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Tressa Thomas



What does your artwork represent? Does your art represent something about you?

I am a mission-driven artist who values process as much as product. I believe the creative process can be a site of healing and identity-formation, and am most fulfilled as an artist when I am able to create with and for my friends, family, and communities.

I have engaged in different forms of creative expression all my life, from singing to comedy to poetry to painting, because art has always given me the space to cultivate and shape my identity and my values. My immediate goal is to continue developing my skills in various disciplines though the completion of an MFA program and continuing my independent practice. In the long term, I aim to apply my skills to help my communities develop their own creative practices.

Who are your biggest influences?

My biggest influence in my creative process is my community. Conversations with friends, quotes from family stories, and color palettes from the plants in my yard all seep into my work visually and thematically. In this way, my work always feels like a collaborative creation, an ongoing dialogue between my community and my canvas.

When we looked at your social media it was clear to us at Latinx 4 Social Movement that you’re a staunch advocate for social justice issues, why are you drawn to this subject?

People look at media as a reflection of their reality. When I think back on my childhood, all the movies, TV shows, and magazines that filled my days, I am struck by the limited world view that was and is reflected in popular media. Maleness and whiteness dominate our cultural landscape, and present the norms we are expected to measure ourselves against.

It took me until college to realize that I was missing from this picture, that the realities of my friends and my communities were not part of this landscape. While art was always present in my life, I began to understand it as a powerful tool in reclaiming narratives made invisible by mainstream American culture. Immersing myself in the works of artists like Kehinde Wiley, Soraya Zaman, and Amy Sherald, I learned that creating images - creating art - can be an act of rebellion. Using visual culture to elevate narratives rendered marginal against a backdrop of white heteropatriarchy can have the power to liberate. It can connect you to a collective narrative, broaden your sense of what is possible, and enable you to radically rethink the future of your community.

Social justice doesn’t feel like a silo, but rather a framework through which to create. This knowledge has given me a sense of urgency in my work; when I create anything, I feel it needs to serve a purpose beyond the aesthetic.

What has been your biggest challenge in your personal life and how has it affected your art?

There is a long history of mental and physical illness in my family, and my artistic practice has helped me reframe and contend with these challenges.

I lost my mother to breast cancer at an early age and have spent a lot of time wondering what she was like and what my life would have been like with her in it. It’s a response that depends on imagined narratives. What was she like at age 12? Age 25? What would have she been like when I was 12?

In an attempt to answer some of these questions, I created a ‘collage kit’ for the Nearness Project. A collage kit is a collection of images, textures, colors, and shapes that are intended to be cut out of paper and reconceptualized as a unique collage. Titled “Wisconsin, 1974,” my collage kit stitches together photos, colors, and words from different phases of my mother’s life. My collage kit as an invitation for others to make new narratives from the scraps and pieces of my mother’s life; the process is both collaborative in nature and highly personal.

I found this process extremely therapeutic, allowing my mother’s memory to feel more whole, more three-dimensional. “Wisconsin, 1974,” is published at nearnessproject.com and adolescent.net.

What was your biggest success?

A recent success has been designing t-shirt graphics for Dykon Apparel, a clothing line for masucline and queer women and non-binary folks founded by Kaitlin Schrieber, a long-term friend. For the logo, Kaitlin and I decided to pay homage to the daikon radish; the t-shifts depict a cartoon radish with a masculine, edgy style. Designing a wearable piece of art has allowed me to think more deeply about identity and representation. I am thrilled to be a part of Kailtin’s vision and cannot wait for the brand launch in November. You can find out more about Dykon Apparel at dykonapparel.com.

Tell us about any current projects or causes you want our readers to know about.

The Valley of Change in Los Angeles is a grassroots organization that has been protesting in front of the Sherman Oaks Galleria every day since May 31st 2020, the week that George Floyd was murdered. Protesters are on the same corner every day from 12-8pm, rain, shine, smoke or smog, holding signs and encouraging folks to vote. The Valley of Change is also running community cleanups, food drives for the homeless, and vigils to honor the lives of those who have been killed by police. I encourage anyone in LA to stop by and show them some support!


You can find out more at valleyofchange.org




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