By Dilinna Ugochukwu
As a 15-year-old scuba diver, computer science lover, activist, and environmentalist, Danielle Nelson (they/them) wears many hats. They incorporate several of these interests into their artwork, which features themes of social justice and environmentalism.
Nelson started creating art from a young age and eventually began taking classes in and out of school, which helped them further their talent. Although they are still developing their art style, they aim to “make art that’s memorable… that you think of even after you’ve seen it.” Nelson enjoys playing with light and dark colors to create stark contrasts, as well as incorporating bright eye-catching colors into their pieces. Their art is dramatic, experimental, and expressionist: taking inspiration from one of their favorite artists, Vincent Van Gogh, they put special care in adding texture to their paintings.
“It’s so cool to see my vision come to life” when creating artwork, Nelson says, “and it’s also really exciting to be able to share that vision with other people.” They particularly enjoy using art to share messages and create positive change around topics like sustainability: “I think that there are a lot of problems with the environment that people have created. And I think it's very important that we take ownership [of these issues] and try to make a difference.” One way they have raised awareness of the climate crisis is through a piece depicting the different ways that people engage with water around the world. This painting, which highlighted the unequal access to clean water, won the “We All Rise” Prize as part of the Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Contest.
Nelson also uses their artwork to raise awareness of social justice issues. They enjoy shining “a light on historical figures who have not gotten the recognition they deserve.” For example, they are making a painting of Claudette Colvin, a Black woman who refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus when she was 15, and was arrested as punishment. Although Colvin’s arrest happened much earlier than Rosa Parks’, the latter is the person most of us think of when it comes to protesting racially segregated buses. Nelson chose to highlight Colvin because they believe everyone deserves to be recognized for their work
Beyond creating art, Nelson tries to directly support Black artists: “I follow them. I try to promote their videos. I encourage them because I feel like a lot of times Black artists, and POC artists just in general, aren't as celebrated.” Nelson notes that artists of color normally do not reach the same level of fame as their white counterparts. They recalled going on a trip to the Museum of Modern Art and noticing a distinct lack of Black artists. “I think there’s something to gain from having different insights from different cultures and backgrounds,” they said, “because all together you can get a global perspective.” They believe museums and other art institutions should make sure they feature a diverse group of artists so that people of color feel welcomed.
Nelson wants young people to support other artists of color, just as they do, and keep creating, “even when other people tell them not to.” They want BIPOC youth to know that their art is beautiful and worthy of recognition.