The Humbling Matter of Collective Work & Action, with Sage Adams & Anajah Hamilton of Art Hoe Collective
Written by Paige Labuda, Allie Monck
Sage Adams and Anajah Hamilton are two of seven curators at Art Hoe Collective, founded on Tumblr by their friends Jam and Mars over five years ago. Art Hoe is a submission based platform, amplifying the work of queer BIPOC creators to nearly 100k people on Instagram, working with brands to highlight those voices, and hosting and curating in-person art shows in the past years. Anajah is a singer, model, and dancer, along with being a curator. Sage is a visual artist who has collaborated with brands such as Converse and put out an incredible degree of work, and started out as a highly followed One Direction blogger on Tumblr. They are now SZA’s creative director. Both are incredibly multi-faceted individuals, and zoomed with us in early June to discuss their experiences growing up on the internet alongside their collective.
Sage Adams: Our initial ethos was centered around the creation of a community of color surrounding art - a not-so-small niche that we saw was missing from this huge online art movement. Making sure that Black people and other non-white people are represented in those spaces, the idea is not to just have our foot in the door but Each One Teach One.
Paige Labuda: Can you talk about the process of choosing who you feature and the curation aspect, both the personal and collective sides of that work?
Anajah Hamilton: When we first started the collective it was a lot about having everyone be seen. Everybody that submitted to us, we tried our best to post them and show off their work. We [now] try to look at what it is about their work that we see is going to be a good addition to the platform. Is their work speaking not just for themselves but for other people that are looking at the page - is their work something that we agree with?
SA: We don't need to sacrifice the quality of the art that's going on the page for the fact that it is people of color submitting. I think that's a huge aspect of what we do. When you're a curator there's a lot of trust that's there - I wouldn't ask anyone to submit to Art Hoe if I didn't know that there are people sitting behind a screen reading all of their words and trying to interpret what they say, to understand who they are as artists. This is a platform that's been up for like five years now. The fact that we even still get submissions is really something. It's a humbling responsibility.
PL: Do you each have specific focuses within the larger role of curator?
AH: We do. Sometimes we pitch in and help each other. As a collective, we started when we were all so young. Lately we've been melting our responsibilities into one pot and assisting each other with the curation. Sage has taken on the role as the leader and getting us all back on track.
PL: We (STP) definitely agree and understand that we're in the earliest stages of that same boat. Do you think that your curatorial stance has changed as a direct result of the growth of your platform and audience?
AH: I think it's changing overall because we're getting older. When we first started in the collective we were in high school and using the internet in such a reckless and chaotic and exciting way. Now we try to be careful and have intention with our posting.
AH: We want to truly assist the people that submit to us and give them the space to be seen rather than over-saturating the platform. Is this person going to get enough traction if we post them? How can we reintegrate them back into the process of being seen? As curators we've gotten so much publicity for being a part of the collective, we want to be able to give that to people that submit. It's not about us.
SA: It's about creating a sustainable system, a system that feeds itself. Every time we put up a post it should have equal or greater amplification of a voice or knowledge that is needed. When someone submits, we see their work, we like their work, we continue to engage with that person or those people so they can really be a part of our community
PL: It's responsible content creation to some degree, propagation with the larger audience and effect in mind, rather than just the aesthetic.
Allie Monck: One of my professors has always said that collaboration is a queer mode of operating. I was wondering what you all think about that and how queer and trans voices have impacted the work that you all have done?
SA: Art Hoe is the first place I've ever had my pronouns respected or had any sort of discourse on gender that wasn't traumatizing or offensive. It has helped me affirm the fact that this is a real thing and there are people who look like me who feel this way. Typically the trans community is whitewashed and pinkwashed - you're only seeing the really high lipstick feminine trans people. A diverse form of representation coming through submissions allows for discourse and for difference. People have this tendency to make things look pretty so that [others] can read about them and accept them. On Art Hoe, while we do make things look pretty, we don't pinkwash - we embrace the various spectrum of colors that come with unrest and art and discourse. It is clear that that is our personal ethos, which is really cool for me as someone who's non-binary. To not have to enter a space that's inherently feminist and think wow I don't belong here because everything is pink.
PL: How do you further that ethos onto the digital platforms where Art Hoe exists?
SA: You just have to be aware of the systems you're engaging in. If I'm aware that this algorithm is not intended for the spreading of positive Black ideas, that it is more intended for the spreading of videos that will cause trauma etc., then I'm going to make sure that I am posting at a certain time where I know that this voice will actually be amplified. I'm going to use the tools of my oppressor to empower my people. If they want to choose to use those tools to attempt to oppress me then that is their burden. Every day I learn more about the systems that I can engage in to try to amplify these voices.
AM: Watching both of your Instagrams as well as Art Hoe's page, I wonder if you have ideas around the roles artists can play within social movements? Especially in this present moment to support the work going on and abolition as it continues.
SA: Nina Simone said An artist's duty is certainly to reflect the times. A lot of people are starting to understand why that's so important. Five days ago, I posted a poster the Black Panther Party had made almost 40 years ago, and it still has relevance. People long for aesthetics even in the worst of times. People need things to visually make sense to them in order for them to effectively pass on information. [For] people with sight, that is our main focus and how we best gather information. When I see all of these posters, etcetera, all I can think is these will hopefully not have to be relevant in 20 years, but if they are how do we make sure that they survive and how do we make sure that they're explained and how do we make sure that these things are properly credited? It is clear that art has a place in the revolution, and we know that because of works of art that have survived previous revolutions.
AH: The only way that we can go through with having a new future is through imagining it first. I think that as long as artists are paying attention and using their voice to better the movement, we can only have a good outcome because we're the ones that document what's going on.
PL: There's this idea that in times of relative peace artists make work about utopia whereas in times of unrest artists make work about the microtopia - considering and making work for a world that is much more tied to reality while working to create a progressive future. Framing Art Hoe in that context, where do you see your own trajectory headed, and how do you envision the work that will occur?
AH: We all try to stay as present as possible. Because of the pandemic and the unrest within our communities with police brutality right now, we're doing a lot of grant work and trying to give back to the people that have made us who we are. I see us doing more of that and being able to financially assist people who don't have the tools and accessibility to not only further create what they want but to take care of themselves. A lot of times with artists of color or people who come from disenfranchised communities, they use their very last to get what they can, whether it be food or art supplies. If there's any way that we can help them, we're trying our best because we've been given so many opportunities to sustain ourselves. I feel like before we weren't thinking about that - now we're trying to refocus on the collective, not only with submissions, but also with how we can have people be heard.