By Olivia Romito and Sejal Singh, members of Gender Hub

On Sunday, April 25, the Gender Equality Hub and the Arts Hub hosted a virtual Women of Color in Art Webinar. The Gender Equality Hub is focused on fostering a conversation about gender equality including issues such as toxic masculinity and finding ways to empower women of all different identities. The Arts Hub’s main objective is to partner with other hubs in order to use art as a catalyst for change. This event was an amazing collaboration between these two hubs and addressed many different, important issues. Both of the artists were amazing, and they allowed us to look at their art and even gave us insight into their artistic process. It was great to hear about the struggles and opposition that these women faced, and how they were able to push through adversity to pursue their dreams.

The first artist who spoke was Hilltop Wright. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design from Howard University, where she graduated in 2016. She does not like to define herself as having just one profession: rather, she says that she is an artist, architect, and placemaker. She currently works in an architecture firm in downtown DC. A lot of her work is centered around schools, and she recently was given a whole block to work on. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Hilltop took the initiative to help artists who were hurting. She provides a development program for artists, and recently she organized a parking lot mural for people to come together and “express their voices via a parking space.” She wants to help her fellow artists find their voice, as she knows how difficult that can be. Hilltop considers herself to be a freelance artist, and she dabbles in a little bit of everything: flower umbrellas, illustrations, and paints just to name a few. When asked about her experience as a gay woman of color, she admitted that she has struggled with her self-image and even mentioned that she, “struggled with not being taken seriously by others, especially male artists.” Having experienced discrimination based on her gender and sexuality, Hilltop explained how it is important to persevere, even in the face of adversity. She then began to describe the main focus of all of her art: women. She loves to paint and draw women, but there is something very unique about her artwork: she does not paint skin tone. One quote that really stuck with me was, “We are already living in a world that is so biased. I don’t have time for that.” The sad truth is that we live in a very divided world, and by making the unique choice to paint without skin tone, Hilltop hopes to do her part to bring people together and to fight racial injustice. 

The second artist who spoke at this event was Ameya Okamoto. She is currently a second-year student at Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She is an artist and organizer based in multiple cities across the country, including Portland, Boston, and Washington D.C. Her mentors have encouraged her not to focus on just one thing, which is why she never limits herself. Growing up, she attended many different events with her family, and because of these experiences, she became a leader of many organizations and clubs in high school. One of the most empowering moments in her life was when a friend passed her a megaphone during an activism event because it showed her that her voice matters. After this, she purchased a megaphone and covered it with her artwork. As a woman of color, society tends to suppress her voice, but this megaphone serves as a reminder that her voice is powerful and can induce change. She encourages everyone to purchase a megaphone so that they never forget the influence that their voice can have. She loves using her voice and art to bring people together, which is reflected in her numerous community art projects.  Her work largely concentrates on social justice issues, and she uses art as a way to respond to events that happen around her. This past September and October, she was one of the artists that worked on the AAPI Black Solidarity Mural located in Old Town/ Chinatown. This was a great way to involve the community and use artwork to inspire social change. She has partnered with many different social justice organizations to use her artwork to make a difference. Her main medium is digital art, and she creates self-portraits, infographics, murals in communities, and more. She also works individually with families who have been greatly impacted by racial violence, and uses art to help them heal. She first heard Toni Cade Bambara’s quote “the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible” at an equity clinic in high school, and it has been her guiding motto ever since. Based on this quote, she founded the organization IRRESISTIBLE, which is focused on making social change accessible to everyone. She hopes that her art can invite more people into the conversation about social justice. 

Q & A:

Q: What does art mean to you?

Hilltop: To her, art means freedom, opportunities, and experience. Overall, art gives her “good vibes.” 

Ameya: She believes that art can be whatever you make of it, and it is all about just expressing yourself. What truly makes a piece of art is the intention behind it and its ability to express some sort of idea, or process, or vibe. 

Q: How is your identity important in your work?

Hilltop: In her work, a lot of the time it is a reflection of herself. She paints women of color, and she sees herself in each of her pieces. She feels very vulnerable when she paints, almost as if she is giving a piece of herself away.

Ameya: She once took a course on complex personhood, which is the idea that each person has their own experiences and identities. Art is all about creating a sense of complex personhood, and she tries to create art that expresses the complex personhood of herself and others. 

Q: In consideration of racism and sexism that has been prevalent for centuries, do you have advice for rising generations of women of color when it comes to overcoming challenges (in the art world or general)?

Hilltop: It is very important to find support from others, and to support others as well. She would not be the person that she is today without the connections she has made and the people that motivated her.

Ameya: Hope is the most powerful thing you can give someone. It is extremely important to hold onto your hope and find community. She also believes that once one milestone is reached, we must always be thinking about where we can go from here and what milestones we can reach next.

Q: What drives your art and how did you get started? 

Hilltop: She did not take art seriously until her senior year of college, but she had always been a very creative person. She wanted her voice to be heard, and she thought that the best way to express herself was through art. Women rule the world, and she wanted everyone to know that. She was really inspired by women’s empowerment, and most of her work is focused on that.

Ameya: She says it is hard to identify something specific that got her started. Like Hilltop, she also feels as if she is getting a late start in the game, and part of this may be because she is a child of immigrants and a woman of color. She is thinking about transferring to art school and realizes that there is no correct way to do life and that you cannot strategize your way into art. External factors such as white supremacy and capitalism make it feel as if there is a timeline to get things done, but this is not the case. She wants everyone to remember that the art world picks and chooses who we pay attention to, and just because nobody is paying attention to your art, it doesn’t make you less of an artist. 

Overall, there were many important takeaways from this event. It was extremely empowering for young female changemakers. The speakers showed us how to power through adversity and challenges, and to speak up for what we believe in. They made us realize that everybody has the capability of becoming an artist, and in fact, we are already artists. This idea can be translated to other aspects of life, showing us that we have the capability to follow our dreams and create change. It was also incredible to see the passion that both artists had for their work (both the artwork itself and their efforts to encourage social change). Hilltop and Ameya were very motivational, and their words provided guidance for all of the attendees. We learned many important life lessons, and their powerful words will stick with us as we follow our dreams and strive to become changemakers. 

You can learn more about Hilltop by checking out her Instagram account @hilltop_high. She encourages anyone in the D.C. to get involved with the parking lot mural. To keep up with Ameya’s work, you can follow @ameyamarie or @artistirresistible on Instagram. She hopes that everyone will buy a megaphone to remember that their voice matters.