In honor of International Women’s Day, we talked to Jheyda McGarrell, an artist, activist and curator for Art Hoe Collective: a creative platform for and by artists of color to reclaim their own identities, bodies, and art for themselves, on their own terms. The submission-based Instagram account is a movement; intent on dismantling existing power structures within art and culture that have historically appropriated and festishized the culture and bodies of POC by offering a platform for black and queer artists. At 19, Jheyda possesses a kind of wisdom to her that has been earned, navigating through finding her own identity and creating space for others to do the same. It’s not often you meet an artist who is so self-possessed and driven to inspire change, so we’re excited to shed light on artists like Jheyda and communities like Art Hoe Collective. If you don’t already, follow them on Instagram! Read our interview with Jhedya, below. 

Today is International Women’s Day, can you tell me what that means to you? How will you be celebrating?

To me, International Women’s Day means celebrating all the women and femmes in our lives that serve as inspiration for us to remain persistent in our fight. More specifically, I think it’s important to highlight the forgotten women who have been erased from our histories such as the trans women of color who fought at Stonewall, the black womanists who taught feminism to Gloria Steinem, the hard working immigrant mothers who have raised first generation children like myself and so many others, and all women who do not receive the credit they deserve. I hope this women’s day we move away from the Cis White Feminism so often revered in white media. I will be celebrating by extending my support to women everywhere and celebrating the femmes who care for our world. I also will be supporting the strike, A day without women, remembering the intersectional thought that not all women have the privilege or accessibility to take the whole day off work.

Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement in Art Hoe and how that came to be?

I am currently one of the photo and film curators, alongside Mars, I also am in charge of organizing the New York sector of events. My involvement in Art Hoe began with me as a contributor. I submitted a photo of my best friend Mwiza Rudasingwa, her dark skin juxtaposed against a pink fur with tears rolling down her face, and a crown falling off her head. I took the photo when I was 17 because I was tired of the colorism and negative stereotypes against dark skinned women that promoted the idea that dark skin is undesirable and wanted to rebuke this evil stereotype by picturing dark skin as dreamy and beautiful, this photo has come to meet the world to me. From there, I worked with their page and developed a relationship with the different curators and one day they asked me to join them.

Art hoe, as well as your personal work is to me, an example of a necessary force to dismantle a lot of the existing power structures that fail to portray the real black/queer/female experience, so kudos to you! Can you share any cool/important stories or voices you have come to know through your experience in your own art and through the collective?

Thank you! I agree. One of the most important intentions behind my work, is to push towards positive representation of these marginalized groups and promote other POC towards representing their own stories and not being whitewashed or pushed towards linear stereotypical views of our communities. I grew up in a very white and republican environment, through Art Hoe, I have come to know many empowered and free spirits, who have worked on me to provide insight into the realms of acceptance I had not previously known. A cool experience that really instilled the core values of our collective in me, was our time together at Afropunk. Most of our members live in different areas all over North America and many of us were able to come together and interact with people who believe in our message and support us. Working in the Art Hoe tent, I got see the community that we have brought together of young queer POC artists and it really astounded me. These people who have come to us to share their experience and let us teach each other different world views, have influenced me so heavily. Their voices I hope to continue to seek to represent and uplift.

Given that you aim to provide a platform for people of color, non-binary and/or queer, mostly women, is there ever a concern that someone’s personal experience will feel misrepresented? What is the vetting process like for the artist submissions to make sure it fits within your guidelines?

This hasn’t really been a concern since we stress the importance of marginalized people telling their own stories and representing themselves. An important factor of community to remember is that everyone’s experience is different, yet our collective oppression brings us together. If marginalized peoples are representing themselves, we remove the middle man from the art experience and provide people with more accurate accounts of experiences. Our guidelines are fairly relaxed, we only ask for: age, ethnicity, pronouns, and a short artist statement. We try not to have content restrictions (limited by instagram guidelines) because we do not want to limit the experiences people feel able to share. If a submission follows guidelines, it is then up to the curator of that day to choose which they are attracted to/ inspired by/ etc.

The Art Hoe Collective is often referred to as a movement, how does it feel to be apart of a movement? Now that you have an audience and you’re apart of a larger community, do you feel like you have a responsibility to represent your peers? What’s that experience like?

