Hamilton

Hamilton artist prints t-shirt series of black cultural icons

A Hamilton artist who screen-printed limited runs of 12 t-shirts honoring black icons, one a month in 2016, will display the series Friday night during January’s Art Crawl.

Art show and dance party serve as kick-off for coalition of local artists of colour

Artist Stylo Starr wears her t-shirt depicting Sly and the Family Stone, artwork she titled "The Holy Stone." (Mouthfullofstars/Instagram)

A Hamilton artist who screen-printed limited runs of 12 t-shirts honoring black icons, one a month in 2016, will display the series Friday night during January's Art Crawl.

The show at Centre(3) on James Street North is timed to coincide with a funk dance party at nearby This Ain't Hollywood, serving as a launch for a relatively new group of artists of colour in Hamilton. They're known as COBRA, the Coalition for Black and Racialized Artists.

"My lens is always on black culture, black heritage, black creativity," said the t-shirt artist, known as Stylo Starr.

"We have so many t-shirts dedicated to the Biggies and the Tupacs, which is great," she said. "But I really wanted to highlight the people who wouldn't necessarily be on a t-shirt."

Starr, born Samille Elliston, is 30 years old and said she sees space and support for artists of colour lacking.

"We're actively looking for more black and brown spaces in Hamilton," she said.

That's where COBRA comes in, a network of artists banding together to support each other. Kojo "Easy" Damptey, a local musician and anti-racism activist, highlighted Starr's work and other artists of colour at CBC Hamilton's "Made in Hamilton" event last fall.

Made in Hamilton: Local artists you may not know yet 6:48

The series is called Duodecim Vestimentum, crude Latin for "twelve shirts," and each shirt was available for one month of 2016.

'It's been a springboard'

The series features art Starr made using shapes and textures with found images of famous and not-so-famous people ranging from Michael Jackson and Mr. T to Bette Davis.

Davis was once married to jazz star Miles Davis, and is a funk musician and writer in her own right, but isn't as well-known.

For some of the more famous artists, Starr found the shirts gave her an opportunity to start a conversation with people who saw her wearing it.

"It's been a springboard for conversation about what they did," she said.

Take Mr. T, for example. Starr found inspiration in the actor's choice to wear a traditional African Mandinka warrior hairstyle, and learned about deeper meaning behind the actor's trademark gold chains.

"That's why he wore the gold, an ancestral connection to the people," she said. "It's cool that I can start those conversations."


Event details:

Duodecim Vestimentum: "#theStylo12 is about paying respect to Ancestry, both recent and far removed; and keeping their fire alive within."

Opening reception: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Centre(3), 173 James Street North.

Dance party: Music by DJ LP (Luc Peters) and performances from special guests. Doors open at 9 p.m. at This Ain't Hollywood, 345 James Street North. Cost: $10.