When Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski realized that Euro-centric art made up the majority of her art history curriculum (not to mention, what she saw in museums), she knew she wanted to make something different. The homogeneity of the Western canon was stifling, and she felt there was no place for her within it; so the artist decided that she would only paint queer, brown, femme women. The rest, as they say, is history.
In order to further break out of the Western canon, Moleski began to explore pre-Colombian art and alchemical illustrations, and to play with form within her work. As The Huffington Post points out, she decided to “truly work outside the systems established decisively not for her” — and we’re in love with what she’s created.
Moleski wanted to portray queer, brown, femme women in her art in order to give visibility to a group largely excluded from our cultural narrative (and therefore excluded from the majority of art). It was this lack that ultimately inspired her to fill it: if others weren’t going to represent her, then she would represent herself.
“It wasn’t just art history, but it was also playing into the politics of aesthetics, what could be discussed rigorously and critiqued,” she told The Huffington Post. “I just got to this point where I decided I was only going to draw queer, femme, brown and black people. That’s all it’s gonna be. I’ve kind of evolved past that at this point but it was a really clear decision. Being so hungry for it and deciding I was going to create it.”
The results are a stunning exploration of femininity that begins to fill a major gap in queer representation within art. Her inspiration ranges from artists Kehinde Wiley and Saya Woolfalk, to TV shows Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek — and the diversity of her influences is incredibly clear in her work.
She uses color and patterns with wonderful and vivid results. Her art mixes elements of the ancient with a sci-fi-inspired future, creating a magical universe and the beautiful, intergalactic space goddesses that exist within it. Yet her work still feels rooted in something very real, and is not so disconnected from its inspiration as to diminish it.
“I was asking — how do you represent the aesthetics of queer femininity, without placing the body in relationship to someone else. What is the aesthetic of queer femininity when it’s not dependent on who’s gazing?” Moleski told The Huffington Post. “What is queer femme aesthetic? And how do we begin to visualize ourselves as marginalized people in the future, calling upon ancient, present and future imaginings?”
In the artist statement on her website, Moleski explains that her work has two main foci: “1. how can we create culturally recognizable images which depict marginalized people in positions of power without referencing the canon of European Art History, and, 2. how can we apply the “voice of authority” typically used to catalog history in favor of the male European perspective, and apply it to an imagined futuristic mythology of ourselves.”
In particular, Moleski often uses the eye as a symbol of divinity in her work. It’s everywhere: each of the women she draws has a large third eye on her forehead, if not two more on her cheeks (and elsewhere). The eyes are the most striking, however, when she uses them as a flat pattern on skin.
“It’s a symbol that is appealing to me because it’s pretty global in terms of all the different representations of spiritual texts and ancient art texts across the board,” she told The Huffington Post. “Also, I’m curious about the aesthetics of holiness and eyes have this divine omnipresent awareness to them, something that’s contained all around us and within us. Eyes are symbols of protection, symbols of sovereignty. I place them everywhere to show that they’re totally accessible.”
Moleski’s art is as informed as it is aesthetically beautiful, and a huge theme that she explores in her work is the idea of femininity as a conscious, intentional choice. While self-presentation is often viewed as frivolous, shallow, or vain, we shouldn’t reduce it to such. How we choose to convey ourselves to the world around us forms our identities, and is one of the most tangible forms of self-expression. To suggest that femininity is lesser than is to imply that women are lesser than, and we need to challenge why our default reaction is to view it as something mindless. Nowhere is this as obvious as with queer femmes, and that is why Moleski’s work feels so essential. How we present ourselves to the world can be a comfort and a means of protection. As Moleski puts it, femininity can itself be an “armor.”
“Something I’m interested in is thinking about the feminine as a presentation or a play or a creative force in the world. I, personally, have used hair and makeup and clothes as armor. I feel like our culture diminishes women and those choices are considered unintelligent,” Moleski said. “In this way, it’s a tactic of people trying to bring the feminine down. . . especially as queer femmes.”
“I also am interested in cuteness as a sense of armor,” she continued. “How do we make ourselves seem larger than life? Cuteness and femininity can be a source of protection and a source of fierceness.”
We’re all about this idea, and we think Moleski’s art is the perfect example of its truth. Moleski’s work is incredibly powerful and empowering — and we couldn’t be more grateful for her representation of women who so deserve to be celebrated.
For more of Moleski’s art, check out her website. Along with the work of Sheena Rose, Moleski’s work is currently a part of the “Vision Quest” exhibition at New York’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), and the gallery is well worth a look if you happen to live nearby.
(Images via Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski.)