Agnes Waithira (sophomore) shares a birthday with her greatest inspiration, Michelangelo. Working primarily in vibrant acrylics, Waithira’s paintbrush seems to know no limits. Her art graces both canvases and walls, a recent project recreated “The Creation of Adam” in charcoal on the ceiling of her quad. Waithira moved to the Bronx from Kenya when she was 15. Amazed by the fervent political movements around her, Waithira became inspired to use her artwork as a platform to tackle vast social justice issues ranging from racism and feminism to the United States’ relationship with the rest of the world.
Waithira’s enthusiasm for art began when she was a young girl. Though paints and art classes were expensive, Waithira continued to create. Her grandfather would make paint for her using flowers, leaves and even dirt, and she often used tree branches as paintbrushes. When she moved to the United States, Waithira became attracted to landscapes painted by Bob Ross and taught herself to paint in a more classical Western style. As Waithira engaged more with the disparity between Kenyan and American social issues, her work became more political.
“I went from making landscapes to making pieces that are very personal to me. Last year when I came to Oxy, I started making political paintings. The movement inspired me to start,” Waithira said.
Last year during the AGC occupation, Waithira saw students of color around her using speeches and song to articulate their narratives as people of marginalized identities on campus. Waithira drew on her own experiences to fuel her work.
“I decided to express how the movement affected me and helped me become aware of my blackness. I wasn’t aware of being black until I came and I heard about how much the African-American students and students of colors were struggling,” Waithira said.
Her most recent painting depicts a black woman crying gold tears nursing a baby who Waithira intended to resemble Donald Trump. According to Waithira, the woman depicted represents the original people of Africa, Asia and South America. Waithira explained that the piece reflects the United States’ dependency on foreign countries and that such a dependence drains the richness from these countries. Such issues were especially important to her after the recent presidential election.
“I was thinking about all these issues and how I could represent them in a piece. I put everything on the canvas. And when I was done, I sat down and cried,” Waithira said.
Waithira’s artmaking process begins organically. She works mainly in acrylics because their quick-drying nature allows for fluidity and changes in her vision as she moves along. She explained that when she begins a piece, she does not have a formal idea of what the finished piece will look like. Her process starts with a single wash of color. From there, she pieces together more colors until she is inspired to bring them together into a shape or maybe a face. She tends to use bold colors like pinks, blues, oranges and yellows in an effort to catch a viewer’s eye.
“I like to have colors that draw people to the painting, and once they’re there and look at it, they begin to analyze it and see the meaning behind it,” Waithira said.
According to Waithira, every painting tells a story. Each brush stroke and color choice adds to the artist’s message. She hopes that her audience will take the time to analyze and reflect on the stories she tells in each piece.
When Waithira is not in the studio, she can be found in the biology lab. She recently declared a double major in biology and studio art. Her love of art blends into her interests in biology, especially concerning the issue of mental health. Waithira uses painting as a form of therapy and self-care and hopes to use her talents to help others who are struggling with their own mental health. One of her aspirations is to travel to an orphanage in Uganda and create therapeutic art with children who have been ostracized from their communities due to their mental health. Her goal is to bring communities back together through art.
“I want to see if I can use my art as a way to reconnect people with their community and family,” Waithira said. “If there is a way to use my art as a way to bring people together and help people understand each other better, that’s my dream.”