It was only a week ago that we learned the identity of Nia Wilson, the 18-year-old girl who became another victim of senseless violence after she was stabbed and murdered by a man, who has now been identified as John Lee Cowell, in a Bay Area train station.
Her sister, Latifa, who was also injured in the attack, was left only with the memory her sister being viciously stolen from her by white privilege and then publicly persecuted by mass media.
The violent deaths of black Americans flood our timelines, as these visualizations have become a genre of porn in this digital age. The images that we consume on social media alone are horrific enough to trigger PTSD in our already fragile mentalities. Nia's death is proof that black lives are at stake, and senseless violence does not discriminate.
Oppression is officially mainstream, but there is one warrior of justice whose mission is to incite change in our social and political landscapes through an unlikely method.
With a pen in her hand and passion in her heart, 25-year-old Kaylani Juanita seeks to use art as her weapon of choice on the tumultuous battlefield of injustice that we encounter every day as black women. The California native recently came into the the spotlight after her illustration of Nia Wilson went viral on social media.
The young artist hopes to continue to use her art to tell the stories of those who have been otherwise silenced, most importantly, black women. "I wanted the illustration to portray Nia as young, innocent, vibrant, and warm because that's how I saw Nia when Latifa spoke, that's how I view little sisters. It's my response to people who've warped Nia's image with misleading pictures of her, as if certain photographs justify the murder. I wanted to use Latifa's quote to remind people of Nia's humanity, and to remind people that Latifa had to defend Nia's dignity hours after Nia was murdered," Kaylani told ELLE, "Black people shouldn't have to constantly defend their humanity, especially in situations like this. We should say her name, Nia Wilson, and we should tell her story."
xoNecole had the opportunity to talk with the young visionary about the inspiration behind her melanted illustrations, as well as her identity as a biracial artist and why our voices are necessary to the conversation about the future of our country.
Kaylani told us that she was barely out of kindergarten when she discovered her affinity and lifelong passion. She said, "I've always loved art. My mom said I used to draw on the walls if she didn't keep an eye on me. I don't remember when I actually fell in love with illustration. The earliest memory I had was in the second grade. I had to draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I drew a very detailed colored pencil drawing of myself as a police woman with very curvy hips. I remember not wanting to be a police officer, but really enjoying drawing myself as one."
Creating visuals that represent and amplify the voice of a generation was not always Kaylani's vision for the future, but during her college career, she realized that it was necessary. "I went to school for illustration and my program focused on editorial art," she told xoNecole, "Most of my class assignments consisted of reading a political or science article then creating a mock editorial illustration for the article. Currently, I spend most of my time making art for picture books, which has to be child-friendly. But I make time to illustrate personal art about political topics".
The inspiration behind her socially charged artwork comes from her own life experiences. Kaylani shared that one of her biggest challenges has been overcoming depression and anxiety as a biracial woman in predominantly white professional spaces. It became her mission to fuse her bold and playful artwork with important political statements.
Kaylani was able to combine her passion with her purpose, and says that her art is dedicated to empowering others and allowing them to feel represented. She said, "I illustrate different types of black women and children because there's a very visible lack of us in mainstream art (comics, graphic novels, cartoons, picture books, editorial illustration, advertisements, surface design, posters, etc.) Growing up, I consumed a lot of these things but never saw myself in them unless it was tokenized representation. I want black people, specifically black women, black lgbtq+ folk, and black children to see themselves when they see my art."
"I want black people to see themselves when they see my art."
Although her mission is not one that's easily accomplished, improving the social landscape for minority groups is a challenge that Kaylani has accepted with honor.
The artist told us, "Artwork is important to our political climate as WOC because it's easily accessible and a great tool to help spread a message. You can add your perspective through aspects like the style, or medium, or composition. Plus, it keeps the person and their story in circulation, which helps us remember people and maintain their relevance. Whether it be an illustration of a civil rights leader, or an illustration of a deceased loved one, it's always good to make art to prevent us from forgetting who they were and how it relates to now."
"Artwork is important to our political climate as WOC because it's easily accessible and a great tool to help spread a message."
If we don't remember our history, it will always repeat itself. Kaylani and other women who use their art to incite change are catalysts for progression in an oppressive society.
The young illustrator is proof that when our passion and purpose merge, we have a chance at making the world a better place, one piece of art at a time.