Portrait Series Memorializes Maya Angelou and Other Female Activists

Artivist Angélica Becerra creates portraits of activist women of color.

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Feb 13 2016, 2:00pm

Images courtesy of the artist

Art can be a powerful way to preserve and memorialize the thoughts and actions of activists who worked in support of marginalized communities. Angélica Becerra created her Palabra series to highlight activists within the LGBT community and communities of color, and what started as a design for a flyer became the basis for many watercolor portraits. The artist focuses specifically on activist figures in order to spark inspiration and solidarity in viewers who identify with these groups.

Becerra came to the United States at the age of ten and remembers only seeing acrylic paint in her art classes at school. The tight budget at her Los Angeles public school meant there wasn’t an abundance of art supplies. In high school, she discovered the potential of watercolor as a medium that could create unique textures between acrylic and oil on the spectrum of paint materials.

“I chose watercolor because it is changeable, it can be retouched just like oil paint can be kept wet for further changes,” Becerra tells The Creators Project. “Watercolor is also rather affordable and can travel well, as a full time graduate student, I’ve often had to paint portraits on the go or in between breaks on campus. Watercolor allows me the versatility without sacrificing the saturation or depth of color that I want.”

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The portraits in the Palabra series mix realistic details with swirls of color. Each icon seems to emerge from a cloud of bright color, their powerful quotes looming underneath. Each piece continues the legacy of these activists, ensuring that their voice can continue to be heard.

“Often we’re taught to think that resistance takes shape in the form of protests or acts of civil disobedience,” writes Becerra. “While I respect the diverse tactics and tools out there to speak against racism, and other forms of oppression, I consider the arts an often-underestimated tool in this resistance.”

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That resistance also applies on a more personal level. Becerra’s artistic journey hasn’t been easy; it was difficult to “feel validated or encouraged” as an artist growing up in a working class, Latino family. With time, art became an important tool for the PhD candidate, particularly as part of her “survival as a woman of color in academia and in the art world.”

Becerra draws from her research skills to find out even more about the activists whose portraits she paints. The artist references academic journals, archival photos and old newspaper articles to learn more about the history of each icon. One of these research sessions led to her discovery that Yuri Kochiyama was friends with Malcolm X. Becerra found a newspaper clipping that includes a photo of Malcolm X dying in Kochiyama’s arms. With each portrait, Becerra draws on history to trace the efforts of these activists and the connections between past and present.

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“My hope is that those who come into contact with my art, particularly people of color remember that our struggles are connected, and that there are ancestors like Yuri and Malcolm that have come before us and made it possible for us to imagine a better world,” writes Becerra.

By continuing to create her works of artivism, Becerra hopes to preserve the stories of figures who fought against marginalization and discrimination. Her work urges others to find creative ways to make their own statements about political climates, social justice and fearless leaders.

To learn more about Angélica Becerra's work, click here

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