The portland observer, JAN 2019
"Creating Social-Justice Themed Artwork"

"The exhibit of 20 works at the Education Department explores issues of racism, transphobia, immigration, gender identity, disability and suicide, all through the eyes of young artists who say they are seeking understanding, empathy and dialogue. More than anything, they want their voices heard in a country in which they often feel pushed to the boundaries."

“'Right now, I feel like I’m not being heard and a lot of young people are not being heard,” said Okamoto, 18, a senior from Portland. Okamoto, who is Asian American, describes herself as an activist artist and is a member of Black Lives Matter. Her work, she says, is focused on “racialized violence, particularly on victims of police brutality.'"

"Okamoto said that showing her art at the agency is a way to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise see her work or might disagree with her positions.

“A lot of injustice is happening in our society, and that’s especially prevalent in the Trump administration era,” Okamoto said. “So for me, I’ve created a lot of pieces that I’m not afraid to say are in direct opposition to a lot of the rhetoric that is being spewed by the current administration.'”

"Eighteen-year-old activist and US Presidential Scholar in the Arts honoree Ameya Okamoto will be showing at YoungArts’ own gallery space on the mainland, part of a standalone show featuring 20 YA alums. “Invest in their work [here], before you see them at one of the blue chip fairs in the future and kick yourself,” Toomer says, citing superstar Daniel Arsham, a 1999 alum who’s now showing at Art Basel. Given the quality of her work, which focuses on her identity as an Asian-American woman and her marginalized peers, expect Okamoto to be at the big show herself in the coming years."

He was a 17 year old. I was 17 at the time, actually. I had been working with Black Lives Matter Portland, very closely, but realizing how close to home it was....within 36 hours, I had created a piece which had gone a little bit viral,” Okamoto told the Portland Observer.

“We ended up having it printed and given to his family at his memorial. And to have that experience of being with his family and with his community, it kind of made me realize the power that art could bring,” she added.

That piece spurred more artwork surrounding the theme of social activism and Okamoto came to the realization that such portraits are a positive alternative to the outdated and incriminating mug shots that police often release to the media in officer-involved shootings.

“It was amazing to me and opened a lot of doors to realizing the potential of fine art in activism,” Okamoto recalled.

"'I grew up in New York City and my mom had me and my sisters pretty young," she says. "I'm the product of a single parent household. I'm the middle of three sisters. I've never lived in a house, I've only ever lived in apartments. My upbringing was triple bunkbeds. My parents divorced in 2007 and we moved to Portland, Oregon, the whitest city, from New York City. That was extremely jarring coming from a place where I grew up surrounded by people of color, adventuring around Chinatown, going to MoMA and The MET. Suddenly I was in the whitest city in America facing racial threats. I got a scholarship to a private school and was the only Asian in the classroom. My whole life has been about rejecting Asian culture but also feeling so curious and feeling like I was denied it.'

Since her involvement with a middle school anti-bullying campaign, Okamoto's accolades and involvements have been countless. She's a suicide hotline operator in her free time, a position she decided to get involved with because of her own struggles with mental health. She's also a visual artist, photographer, and filmmaker. She was recently named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, is a three-time gold medal winner for National Scholastic Art & Writing competition, and is a YoungArts Finalist in Visual Art.

As a recent winner of the US Presidential Scholar award, Okamoto is going to Trump's White House — a trip she doesn't take lightly as an opportunity to continue her political protest, saying, 'I'm going to the White House and I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I want to do something. A lot of the academic winners are like, 'This is not the time to protest,' and I'm like 'It is always the time to protest! Everything I do is inherently political because I'm a person of color, because of who I am and where I'm from and what I've done.' The bar is so low to be controversial as a person of color.'"

- Vrinda Jagota for Paper Magazine

"Okamoto, who moved to Portland from New York City at age 7, said the switch to living in the whitest big city in America was jarring. She credits her mother with nurturing her strong commitment to social justice and racial equity. No longer in contact with her biological father, Okamoto says she grew to view two gay men in Portland as her father figures. That helped spurr her first activism, on LGBTQ issues when she was in middle school, she said."

- Betsy Hammond for The Oregonian

"The Tempest: How has being a woman of color shaped your experience living in Portland?

AO: Being a woman of color in Portland, it’s very obvious that I am different. Portland is a very white city. It was really hard for me when I was growing up, and even now, I have consistently been the only person of color in class and the only person of color at the lunch table. But I take ownership of my identity. As Asians, we are “in between-ers.” We are between black and white, between complicity and freedom, in between the conversation of racial justice. I would love to see more Asians in racial justice because they are so in between these spaces."

"The Tempest: What sort of art do you do? And why do you do it?

AO: I am a visual artist. I am an artivist (art activist). Art is my medium of protest. Artists are the disrupters. Artists are the change-makers. We are the ones who call out the truth in the world. As a visual artist I think it’s important to create art that conveys messages that I want to put out in the world. I want to break through language and cultural barriers. I want to move people."

- Grace Wong for The Tempest

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Copyright © 2018. Ameya Marie. All rights reserved.