Alexis Williams on Activism Through Art

words by Helena Hatje Rocha de Barros

illustration by Abigail Estrada

Nineteen-year-old Alexis Williams, the Editor-in-Chief of Pluto Magazine, has been around the world of art for as long as she can remember. From middle-school classes and high-school sketches on composition books to The New School where she’s currently double-majoring in Integrated Design and Visual Studies, Alexis is immersed in creativity. She used to write her own fiction and print it so she would feel like a legitimate author. Alexis spent her childhood dreaming of becoming a New York Times writer one day and sharing her stories with the world.

Legitimacy has always been a big part of her life as an artist, and before she started college, Alexis felt like she didn’t have access to the resources necessary for her to express herself visually in art. This ended up leading to feelings of hesitance and insecurity. All of these emotions contributed to her growing belief that vulnerability and honesty through art are immensely important. She feels that by sharing her experiences she is undoubtedly contributing something unique; the way that her art touches different people gives her the courage and clarity necessary to reaffirm and recognize her space in the world of art.

Alexis strives to build a less divided world when it comes to racial and social status. She feels like the obsessions people have with beauty stereotypes and wealth are retrograde, unhealthy, and rooted in racism and prejudice. Alexis believes that the world of art has historically been within the domain of upper class white men, and that true potential of people of color is still hidden between layers of white-oriented pieces, that completely fail to represent diversity. The fact that we hardly see black art in metropolitan museums is the mold she's pushing against.

The inherent barriers and prejudices in the art world used to discourage her, leading to an imaginable amount of self doubt. She experienced this most intensely when she considered pursuing a degree in fashion design; Alexis realized the many of her fellow qualified and hard-working artists of color weren’t being recognized purely because of prejudice.

She believes too, that sexism still plays a huge role in the modern society, regulating the amount of credit and visibility women are given in the world of art. Although she grew surrounded by encouraging and engaged people, Alexis feels like she had always had some kind of knowledge since very early age that women aren’t treated the same way that men are just because of their gender.

To Alexis, intersection between creation and activism is the answer. Art is a portal to an experience of empathy, where one can learn to view the world in another person’s perspective and relate to their own experiences with that; activism is a literal tool to fight for the change we want to see in the world. By combining those two devices, it’s possible to create a junction of the vulnerability that lies in an art form, and the force that comes with activating towards a common goal.

Nothing would be possible without the inspiration of other people, Alexis for one, takes motivation ranging from the strong women in her close circle of family and friends, to artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Kerry James Marshall. From those inspiring people she started gaining the confidence that led her to have her work published in Élan Literary Magazine, Helen Literary Magazine, and the Santa Clara Review. Since then, her collage art has been featured in-group exhibitions in Florida.

Despite her various areas of work, she found her true passion in visual art and magazine production. This led her to one of her biggest projects: the developing and running of Pluto Magazine. Pluto Magazine is a place where people of color can share their work and voices, empowering these artists and fighting racial injustice head on. It originally started as a final project for one of her classes at Parsons, when she started to collect artwork from her friends and fellow POC artists. From there, the magazine started growing until she had a full website set up and a whole community of contributors. Alexis says that she always had had the dream to start her own magazine one day and the fact that Pluto Mag is rising is incredible.

For aspiring young writers, Alexis advises to trust themselves more than anyone, to make it so your artwork is something that you enjoy and are happy to claim. Because if art is meaningful to you, it will be meaningful to someone else.

And you never know who is watching.