I not working on?! I have a number of projects in the works.
I recently illustrated and published my very first coloring book called Color Your Crown: A Natural Hair Coloring Book. It’s for all ages and filled with different hairstyle portraits and affirmations to celebrate yourself.
I’m also working on a public art project in Downtown Pittsburgh called New Space Spheres where I’m curating local artists to create social distancing artwork to be placed throughout the city.
Additionally, I have two outdoor murals so far this summer: one is a double wall for a flower shop in Brooklyn curated by The Culture LP. The other is a massive wall in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood for Spirit Lounge’s annual Spirit Walls event, which I worked with a team of eight other artists to complete.
What has been your proudest moment as an artist?
My proudest moment as an artist so far has been visiting the basketball court mural I designed and led (The Home Court Advantage Project) and seeing young kids and teens playing on it. They are who I wanted the project to be for, and seeing them enjoy their youth in the hood is extremely rewarding. Not to mention, it’s nostalgic because I grew up playing on that same court.
How has both the pandemic and the racial unrest in this country impacted how you show up both as a professional and a Black woman?
I’m thankfully at a place in my career where I do very little code switching. I show up as myself in all spaces and places, including professionally and personally. While it can be exhausting, I find more responsibility in the decisions I make, flowers I give and grace I share because of the pandemic and racial unrest.
What inspires you?
My everyday life and experiences as a Black woman.
How do you practice self-care?
Incense, red wine and sleep. Lots of sleep.
How are you using your art as a form of activism?
I ask the question: what does is look like when we create from a place of joy? That’s the goal. And it’s rebellious. Releasing the coloring book to the world while people were deeply in need of healing felt like a rebellious act of joy, too.
More practically, one of my most well-known pieces of art “The Difference Between You and Me” is a polarizing political piece of artwork of two canvases: a white man dressed as Captain America and a Black man with a target and bullet wound on his chest.
Most recently, I was commissioned to design a single coloring page that depicts protesting and children holding signs that read “We Call Upon You” to be colored in and mailed to local representatives along with a letter to demand policy changes around police funding and brutality.
I also designed physical protest signs for my church, The Gathering Harlem, for their unified peaceful protest in NYC.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Claim your name. You are ALREADY an artist. Drop the “aspiring.” KEEP GOING and keep learning and growing.
Let’s continue to support amazing artists like my girl Janel, check out her links below and buy her work!
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