Artist Spotlight: Maliyah Bernard (@MaliyahMadeThis)

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Maliyah Bernard was born and raised in Kitchener-Waterloo and is a recent graduate of UW’s Master of Arts program in English rhetoric and communication design. Bernard now works as a content writer at a local company called Axonify.

Despite being a writer by trade, Bernard picked up digital art at the beginning of quarantine and created an Instagram account called @MaliyahMadeThis. The pandemic brought out a new desire to create visual art, and it has been a creative outlet that ensures a balance between work and home life while she works remotely.

The events of the last year have pushed Bernard to think more critically about the art she creates and the voices that may be left out of certain narratives and spaces. 

“As a Black woman, I’ve always cared about this, but my passion for diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism has grown exponentially since the reignition of the Black Lives Matter movement last year,” Bernard said. “My work went from small, abstract paintings and drawings to trying to make sure people that look like me are fairly represented in this digital art trend.”

Right now, Bernard is most influenced by her diversity, equity and inclusion work. In her style of digital art, Bernard said few artists take into consideration that there are skin tones, hair types, body shapes and genders missing from their accounts and how this impacts their audience. 

“Representation normalizes the fact that this is what our communities actually look like,” she said.

Bernard creates her pieces using an Apple pencil and the app Procreate on her iPad. “I’m a big pen-to-paper type of person and I feel like that helps me get a bit of that even when creating something digital”, said Bernard. 

Her favourite part of the artistic process is sharing the final product with the world. Before publishing, she makes sure to credit the photographers, models and artists that inspire her work. Sometimes, she catches the eyes of the influencers and poets that she illustrates — creating her account has allowed her to connect with these creators she admires in a way she wasn’t able to before. 

Bernard mentioned that one of her favourite pieces of work she’s done is a digital illustration she made of influencer @niathelight on Instagram. 

“She was the influencer that showed me how important embracing your natural curl pattern and features—including acne—can be for your self-confidence and wellbeing,” Bernard said. “After discovering her in my undergrad, I kept my hair natural for a full year and had never felt better about my self-image. I think her mission and mine are very similar in this way.”

The local art and small business communities in KW are also sources of inspiration for Bernard. “These people motivate me to keep creating, which is really important as someone who has felt burnt out before,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have taken on many commissions and I’ve even been able to donate a portion of my funds back into our community.”

Bernard also said she hopes that people are able to see through her work that there is more than one type of beauty. “It’s empowering to see people that look like you being celebrated and recognized, and it’s something I especially want my younger siblings’ generation to see all the time so they know they’re appreciated.”

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