Don't Miss The Empowering Message Behind Shantell Martin's Whimsical Drawings

It's no surprise that Shantell Martin's enchanting drawings have inspired a boundary-breaking career. A collage of exquisitely wobbly lines and long, ponderous faces, her work reads like a playful challenge to the seriousness — and pervasive inequality — of the traditional art scene. "I always thought [being an artist] was reserved for very lucky people or rich kids," she says in the R29 video above. "Growing up mixed-race in a very racist, homophobic area was an initiation out into the world." Shaped by her childhood spent in Southeast London's projects, her work radiates with the same curiosity and freedom that emboldened her to pursue art as a career, despite her uncertainties about being an industry outsider.

Martin's tenacious battle cry to open expression up to new voices and perspectives lives neatly in the simple question, "are you you," that recurs across her whimsical black-and-white canvases. It's a vigorous call to action to her audience, reminding them to forge their own identities and beat their own paths forward, regardless of daunting circumstances. And her advice to young creatives rings with this inspiring belief in the artist's dynamic power to influence positive change. As she says, "Don't wait for anyone...use what you have access to."

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