Antoinette Thomas is a Brooklyn based multi media artist that works as an illustrator, painter, and pyrographer (also known as wood burning). For the artist, being able to experience representation of Black people outside of a lens of oppression and strife, is imperative. Thomas aims to build a world of works that normalizes the image of Black people and celebrates their bodies, experiences, and culture. Thomas joined Redefining Our Womanhood Founder, Kailyn Lynch, to discuss the ever-changing process of self-evolution, self-narration and self-care.
KL: I really want to know more about you're coming into you becoming an artist. How was this journey coming into this? AT: I've always done art. I was always creating and drawing. My parents thought I was going to be an architect, or do something involving design. My interests shifted to painting, and that was shaky territory because my parents didn’t know what kind of income I could generate from that. And it's not like they didn’t believe in me, but it’s natural to worry for your children. Coming from Caribbean parents, it's hard to picture your child making money from art. And since there aren't a lot of people of color, especially Black people making a killing at it; it's even harder to imagine. It's like becoming an actress or a famous singer, practically one in a million. But regardless, art was always my path. KL: Did that did that ever scare you growing up? Not seeing people that necessarily look like you; did that deteriorate you, or leave you leaning towards something more practical? AT: My parents never told me not to pursue art. They were always talking about securing a plan B, but they were cool with it. Even when they were worried. I think I was surrounded by a lot of blind optimism to the point where it really seemed like it was going to happen for me. I didn't know when, and I figured I was going to struggle a lot. But it didn't seem like there was another way, you know? So, I never really thought about a life where I didn’t make art. KL: That sort of confidence is powerful and defining. AT: I think I suffered though, because of that confidence. Sometimes when you know that you have talent, and you feel like you're at a certain caliber, you think you can put out very little work, and get recognized for doing the bare minimum. I wondered “why aren’t things happening to me now? I'm so talented”. But in reality, I wasn't putting out enough work to garner that kind of attention at the time. I was upset and couldn't understand why people I found to be mediocre were getting so much attention. But they were working more than I was! They were clocking in the hours and posting regularly, So yeah, I was definitely brought up with a lot of confidence, but I let that blind me at times.
Artwork by Antoinette Thomas KL: For people of color as artists or creatives, you often hear people who struggle with imposter syndrome and not feeling adequate. So, it's really rare to hear a Black woman artist, like yourself saying, I know I'm the shit. I know I'm talented. That's something I really want to see; Black people to step into, and feeling comfortable in. I think that is what makes you so unique. I wanted to touch on this world of social media and being an artist. Do you feel that a social media audience impacts the way you put out content, or even the content that you do create? AT: I sometimes feel nervous, because there are more eyes on me now. And I have come to have many white followers. There was a reaction that came with the Black Lives Matter movement where suddenly white and non-Black people are just catapulting themselves into Black spaces, trying to get information. I’m grateful for the following, but at the same time, it feels like I'm being consumed. I question what non Black people do with the insight I’m providing. Do they show off to a friend what they have learned? Did they just want to seem smarter than a co-worker in a conversation? I don't know. KL: If you had the opportunity to talk to say anything to your white audience, or those who identify as an ally to us, what would it be? AT: I would say thanks for being here, respect the space that you're occupying, and don't just put this all it in your pocket. Don’t keep this information in the back of your mind where you hoard random facts. You have this knowledge, but somehow everyone around you is still acting a mess? If the message is not being spread, I don’t feel as though I have made an impact.
KL: I think we're all kind of struggling with that. You touched on before in a previous conversation, but a lot of your work is very much personal and political. For a lot of Black artists, there's this expectation that your work must be political in order to be worthy or deemed worthy. Do you feel that is something that you have internalized? AT: Making art is a form of rebellion, because it's not what is expected of you, right? It just lets me know that every facet of Blackness is a rebellion. Breathing for us is literally a rebellion. Everything you do for you, yourself, your friends, your family; is a rebellion as a Black person. They expect nothing of value from us; or they don't expect us to be anywhere at all. There is always an opposition, because whether it is us just being pretty, minding our business, or talking about racial issues, it will always be political if it has to do with Black people. It's a heavy weight, because even if you just want to hang out and play, everything we do can be dissected. We can't be ourselves without it being seen through or understood through a white lens. But a white lens will never validate us as humans, so it’s up to us to keep creating for ourselves and our communities. KL: Your mentioning of rebellion makes me think of your art not necessarily serving as an outlet for your mental health. So often we hear artists using their process for self-expression, but that's not what this is about. How do you position and see your artwork? AT: I use a lot of metaphors to explain things that are going on with me. And that's what my comic strips do. I'm writing it down and pointing out something I feel. It’s almost like a map. So, I know what is happening, because I can see it and point it out. Does this make me feel better? I'm not sure. But when I see the comments, and people explaining their experiences with it, it makes me feel a lot better. I know then, that it's not just me experiencing these things, and that’s somewhat a relief.
Artwork by Antoinette Thomas KL: What would you offer for the people who maybe are struggling to align with that kind of self-love? Getting through this part of the process? I think we're all trying to navigate this hump of our twenties. AT: Find some kind of schedule for yourself. Once you get yourself into a routine; even if it’s a daily five-minute stretch and making sure you’re eating regularly, or showering. That’s something I try to do before I have to sit in a chair working all day. Start with something manageable, and know that you’re doing the best you can. For me, there will be days where I skip a few meals, stay up until 4am, then wonder why my problems seemed to be extra terrible that day. Outside of my emotions, my mood is deeply controlled by how much sleep I get, my food intake, and basic necessities. If I can sleep, eat, and shower, sure, I will attempt to draw as well. But do what you can, and try not to be too hard on yourself.