point and shoot

dawn okoro

texan based artist, dawn okoro, creates fashion inspired works that both stun and provoke the viewer. her oil and acrylic paintings explore sexuality, pop culture and individual identity. dawn chats with i.t.a. about sexting, empowerment and leaving law behind.

check the dawn okoro gallery

hey dawn, welcome to powder. your bold fashion/pop culture inspired paintings have certainly caught our attention… we think they’re utterly stunning.

i’d like to firstly ask how you approach a new piece… how does the inspiration come to you and from there what is the process you undertake to produce the work?

I have enjoyed flipping through fashion magazines since I was a child. I love fashion and even took design classes while in college. I am very influenced by fashion photography. Once I get an idea that I'd like to pursue, I set up a photo shoot. The model comes to my studio, and I photograph her in different outfits and poses. I use photos to guide me in painting.

you state that you use self-reflexivity, a process of critically examining experiences around you, to help shape your painting. how specifically does this process work and how does it influence your pieces?

Much of my work has mirrored myself and the masks that come along with it. I invite the viewer to observe those masks. One manifestation of a mask is materialism. At some point, I became intrigued with designer labels. A few years ago, I had collected a bunch of counterfeit designer handbags. One day, I saw them in a pile in my closet. I decided to have a model pose with all of them to emphasize the ridiculousness. That led to my painting, "Bag Girl."

your works are influenced by the world of fashion. do you find this world encouraging or are you making a critique of it? is fashion art as far as you are concerned?

Fashion is definitely art. In some ways my work is a critique of the fashion world, especially the type of models used. In other ways my work celebrates the beauty that I see in fashion.

your pieces display women in powerful poses, painted in bold acrylic and oil colours. do your paintings empower women and if so how do you believe they do?

My barometer for whether my paintings empower women is based on feedback. Some women have told me that they like the works that feature powerful poses because they find them to be positive. So often women are portrayed as weak and dependent. Some African American women have told me that they feel empowered by my works that feature black women with natural afro textured hair. That look is not typically celebrated in the media.

you’ve taken shots from fashion magazines and used the poses from these pictures for your paintings; when you’ve produced your works you’ve changed the features of the women in the originals. specifically you’ve altered the appearance of the subjects so they are of african descent giving them features such as the afro hairstyle. are you making a specific statement by doing this?

Although I am moving more towards using my own photos as a source, I have definitely used pre-exisiting magazine images in the past and may again. I have changed some of the white figures into black figures because it is not something that I typically see.

do you believe there is an underrepresentation of women of african descent in the fashion industry as a whole and if this is the case do you believe this situation is changing?

I do believe there is an underrepresentation of women of African descent in the fashion industry. It seems like the industry only makes room for a few black girls at a time. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

you grew up in texas and have since based yourself in new york but your ancestry is nigerian. has your nigerian ancestry influenced your painting resulting in a difference in your work compared to that of other contemporary artists you see around you?

I did grow up in Texas and I lived in New York for a while. I am currently living and working in Austin, Texas. Although my birth father is Nigerian, I was raised by my American black mother and step-father. So I didn't have much exposure to Nigerian culture growing up. As an adult, I have made attempts to seek out that side of my ancestry. For example, I have incorporated Igbo tribe patterns into some of my works. I have never been to Nigeria, but I hope to go soon because I do have family there.

which artists and photographers would say were your greatest influences when you were starting out and also who inspires you today?

I have always been influenced by the heavily published fashion photographers even before I knew who they were. Early on, I was influenced by David LaChapelle and Steven Meisel. In recent years, I've discovered the wonderful works of French photographer Guy Bourdin. On a recent museum trip in Austin I found myself intrigued by some of the 18th century European portraiture. So I may experiment with works in that style. I have also been influenced by poet Audre Lorde. I would like to find a way to make words like hers visual.

a project you undertook was titled selfsploitation, it examined the phenomenon of ‘sexting;’ people texting and posting sexually suggestive photos of themselves on cell phones and social media sites. what prompted you to undertake this project and what did you discover in undertaking it?

A few years ago, when cameras with phones became more popular and social media was growing, I started to notice a certain behavior. A lot of people seemed obsessed with taking photos of themselves. But some people seemed to use this medium as a means of sexual expression. I wanted to find out why. What I found was a number of reasons. Some people were trying to impress a lover. Others were simply looking for attention. Some women found the concept of posing nudes on the internet empowering. They say it's a way to take agency of themselves.

there was a scandal that broke out surrounding the selfsploitation series regarding a photo of anthony weiner’s bulge. could you describe what happened to our readers?

A married New York Congressman decided to send sexualized pictures of himself to a young lady on twitter. Somehow those images were released to the media, leading the scandal. Weiner ended up resigning. I was working on my Selfsploitation series at the time. Although I knew men also engaged in sexting my project focused on women. I thought it was a great time to create a work of art based on one of the Congressman's racy text messages. I like to create art that sparks conversation, and people were definitely buzzing about the Weiner scandal.

you were a law student but your life has taken a turn into the artistic realm. what inspired dawn okoro to begin as an artist and leave law behind?

I went to law school because I was afraid to pursue art 100%. I was afraid of failing as an artist and being left with nothing. But once I finished law school, I realized that I had to be true to myself in order to be happy. There are definitely struggles that come with being an artist. I have even had to re-prioritize what I want as an artist. As long as I can create pieces that I can enjoy and that others can enjoy and talk about, I am at peace.

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