Oakland Youth Artist Daria Belle Shares Her Artistic Process

an image of an African American girl smiling while holding a poster drawing that she created
Artist Daria Belle poses with one of her poster images inside the RBA Creative in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Daria.

Daria Belle exhibits her social justice and politically-themed art around the Bay Area, such as her recent participation with Artivate’s “Feminism Now.” The 16-year old high school sophomore lives in Oakland and attends school in San Francisco.  

“Feminism Now” was the theme of the exhibit at the Haight Street Art Center, on view until January 23. Belle explains, “The project is focused on public art, screen printing and social justice, so the first installment was called ‘Heroes of Unity,’ both our heroes and other people’s heroes.” The youth interviewed community members and made screen prints based on peoples’ quotes. The teen artists  then printed the artwork and quotes out and gave away prints around the community for free.  

Born into an artistic family, Belle notes.“I’ve just been doing art since I can remember, so it’s  just always been a part of my life.” Her father, Randolph Belle, and her mother, Erica Wright-Belle, a former dancer, co-own RBA Creative, an art co-working studio in Oakland. Belle is a visual artist.  “I usually work in the digital realm online. I find it’s more practical for me and the art that I do. I like very clean lines and I like bold colors.”

a blue and pink women next to each other who look fierce on a painted poster
“‘My Difference Is Not a Rebellion’ talks about how the art of expression and going against ‘the norm’ is so taboo and hard for people to talk about. Just because I may identify differently than you does not mean we must fight; we are all human.”
an image of an African American girl smiling while holding a poster drawing that she created
Artist Daria Belle poses with one of her poster images inside the RBA Creative in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Daria.

When Belle is not working on projects for Artivate, a youth mentorship art education program based in San Francisco, which is a paid, seasonal internship, she notes that “most of the time, I just pick up the pen and just start drawing, and whatever comes out, comes out. It’s more about the medium for me to express my feelings or whatever’s going on in my head at the time. But when I’m actually focusing on something, it’s usually for stuff like Artivate. The subject matter is like feminism and social justice in general.”

In terms of “feminism,” she said she is “mostly focusing on empowering people; women who don’t all look the same, because feminism is usually focused on Eurocentric view. I just want to expand it to ‘feminism is for everybody,’ not just one type of person. It’s definitely for transwomen, Black women, everybody. In terms of social justice, immigration is also an important theme.”  

Her interest in social issues has impacted her artwork. “It used to be making art was mostly just for pure pleasure. Most of the time it’s for work (with Artivate) now. But when I actually get into making something, it’s when I see something in my head, and I’m not going to be happy until I get it out on a piece of paper. It’s like something I feel like I have to do.” 

Considering the role of the artist in society, Belle doesn’t feel she is quite there yet. “Right now, where I am with my art, where I am from a community standpoint, I don’t think I personally have that much influence right now, but from a more philosophical standpoint, I think art is just made to make the audience think in a way. Obviously we can’t control what the audience is going to like, how they’re going to interpret the piece, but the goal of it is to make you think.”

Among her favorite works by other artists is the work of Hung Liu, an art professor at Mills College until retiring in 2014, who passed away last year. Belle explains that Liu “was most prominent for her work around the Chinese immigration into the San Francisco Bay Area and her experience as an immigrant coming from China to America. I like not only her style, but the messages around her work, like representing the under-represented, like workers and a lot of the women who came here. I really like her work.” It is easy to see Liu’s influence on her subject matter and artistic style, such as her images featuring women proclaiming their independence, individuality and determination to be unapologetically who they are.

a black and white art piece of two Chinese women "The Wings That Spread"
The Wings That Spread Seeds is an original piece of artwork by Daria Belle. The Wings That Spread Seeds is talking about the relationship between an immigrant mother and her first generation child. This is paying homage to the late artist Hung Liu and her portraiture work, highlighting women, and the underrepresented.

Belle’s interest in Liu’s work is connected to her interest in China, which she visited in 2019 as a 7th grader at the Yu Ming Mandarin immersion school in Oakland. For inspiration, she looks up various artists online. “Usually when I’m just doodling or I want to draw something but I don’t know where to start from, I go online, and there’s a couple of artists that I just watch. Either they have videos or they have ‘draw-alongs.’ I just watch those videos and I like hearing them talk about their work.” 

Considering her future options as an artist, she notes, “I would love to make an animation, because I have access to basic animation programs and I’d love to make a basic animation with my current art style. I’d  also like to do a mural.” 

In terms of her future studies, when she graduates from high school in 2024, she has been considering the possibilities. “I’ve been thinking for a while about it and I really want to go into  architecture, city planning, urban planning. I really like historical preservation. I see it as permanent art.” 

College is still a few years off, but she is looking at Stanford. “I’d really like to go to design school. Right now I’m in contact with a few people at Stanford, because I know that they have the D-school there.”

Going forward, Belle continues to create art. “I think mostly that I’m not the best at talking. If I’m trying to really express something, I just usually draw it out. It helps me deal with growing up and stuff. It’s like writing in a diary; it’s just another medium that I use.”

a black and white line drawing of a woman with a lot of hair that says "I will be loud"
“‘Stand Up and Be Loud’ is about not waiting for anyone else’s approval to express yourself. It’s not right that we are looked down on for trying to demand what we deserve.” – Daria Belle

Author Profile

Debora Gordon is a writer, artist, educator and non-violence activist. She has been living in Oakland since 1991, moving here to become a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. In all of these roles, Debora is interested in developing a life of the mind. “As a mere human living in these simultaneously thrilling and troubled times,” Debora says, “I try to tread lightly, live thoughtfully, teach peace, and not take myself too seriously.”

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