(Social Justice)

10 Women Artists Whose Activism Shines Through In Their Creative Work

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Originally Published: 
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya created posters for the I Still Believe campaign.

Art in all forms has the power to persuade, inspire, and incite change. This is where the intersection of art and activism converges. You can see, and feel, this with a quick scroll through your Instagram feed — perhaps a protest poster has caught your attention or a video highlighting the current state of climate change brought you to tears. Regardless of how you consume creative content, art activism has become a daily part of life. Though not all artists use their art for activism, many women have utilized their talents to promote causes close to their hearts, or to simply speak out on social and political injustices.

Here, TZR is highlighting everyday female illustrators and creatives who are using their skills to create actionable change in their communities. Whether it’s a visual designer making posters for a march, a graphic illustrator giving voice to marginalized communities, or a painter producing murals to highlight the melting of polar ice caps, the 10 women below all have a desire to change the world they live in for the better. Should you feel inspired — and really, how can you not? — by their artwork and informative initiatives, give them all a quick follow on Instagram.

Women Artists: Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya

Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya is a neuroscientist-turned-artist who, according to her website, strives to make “the invisible, visible.” One of her most recent pieces of work is her I Still Believe in Our City art campaign, which raises public awareness about the beauty and resilience of AAPI communities. Described as more than just an anti-hate campaign, the vibrant imagery, displayed on bus stops and train stations walls throughout NYC, gives a voice to those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, from anti-Asian biases and xenophobia.

Phingbodhipakkiya showcases her activism work through a variety of art mediums from large murals to AR animations to 3D printed sculptures. “Earlier in my career, my goal was simply to convey scientific ideas and findings in more compelling ways. My goals were to inform and inspire. Over time, I’ve set my sights higher, challenging people to reexamine their beliefs, truly understand someone else’s perspective, and consider what a better world could look like. I believe art has a responsibility to question preconceived notions and create new possibilities,” she states on her website.

Women Artists: Amy Sherald

You’ve likely heard of Amy Sherald thanks to her notable works like this Michelle Obama portrait and the painting of Breonna Taylor on the cover of Vanity Fair. Her signature style is painting Black people in gray monochrome (known as a grayscale, or grisaille, technique), set against everyday life like surfing at a beach or riding a bike. “My work doesn’t commit Black life to grief,” Sherald said to the Los Angeles Times. “There’s an assumption of a whole Black life being inextricably tied to struggle. I think it becomes all-consuming and really can codify our existence and our whole experience.”

Sherald’s work strives to create alternative narratives for the Black community and explore the topic of identity while sharing all this with the larger art world, especially in museums and galleries. “I'm reclaiming time, reclaiming space and time. It's like, you're gonna give me one wall? I'm gonna take up two. If you think about how many Black female figurative painters there are in the world, or maybe even have been in the world that made it onto a museum wall, you could probably count us all on two hands,” she said to KCRW. “I wake up knowing that every day, and it's really a huge part of my inspiration because it's like, I didn't have me growing up, you know?”

Women Artists: Hanifa Abdul Hameed

Hanifa Abdul Hameed is a visual designer who has worked on various projects to highlight cultural and social topics. One of her most popular pieces of content was a Vote for Aunty sweatshirt, she designed the graphic, that was created in collaboration with the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign when Kamala Harris was on the campaign trail. “It was [the Phenomenal team’s] idea to create something for the campaign that is catering to the South Asian community — and would get South Asians hyped up,” Hameed said to KQED. “Growing up in South Asian communities, I always called anyone older than me 'auntie' — as a form of respect.” (Harris is the first female, first Black, and first South Asian to hold the title of vice president.) The work featured on Hameed’s Instagram utilizes bright, bold colors and subjects touch on everything from cultural representation to female empowerment to the reimagining of Padma and Parvati Patil’s outfits for the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Women Artists: Paula Champagne

Paula Champagne uses illustration, photography, videography, and graphic design to explore the connection between Blackness and nature. In an interview with Framebridge, the artist said: “I’ve always liked being outside ... As I got older, I was separated from that connection and I’ve rediscovered it in my adult life ... Hiking was kind of the gateway back in. I really got into the hiking community and I ended up working for an outdoor organization. That helped expose a lot of the issues in the outdoor industry — the exclusion, lack of representation, and how it’s all very much marketed to white people. It’s very saturated with white people. I wanted to explore the connection with my identity and the outdoors in visual ways.” Champagne isn’t alone in this observation as a December 2020 NPR story highlighted the racism Black people encountered in doing something as simple as hiking while another story published in the The Boston Globe back in 2014 explored the whiteness of conservation.

You’ll notice that Champagne’s work encompasses Black women surrounded by leaves and florals like this Amanda Gorman creation and other illustrations with phrases like “Close Your Eyes — Make The White Gaze Disappear.” In another powerful piece for HERE, an art center based in NYC, Champagne highlighted 20 Black women who’ve made huge impacts in the U.S., but were made invisible in history. She gave a name and face to these ladies through an interactive installation where you peered through a lenses to see their identities.

Women Artists: Deva Pardue

New York-based designer and founder of For All Womankind Deva Pardue is best known for her now-iconic Femme Fists image, which she created in 2016 to raise money for the Center for Reproductive Rights and Emily’s List. A year later, during the Women’s March in 2017, Pardue released the illustration for downloads and it went viral thanks to singer Rihanna who posted the image to her Instagram. She was able to raise over $25,000 for organizations like Joyful Heart Foundation and She Should Run.

