In a creative landscape dominated by whiteness and limited diversity, one illustrator has carved out a space for black women by representing them on Christmas cards, prints and badges. I caught up with Dorcas to chat about the rich diversity within blackness, being featured in Essence magazine, and how to avoid living in a bubble.
“You know how there’s always that creepy person staring at you on the train? Yeah, that’s always me,” discloses Dorcas. She explains the motivation behind her work, which celebrates and normalises the sight of everyday black girls through art. “I’d always think, ‘aw, she’s got a nice smile’ or ‘her hair is really cute’ so I just started drawing it and it kind of developed from there.”
However, the 28-year-old artist doesn’t just stop there as for her, it isn’t enough to just draw one or two black women and call it representation. Part of her drive is derived from the desire to show the diversity that can be found amongst black women themselves. “I feel like when I was growing up, there was always this feeling that you have to be a certain way to be black and especially now, there are so many people who didn’t have voices that now have a voice. I just want to show the shy black girl, the black girl who is into indie rock, the black girl who is into hip hop, just everyone.”
Despite feeling ignored when she first started out, Dorcas discovered a wealth of support within the community of creative black women. “I’ve found that a lot of the opportunities I’ve gotten have come from other black women which I see as us supporting and encouraging one another because we all know how difficult it can be,” she says.
In Dorcas’ case, doing illustrations for the goody bag of a black networking event led to further opportunities, including working with Black Blossoms, a collective seeking to empower black women, and being featured in the 2016 Holiday Gift Guide of Essence Magazine (widely considered the lifestyle bible for many black women). “I don’t know if I’ve processed it properly yet, like how huge it is. When they contacted me through my Etsy story it was 3am. I rolled over, read it and thought ‘oh, cool’ and went back to sleep. Then I woke up in the morning and was like ‘shit!’”
This just reflects the importance of Dorcas’ work to other black women and how powerful it truly is to see yourself on the front of something so commonplace as a greeting card. “There was a little girl one time who came up to me with her mum and was like, ‘Mummy, that looks like me when I’m older!’” laughs Dorcas. “It’s just really interesting how people see themselves in the drawings which is really what I want. I would never want anyone to ask ‘why don’t you draw enough dark-skinned girls? Why don’t you draw enough light-skinned girls?’”
The artist’s desire to use her work to continue to positively impact the lives of others can be seen in her hopes for the future. “I don’t just want to be a business person and I’d really like to do some scholarships and offer help to people,” she says. “Finance is a huge barrier, especially for women of colour in the art world and I think it would be nice to offer a little helping hand and eventually internships, if I ever hopefully get that big. No matter where you’re at with things in your life, you can still help someone.”
It’s Dorcas’ last words of advice to any women of colour in the arts that really struck a chord with me; “don’t compare yourself to other people. That’s another thing I had to learn a lot this year.”
She admits this to me after describing how social media and the early success of others can lead to feelings of inadequacy. “If you keep making comparisons, you’re just doing yourself a disservice because there’s no way that any two people will have the same journey in life. You will experience success at different points and hindrances at different points. You just have to keep going.”