Artist of the Year award
by Elliot Owen
A queer Oakland woman has won the grand prize in an artistic competition and is looking forward to a residency program in New York next year.
Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski, a self-identified racially mixed, artistically inclined, lover-of-all-things-nerdy, queer femme woman of color, is being celebrated for all the identities she embodies and expresses through her dynamic and spirited artwork.
ArtLA.com, a Santa Monica-based professional platform that connects artists with private collectors, interior designers, galleries, and museums in over 100 countries, called for entries into its Student Artist of the Year 2012 competition back in January. When DeJesus Moleski saw a poster advertising the contest hanging in the hallway at Oakland's California College of the Arts campus the third year art student took notice.
"I'm always looking for scholarships and grants to support my education," DeJesus Moleski, 27, said. "The competition was really easy to enter and had high stakes."
Over 500 students enrolled in a licensed educational institution entered the international contest, which lasted from January 17 through September 17. Each contestant uploaded one piece to the contest website, where fans could casts votes for their favorite artist. Once the eight-month voting period ended, the five entries that garnered the most votes were judged by a panel of art experts.
One piece was selected, and that was DeJesus Moleski's. She won $10,000, an Apple MacBook Pro, Adobe Creative Suite, an Epson printer, a $500 gift certificate to Blick Art Materials, and a solo exhibition at the ArtLA Gallery in Santa Monica.
DeJesus Moleski initially had a piece in mind for the contest: a 31x41 inch portrait of her sweetheart, Zahyr, made with acrylic paint, airbrush paint and paint marker on wood.
"It's called Dream Boi," she said. "The reason I wanted to enter that piece was to represent for queer people. It's about acknowledging the sacredness and godliness of us. I say godliness because that's something so often used against us in this world – the idea that there's a lack of purity in who we are and what we do."
But after asking her teachers for opinions and reflecting, DeJesus Moleski decided to enter another piece. Her skill level had improved since creating Dream Boi and she wanted her entry to reflect that. She selected an equally compelling piece called Quasi-Mojo, a 19x24 inch self-portrait made with watercolor, ink, coffee and tea on bristol board and grounded in the same principles as Dream Boi – queer sacredness, godliness, power and resilience.
In entering Quasi-Mojo, DeJesus Moleski was lifting the queer community up. In return, the same community rallied behind her. Friends, family, and acquaintances cast their votes and spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, and email to their respective communities, which manifested into a tangible example of how powerful support networks can be.
"My life has completely shifted because people took the time – people that I didn't even know," DeJesus Moleski said. "When you see the same experience in someone else, you can show them you have their back. There's a way the queer community does that for each other. It's an understanding, a way of participating in each other's dreams."
After advancing to the panel of art experts, she was selected as ArtLA.com Student Artist of the Year 2012 and notified on September 18. DeJesus Moleski believes in reciprocity. As she credits her community with her win, the principles that shape her artistic vision have been reaffirmed.
"We are inundated with visual images," she said, "waifs of resemblances of ourselves that are depicted as vulnerable, distressed, belittled or whatever. I want to be a part of the movement that's creating images of us as extravagant, powerful and with honor, respect and dignity."
DeJesus Moleski does exactly that. Not only does she create artwork that represents queer people but also working class communities and communities of color. Always telling more than one story, her portrayals of people often reflect her own experiences as being racially mixed (Puerto Rican, white) and raised by a working class mother who by the time she was 14, had moved her 16 times throughout the East Coast, South and Midwest due to financial and familial circumstances.
"I'm working on what it means to create visual representations of hybridity," she said. "Two or more things that have become something else. Whether that be cultural hybridity or a kind of ambiguity that hybridity is read as – racial ambiguity, ambiguously gendered people or ambiguously classed people. I want to be able to represent what it looks like to be both/and rather than either/or – to exist in multiple worlds."
Aside from illustrating the intersections of her identities, DeJesus Moleski's winning entry also represents her ability to work in collaboration with her environment. Quasi-Mojo combines four mediums including coffee and tea, both "mundane things" that underwent a degree of "transmutation" – a testament to her creativity ingenuity. From acrylics to watercolor, Sharpies to spray paint, glitter to wood, if it's around DeJesus Moleski will use it.
In January, she'll be headed to New York for a six-month studio residency program. After returning to Oakland, she'll finish her last year at CCA. While it's unclear what will happen after that, DeJesus Moleski is sure about impact she wants her work to have on the world.
"I want to make art that makes people feel like they can breathe, an acknowledgement of their magic, or their giftedness," she said. "For some people, I want to make art that is challenging without judgment, that starts conversations where everyone is learning. When there's acknowledgement of and trust in someone's humanity you know that evolution can happen."
To view DeJesus Moleski's artwork, visit http://www.amaryllisdejesusmoleski.com.