Her previous stints in the creative field range from working at The Wing to Pentagram, a design consultancy and her past clients include Girls Build LA and NBC. “I don't believe that being an artist or a designer by definition makes you an activist. I think the responsibility arises when something hits you on a personal level and comes close to home, and you have something relevant to say — then you should use your art to express that rather than keeping it inside,” said Pardue to Design Observer. “As designers, we have the tools to communicate in the most immediate and effective ways. We have the opportunity to not only do good, but to mobilize others to do good. That's an opportunity that should be taken advantage of.”

Women Artists: Allison Janae Hamilton

Allison Janae Hamilton is a visual artist who works with sculpture, installation, photography, and video. Hamilton’s specific focus is on landscape where she uses everything from plant matter to animal remains to create immersive art spaces. This exploration between human and planet lends itself to highlighting social issues such as climate change and environmental racism. “You can’t look at climate change as something that’s neutral, the Unifier or the Great Equalizer. It’s not that,” she said to BerlinArtLink. “Even when quarantine started, I saw a lot of climate activists saying: ‘Oh isn’t it great that the environment is getting such a break and we’re all home in our houses cooking healthy foods, and we’re not out, we’re not using mass transit, we’re not in our cars, we’re not going anywhere. The next image I saw right after that on my timeline was the image that Charles M. Blow posted of the NYC subway, filled, packed to capacity with predominantly people of color. Why? Because they have to go to work. Because they do not have the luxury of staying home and having all this down time. I think there’s a disconnect with a lot of the ways those conversations go.”

In Hamilton’s work, she seeks to steer the climate change conversation by examining its impact on communities of color. One of her installations for NYC’s Storm King Art Center, titled, The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm (2018), reflected just this. A a tower of tambourines were created to memorialize the thousands of Black migrant workers who were killed and buried in unmarked mass graves due to two historic storms: the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 and the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928. “The environment really is a story of people and lived experience and not just the science behind it all,” she said to Arnet News. “It’s really important to look at who the most vulnerable people are, and as natural disasters like hurricanes and other occurrences grow more and more intense, [to ask] how are they illuminating and shedding light on the already existing social disasters?”

Women Artists: Zaria Forman

In a 2015 TED Talk, artist Zaria Forman talked about her commitment in dedicating her work to highlight climate change. My drawings celebrate the beauty of what we all stand to lose," she said. "I hope they can serve as records of sublime landscapes in flux." Though her pastel drawings are beautiful to look at, the messaging could not be more clear: nature, as you see it now, is rapidly deteriorating due to human acts like the burning of fossil fuels, farming, and deforestation. In producing her work, Forman has traveled to faraway destinations like Antarctica and the Maldives to draw inspiration for her artwork, and to witness first hand the effects of climate change. Her work has been featured in publications like The New York Times, National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and has held exhibitions in spaces like Banksy’s Dismaland and the Children's Museum of the Arts in NYC. For the full list, you can check out Forman’s website.

Women Artists: Danielle Coke

Danielle Coke is an illustrator from Atlanta whose focus is on representing Black history through visual arts. Coke is especially known for her easy-to-digest drawings, diagrams, and flowcharts that draw on social commentary like her microaggressive greeting cards or roadblocks to productive activism infographic. “For a lot of people, this is their first time speaking up about issues like [racism]. You will probably make mistakes along the way, and that's completely normal,” she said to Buzzfeed. “It's when we acknowledge these mistakes, apologize for them, and seek continued growth [that] we can truly bring about real change.” Her illustrations help people navigate these conversations and with over 493k Instagram followers, it’s apparent her way of creating messages resonate with the wider social media community. In addition to releasing graphics, Coke hosts Instagram Live sessions to turn awareness into action and even offers a free guide to incorporating justice work into your own life.

Women Artists: Ashley Lukashevsky

Ashley Lukashevsky is an illustrator and visual artist whose work sheds light on topics surrounding race, patriarchy, immigration, politics, and more. “My north star is justice — it guides my work and is the intention behind everything that I create,” she said to Brit + Co. If you’re browsing through her Instagram and notice the optimistic color palette in her work, lots of pink and blues, make no mistake that this is done on purpose. “It gives me more hope to be able to draw what I want the future to look like instead of reinstating the harm and pain that is existing right now. I really rely on hope a lot because of the situation that we’re in with all of these cis-, hetero-, patriarchal, capitalist b******t systems,” she said to The Cut.

You can catch Lukashevsky’s work everywhere as she works with clients like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Girls Who Code where she illustrated the experiences of young women in coding. In another project, Lukashevsky served as the illustrator for the book AntiRacist Baby, which you might recognize was penned by renowned author and activist Ibram X. Kendi. (He also wrote the book everyone was reading at the height of the BLM movement: How to Be an Antiracist.) “A lot of the stuff that I create is so that I have a blueprint for the world I want to live in. I think about it a lot as … like a speculative visual fiction,” said Lukashevsky.

Women Artists: Erin Aniker

If you’re interested in feminist art work, turn your attention to illustrator and designer Erin Aniker. The London-based artist grew up surrounded by activism (her mother used to take her to protests as a child) and not surprisingly has incorporated this into her artwork. Aniker’s creations typically feature women of color, non-binary women, single moms, as well as marginalized communities. The subjects of her work reflect her personal upbringing as she grew up with two different cultures: Turkish and British.

“My Mum is from Turkey, my Dad is from Yorkshire, and they met in London which is where I grew up, and I was born, in East London. I had quite a creative, diverse childhood in an equally creative and diverse city; I think my work celebrates and explores this,” she said to Fold. “I also love Islamic art, the textiles, ceramics and art feed into my work. I find the patterns, the geometry and precision incredibly inspiring, calming and beautiful. I’m also completely obsessed with cobalt blue, which is used, in a lot of Turkish ceramics. It’s been my favorite color for as long as I can remember and I find myself having to stop myself from using it in everything I make and do.” For those who feel inspired and moved by her art, you can even shop some of her prints via her website.

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