"I endeavor to create a narrative art that addresses human and political struggle. In doing so, my aim is to convey the true stories and experiences of oppressed people from political movements in ways that more broadly form, shade and convey the individual and collective injustices they face. Their personal evolution, political activism and experiences as political prisoners are my inspiration. Political prisoners are activists who so challenge the prevailing status quo that they have been biasly charged or falsely convicted and sentenced to serve time as an example to the general populous and as a way to stigmatize and criminalize a movement.
I begin my work on a specific figure by first researching and educating myself, which includes reading autobiographies, watching documentaries, participating in efforts and events that support the subject’s political efforts and writing letters to them as well. I start each painting on a background of black gesso. Starting from black is a conscious artistic exercise and statement on my part which represents opposition to my art education at institutions that molded an earlier belief that art had to begin on a surface that was ‘pure and white’.
My art is a tool to bring people from different ethnicities, social statuses, beliefs and backgrounds together to educate them and develop a dialogue on who the individuals in my portraits are, their significance and why their struggle is relevant today. They have been intentionally excluded from mainstream American History. Their stories must not be forgotten." - Sophia Dawson
Sophia Dawson is a Brooklyn-based artist who discovered her gift after painting a portrait of her father while studying at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music, Art and Performing Arts. At that very young age of sixteen, she witnessed that her work moved and touched people from all walks of life.
Sophia soon participated in Groundswell, a non-profit arts organization, as a teen volunteer in their afterschool program and had the opportunity to direct her artistic skills towards shedding light on different social justice issues by designing and creating large-scale murals. The mural projects she participated in transformed various spaces throughout the borough. She took on a leadership role among her peers and was soon asked to join Groundswell’s team of professional artists. Her work there informed and inspired her role as a teaching artist at various arts organizations throughout New York including Artistic Noise, Bailey’s Café, BRIC Arts Media and, the Lower East Side Girls Club.
Fifteen years later, Sophia continues to develop her craft as a visual artist and muralist for justice work. In the series and mural titled, Every Mother’s Son (2014), she highlights mothers from the past and present who have lost their children to police brutality and racism in the United States. In another series on the Central Park 5, her objective was to raise awareness of and gain support for their suit against New York City. In Sophia's, “Know Your Rights” mural located in Harlem, she worked closely with members of Picture the Homeless and Peoples’ Justice. The mural was painted during the summer of 2013 with over 80 volunteers from the community. In 2015 and 2016 she worked with Amnesty international to develop a mural that focused on individuals who are politically incarcerated on an international scale. The mural was a part of the organization’s annual Write for Rights event which encourages tens of thousands of members to write letters in support of these individuals throughout a day of advocacy.
Although Sophia works independently as a fine artist, she often returns to her first love... teaching. In 2014 she stepped out of her comfort zone by joining the Artistic Noise team. Artistic Noise works with teens who are in or transitioning out of the juvenile justice system. Last year she had the privilege of leading workshops for adolescents ages 16 and 17 who are detained at Rikers Island. Each workshop provided the space for her to bring her creative process to the classroom while simultaneously allowing youth to voice their feelings towards social justice issues of their choice. The amalgamation of subject matter within her personal work and work with Artistic Noise lends to a full circle experience for the artist.
Sophia Dawson is currently a resident in the Whitney Independent Studio program. There she will study theory and practice with curators, writers and Whitney staff throughout this year as she continues to develop work. Her aim is to grow as a professional artist and arts administrator.