Ashley Lukashevsky is an artist and illustrator whose Instagram bio reads, “Illustrations to dismantle patriarchal nonsense and systemic racism.” If that’s not enough to want to know more about Ashley, surely her inspiring and thought-provoking art will be. Born and raised in Hawaii, and now living in Los Angeles, a passion for social justice and advocacy has influenced not only her own projects and designs, but also the clients she’s taken on. Ashley’s always happy to create visuals for companies looking to promote social awareness as well. We’re so grateful to Ashley for taking the time to talk to us about how art can impact change, how politics and social justice has influenced her work and her life, and what we all can do. —Rebekah
Your art is inclusive, supportive, and often political. Has it always been that way, or did you feel compelled at a certain point - or by an event - to become more outspoken in your pieces?
Ever since I was a child, I loved to draw and paint women whose features were different from my own. Yet I would draw what I saw in magazines – bodies that were stick-thin and “perfectly” proportioned. Once I really started to love and embrace my own body, I began to draw women and non-binary people of all forms and sizes. I don’t feel the need to recreate images of skinny white women that we have been fed our entire lives. I would rather spend my time celebrating femmes who are not typically depicted and should be recognized.
I’ve always been a very political person, and once I began to get back into drawing (and it took a long time to get back into), I channeled my activism into artwork. After the election, I had so much pent up anger and frustration that I started to pour that into my drawing book. I had a feeling that it would resonate with my peers, so I started to post them onto my Instagram page. It started to catalyze my outspokenness and I continued to share what I was feeling in the hope that it would help others to process and feel less alone in the face of such unrelenting bigotry. I knew that in this political moment, like countless times before in American history, we need people to be fired up stand up for our own rights and the rights of those in communities who are being attacked.
Do you feel that art can impact change?
I certainly think that art can impact change! Artists have the ability and the responsibility to amplify what is true, including the voices and experiences of those who are historically marginalized. Art creates a visual compass that has the ability to shape our perspectives. If you look at the use of propaganda and the effort invested into it throughout history, you know that there is certainly political power to art and design.
What has the response been to your social justice and political pieces?
My political and social justice pieces have been met with such overwhelming support and love. It’s really been inspiring as an artist to see the positive response to what I am sharing. When the communities who I am illustrating around – for example, undocumented or trans – share my work and are able to use it to advertise their own initiatives, fundraisers, etc., they are using my art in the best way possible.
How have you specifically addressed political/social issues?
In addition to broader feminist + social justice messaging, I try my best to amplify political/social issues that need immediate political action. For example, when DACA came under attack, I started to put out a series of illustrations around protecting undocumented immigrants with directions of tangible actions to take. My hope is that people take the illustrations to heart and follow the instructions on how to take action when I provide them.
#DefendDACA piece commissioned by California Endowment.
What tips would you offer to people who want to try to do the same?
I strongly believe that the path to liberation is continuous learning — I read blogs and articles written by POC who have different backgrounds than mine that help me to expand the knowledge that informs my art and shift my worldview. I am constantly learning about how other people interact and are affected by patriarchal structures and white supremacy and this helps me to create inclusive artwork. I think that people who are creating activist artwork (and people in general) should also be always looking to adapt and learn.
How do you respond to any pushback or negativity that you receive?
I’m not well-known enough for people who hate feminists to know who I am, so luckily so far I haven’t received much negativity. When I do receive it, I check their profile to see if there is any chance to have a fruitful discussion. All of the hate I’ve gotten so far has been from faceless accounts that post hate-speech about assaulting LGBTQ and people of color. At that point, I just report the account and don’t respond. It is really disheartening to see these people who perceive the world in such a hateful way, but I always remember that it is such a small margin of people compared to the ones with love in their hearts.
How do you stay engaged when it can feel like there is so much to combat?
Sometimes I do need to take a day or two to plug out of social media and the news so that I can focus on my mental health. It’s important to remember that the fight for justice is a marathon, not a sprint, and that your own mental health is crucial to affecting change. It’s okay to step back and do what you need to do so that you can regain your strength. It also helps to follow incredible activists like Shaun King, Linda Sarsour, and Deray McKesson, to name a few, and learn from their actions and direction.
What do you see yourself doing next? What would be the best thing you could hear from someone about the impact your work has had?
I see myself continuing to create and experimenting with new mediums. I want to be creating murals and larger installations. I will always keep creating, because there will always be things that need to be said in the face of this administration and the structural racism and misogyny that America was built on. The best thing that I could hear is that my work encouraged them to learn more about social justice issues and take action in their community.