If you scroll through Amara Eke’s art account on Instagram, you’ll be met with an explosion of vibrant colors and abstract patterns along with the occasional quirky cartoon figure.
It should also come as no surprise to learn that the girl behind it all is just as vibrant as the work itself.
Amara is a junior at Penn State, majoring in fine arts and double minoring in art history and women studies. While it wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she first tapped into her artistic side and really learned of her abilities as an artist, Amara has managed to make a splash in the art world and is an incredibly promising, up-and-coming young artist.
She jokes that she first got into art because she wasn’t really good at anything else and other subjects like math or science were never her strong suit. Ultimately though, art is what she gets the most satisfaction out of and the thing she enjoys doing the most.
“I really like that you can create something out of nothing,” Amara says. “I like how art doesn’t exist before you start and that you can have this entirely different thing by the time you finish.”
Amara mainly focuses on contemporary and abstract art, describing her artistic style as one that experiments with the playfulness of color and pattern.
“I like to do cartoon-y murals, big-scale artwork and pictorial images,” Amara says. “I don’t really reference older styles. I love Renaissance art, it’s one of my favorite kinds of art, but I’m into trying to push what has already been done into something that’s new.”
For Amara, art serves as more than just her major. Art is her creative outlet and allows her the opportunity to escape into her own world.
“It’s my little happy place,” Amara says. “I like that art is kind of something that you can make up. I can create my own world and I can create my own kind of memory and thoughts with paint.”
This sort of escapism is what she hopes those who view her art will also get out of it.
“I want people to kind of suspend belief for at least a brief second and to forget about everything that is in reality,” Amara says. “I want people to look at my art and be transported into this little colorful cartoon world for just a second.”
Social media is another aspect of her art as she uses platforms like Instagram to not only share her own work, but to get inspiration through seeing what other young artists are doing. She explains that she uses Instagram to try and bridge other artists’ ideas with her own in order to get a broader scope of what is currently going on in the art world.
Instagram provides artists with the advantage of having their own personal gallery right at their fingertips as well. Amara thinks social media is a great way to reach a global audience and that having all of her artwork in one place for people to visit is convenient.
“It’s also nice to see what I can do—having a timeline of what I started with to what my art is now,” Amara says.
And she certainly has grown as an artist in the short four years that she has been pursuing art as a career. She credits the support of her classmates, teachers and parents as what inspires her to keep at it and continue to grow as an artist.
“Them believing in me is definitely why I keep doing it. I was never the best artist ever, but their support is helping me become an individualized artist,” Amara says.
After graduating from Penn State, she wants to continue learning and honing her artistry by going to grad school eventually. But first, she hopes to apply to a residency program. A residency is when an art group or art collective houses young artists and pays them to make art for the community, teach classes and integrate themselves into the artistic world of the place.
“I’m hoping to do that and kind of build my craft. I also want to find more meaning for my artwork and attach it to what I’m going to make in the future,” Amara says.
In the distant future, Amara wants to become both an artist and an art teacher like many of her Penn State professors. She explains that they all teach but have their own art career going on as well, something she says she would really love to do.
“I’d get to have the best of both worlds,” Amara says. “I’d get to do what I’m passionate about but also teach people and contribute to the greater good of society.”
Her passion does not stop at art though. Amara is also equally as passionate about social injustice, challenging gender and societal norms, and LGBTQ issues. She has been involved with Penn State’s Drag Club since her freshmen year and she is now the Vice President. She says she initially got involved with drag on campus after seeing her first-ever drag show downtown as a freshman. She had always been a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race though, so she was already very open to it, but seeing people her own age participating made her want to get involved more.
“I remember saying I wanted to be friends with all these people and now I am friends with all of those people still to this day,” Amara says.
Amara is drawn to drag for its encouraging community and its ability to challenge the heteronormativity that society pushes. Plus, drag serves as a fun and entertaining way to break up the routine of just going out to a bar.
“Drag is just so fun and silly,” Amara says. “It almost feels ceremonial, it happens once a weekend at night and everyone comes out and supports all these people. It’s just a very fun, safe environment to be in and I think we need more environments like it on and off campus.”
Amara recognizes the importance drag has not just for individuals within the community, but for society as well as it showcases queerness in a way that doesn’t get seen as often as it should.
“I think it’s really fun to mess with gender and play with it in a way that’s not super political,” Amara says. “It’s about the expression of self-love, the celebration of queerness, showcasing your art and challenging gender in a fun way.”
Even when her involvement with Penn State Drag Club will sadly end upon graduation, she says she would love to move somewhere like New York City or Philadelphia that has a strong drag culture so she can continue to support drag queens in their work.
Amara’s time at Penn State, both inside and outside of the classroom, has shaped who she has become as a person, an artist and an advocate for social justice. It will continue to do so as she goes into her senior year and cultivates her passions further.