Denae Howard, the ‘Artschoolscammer,’ Challenges Fraudulent Notions of Identity Head-on
Denae Howard’s art defies boundaries and embodies representation. Her work serves as “a testament to her existence as a Black Femme in modern day Amerikkka” – speaking directly to and inspiring those marginalized throughout the world. Howard, who also goes by the alias Artschoolscammer, is a trained printmaker and painter, specializing in collage art, art installation, painting, as well as animation. Her work speaks to those no longer interested in ignoring antiquated notions of identity. Grounded in community programming and collaborative works, the multi-talented interdisciplinary artists’ schemes function as a communal exploration of identity. Through her ability to reimagine and re-appropriate archaic archetypes – Howard urges viewers to confront social norms and order – to envision how one can reclaim and transcend positivity, despite living in an injurious system.
Howard talks breaking identity boundaries, finding inspiration, and upcoming projects.
Describe your beginnings as an artist.
Art is the way I exist. My mom has told me she remembers my earliest art discovery around 3 years old. My parents had to buy me an easel because I would draw all over their walls and tell them it was my art show. The only other profession I wanted to go into as a kid was be in the NBA. I thought I would be the first woman to play. But, I've always drawn, wrote, and created things. It’s the way that I express the things I cannot put into words.
Who were some of your early inspirations as an artist? How have they influenced your work?
After understanding my love for art and a need for a non-traditional way of learning, my parents chose to keep me in art programs and schools. I was terrible at reading and math but I was always focused in my art classes. However, Anasi The Spider was my favorite book. The illustrator is Gerald McDermott. Ezra Jack Keats, Matisse, Monet and Roy Lichtenstein were my influences as a kid artist. I admired their use of color and material, as well as style of creating imagery. I also grew up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn so stores like Moshood Creations, Four W African shop, and Ties that Bind were always filled with different colors and sounds that have stuck with me through time.
You focus mostly on printmaking and digital art. What draws you to those particular mediums?
Most of my work starts off as a drawing or photograph, that I then turn to prints of collage. I believe the playfulness and rigidity of printmaking is awesome because you want to keep things perfect but sometimes it doesn't happen that way.
How does collage art help you convey the stories you seek to tell?
Collage for me is a way of drafting or sketching. Many of my digital works now, are a mix of collage and scanned work, that's then changed and collaged again. I think it's just a process of thinking. Playing with pieces of paper to create puzzles from my thoughts.
You mention on your website that you seek to re-appropriate “negatived archetypes.” Describe the archetypes you actively try to demystify through your artwork? Why is it important for you to alter or expand on these narratives?
I like to challenge social norms. Some of my work speaks to ethics of capitalism, gun control laws, trauma, PTSD, and surveillance. I think it is the job of the artist to reflect the social state and standards of our community. I believe expanding the narrative will aid us in, understanding how to combat issue dealing with hate and or fear.
What are some of your sources of inspiration?
I feel like inspiration is everywhere. Mostly in conversation. Sometimes there are riffs or vibrated ideas in art, fashion, and media. Nature inspires me a lot. Kindness and people’s personal awareness also inspires me.
Do you ever feel uninspired? What are some techniques you use to get you through mental blocks.
Sometimes I feel uninspired and burnt out for sure. The ways I combat it is by taking a break. I write down my thoughts, goals, and visions, then analyze the things that are triggering me or forcing me to second guess myself. But generally, I rest and reset.
What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
Anything. Mostly, I would hope the work evokes an emotional response.
Your line of work can be extremely demanding and draining – mentally and physically. Do you have self-care systems or routines, that help you destress and re-energize?
I'm a pretty unhealthy artist, [laughs] but I think that comes with the territory and is something I am working on steadily. My close friends pour into me – with nurturing conversations, food and vigorously helping with meditation, for spiritual and emotional strength. Although, I think what keeps me going is my choice of creating as a survival mechanism.
What advice do you have for upcoming artists, especially women of color, aiming to improve on their art, networking, and business skills?
Write. Make lists. Set Goals. Be fearless and take your time, but have fun. If you're not having fun you're not doing it right.
What upcoming projects can fans expect?
I am working on some shows. I will be curating a group show Mar. 15, at Flux Factory in Long Island City, entitled You're Welcome. The show is all work created by women of color.
Photos: Artschoolscammer instagram & simplylemonae.com