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Drawing “Summer Vibes” by Emily Tanis ‘22.

Uplifting the LGBTQ+ community through student art

“When I’m feeling at my lowest, looking at my drawings of me and my friends together reminds me that things will get better again,” said Emily Tanis, a junior majoring in Gender and Women’s Studies and Social Work, and a member of UMBC’s LGBTQ+ Student Union. 

These words serve as their motivation behind the creation of their digital art, much of which surrounds their identity as a queer person. 

Interestingly enough, Tanis was aware of their queerness before they ever discovered their love for art. “I was eight when I first became consciously aware I liked girls. It took some time to come to terms with the fact that I only liked girls but I’ve identified as LGBTQ+ in some way for over half my life.” It wasn’t until age 11 that they developed their “obsession with anime,” which resulted in spending hours upon hours attempting to recreate the various characters they saw on TV.

But digital art wasn’t Tanis’ initial medium. They used to spend copious amounts of money on art supplies, “…but it got very expensive especially for something I do mainly as a hobby,” they stated. Later on, they were introduced to the Procreate app on their younger sister’s iPad, which allowed them to perfect their coloring as well as different techniques such as inking. It was also more cost-effective, as “[the] digital medium had a lot to offer without [them] having to go back and build up my arsenal of supplies.” 

As time progressed, Tanis began to experience more conflict relating to their sexuality and began using their art as a coping mechanism. “When things feel out of control or like I don’t completely come to terms with a situation I will sit down and start drawing whether it’s small doodles or large pieces to help me see a bigger picture it often helps me refocus and reflect,” they stated.

Though Tanis’ art may not always center their queerness, elements of sexuality are always present in the pieces they create. When discussing the inspiration behind their “Polaroid Series” where they redrew photos of moments of them “at their highest” they stated, “My queer identity is always at the core of a lot of those pieces even if not explicitly shown because it’s such an important part of my identity and a part that has had such a big impact in my growth as a person and in making my own happiness.” 

And while Tanis’ art is created from a place of personal struggle, it is also important to them that their work brings joy to those who view it. “I want people to feel happy and maybe even nostalgic when they see my work. I hope to uplift people in my community by showing scenes from life that are not tragic moments because as a queer person I think we see a lot of those in history and in the media. I hope above anything else to highlight joy in my work and how that joy comes as a result of not despite things like my queerness,” they said.

Article by Siju Oshin.