It feels amazing. I believe right now, we are in a Black art renaissance and it feels incredible to have the opportunity to be apart of that. Queer POC youth are the future and I’m so honored to be apart of a group actively working towards illuminating that thought and empowering youth that have been told that we will never be good enough. I stand strong in the conviction that we must live our lives as examples for others and empower others through our own power and carefree blackness, queerness, etc. Existence is resistance, and when others see POC, queer people, femmes, etc enjoying their lives and flourishing in our own sense of self, they are pushed into action and questioning their own sense of self. Also I don’t feel a responsibility, but more of a desire to always positively represent my communities. This experience proves difficult at times, yet when overall the constant thought lingering in the back of your head is the liberation of your communities, you find renewed power to continue the fight.

You’re also a photographer, tell us a little bit about that and what message you hope to send with your photography.

I started taking photos and making short films at a very young age, around 3rd grade my best friend and I started to steal my parents cameras to have photo shoots and make movies. As I got older, my interest in photographic arts grew stronger and I began to realize the importance of documenting my life and experiences as a black/mexican person and how my world interacted back with me. As I am only 19, my style is still so young and ever-changing. I hope to maintain the constant pursuit of empowerment and positive representation of marginalized groups in my work. I hope to make a lasting difference in what people believe has the ability to be beautiful and appropriate classical images with POC, queer and fat bodies. I also largely participate and believe in the power of documentary photography. If we are not documenting our communities and the beauty surrounding our everyday lives, we forget the humanizing property that photography/ video retains.

What artists are inspiring you right now?

Right now, as always, I am inspired by my amazing friends, I have been really lucky to have found myself surrounded by incredible young black artists. The members of Art Hoe have become my best friends and family and inspire me to continue to grow and help other youth of color pursue their art dreams. Other artists that are inspiring me, are all the black celebrities taking a chance and releasing work that may not gain them overall popular favor, but empowers our communities. Artists of different mediums like Jalan and Jibril Durimel, Solange, Ephraim Asili, etc have been inspiring and empowering me with images of black pride and the beauty of black cultures and people.

What do you believe is the role of the artist in our current political climate?

I think the role of every artist, especially in our current political climate, as Nina Simone said, is to reflect the times. I genuinely believe if we are not providing insight into our experience through our art, we are doing ourselves a disservice and really retain no actual purpose in the art we are making. By observing and analyzing the political and socioeconomic climates of our surroundings, we are making our world view more whole and providing those who enjoy our art with a more complete analysis of the times. In an art scene, where artists are focused solely on a world inside their own head, and not taking in and reflecting the world around them, we loose all the power art has given us to influence others and sway them towards progress. These statements are not as to discredit surreal or originative works, but to push other artists to really reflect on the intention they create their works with. I believe intention changes works of art completely. Artists who are informed and aware create art with the intention to empower, inform,  etc. By finding intention in empowerment purposes, we are avoiding mindlessly creating content that retains no value other than aesthetic purposes/pleasures.

Through your work and through interviews I’ve read, it seems you have such a strong self-awareness, both as an artist and a global citizen, how did you cultivate that?

I think a large part of my awareness has come from the different environments I have been in and the different people’s experiences that have been shared with me. I have moved through different spaces where my identity has been seen as invalid and incorrect. My own coming of age has been represented by isolation and finding the power to live through it and the drive to create community so others like myself will not have to experience a lack of sense of belonging. These motivations have created a mental space of extreme self awareness and knowledge of how my actions and art influence others. I believe we can continue to cultivate self awareness.

How do you see Art Hoe growing legs beyond Instagram – are there IRL conversations and meet ups happening? What’s in store for the future of Art Hoe Collective?

Art Hoe is extremely excited to carry our work into physical spaces. A few months ago we had a conversation on Standing Rock and seek to do more events like this. Our next event is a reactionary art show, in response to the election on March 25th at Playground Coffee Shop in Brooklyn. We want to work with community spaces and bring DIY community events to fruition. Art Hoe would love to emphasis community events as we grow, because we hold a strong belief in the power of community and having a positive environment where we queer POC can congregate and spend time with like-minded individuals.

Photos by: Landon Speers