#Arthoe: The Teens Who Started a Feminist Art Movement | Art and design

Art Hoe is a new online movement encouraging people of color to embrace art, creativity and visual literacy. Search the term on Tumblr or Instagram and you’ll see color-block outfits, scribbled selfies, black fashion icons, queer couples, hypercolor backdrops, blaxploitation posters, and super stylized selfies. #arthoe poster kids include Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg, stylist Rian Phin, illustrator and musician Jenelle Lewis and rapper Babeo Baggins.

Mars, a 15-year-old gender-fluid artist (and contributing photographer for popular teenage website Rookie), is one of the co-founders of a movement whose name is as much cause for offense as of celebration. Mars argues that is precisely the point. “‘Art hoe’ or ‘art ho’ is a term used by me and my co-founder Jam to empower and uplift participants of color in this movement,” Mars tells me via Skype. “Hoe” is AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and is normally a derogatory way of referring to women – especially black women – as women of mores, in the male gaze. Using the term arbitrarily diminishes its harmful origin in light of something better. Mars speaks like this throughout our conversation — half college, half teenager, swinging between the language of intersectionality and LOL slang.

Towards the sea… one of the #arthoe works on Sensitive Black Person. Photography: Sensitiveblackperson.tumblr.com

For a movement with such a supportive ethos – Mars and Jam try to reblog every submission they’re tagged in – why did they choose such a potentially offensive name?

“‘Hoe’ is derived from whore, which was used against sex workers,” Mars explains. “Then ‘ho’ was claimed by black people, and over the years it’s been used so loosely that it’s become trivialized. I have a lot of friends who strip, and they’ve picked up the word Like, ‘You’re a whore.’ ‘OK, I’m a bitch.’I’ve never heard ‘art ho’ without the ‘e’ outside of my group of friends, but now I’m thinking out loud how controversial and contradictory that is. The term was coined by Babeo, founder of the rap group Barf Troop – @BabeoBaggins on Twitter – and adopted by Jam and Mars to bring together images that touched on their interests: queer culture, gender, identity politics and visual art. It was, says Mars, “a space for people like us” – the proud outsiders who want to express themselves through art.

True colors… a shot of Sensitive Black Person.
True colors… a shot of Sensitive Black Person. Photography: Sensitiveblackperson.tumblr.com

But they’re not the only ones using #arthoe. “He was co-opted by this little group of skinny, frail, white girls,” Mars says. “To belong to their group, you had to have a $100 backpack, a $20 Japanese sketchbook – bullshit like that. When this caught my attention, we started to fight back and identify as a movement. The white girl version of Art Hoe was, according to Mars, offensive and exclusive in a way that it never was. “It felt really classist – that you had to have that certain level of wealth. Jam and I are broke. It hurt me, because I don’t have an income like that – I can’t go buy an expensive DSLR. My mom bought me a camera for $70 on Amazon and it was a lot for us. “People tried to use the ‘angry black person’ stereotype when I called them about it; telling me it didn’t matter. But it was a big problem. People of color are often denied artistic ability, or the things we bring into the world are stolen by white counterparts. I never wanted Art Hoe to be like this.

Some feminists will still resist the use of a sexualized term like ‘ho’, even if it is to reclaim it. Does Mars identify as a feminist? ” I’m a woman. If you’re a woman of color or a woman in the LGBT community, you have more on your back, basically. It’s not just sex for you. One of those pressures is, of course, academic achievement. Mars is, I remember, still at school. “When my parents split up, my mom became a single mom and a lot of the focus was on my academic achievement.” Mars wants Art Hoe to be more than just a hashtag followed by a teenager. “I focus on making people happy,” says Mars. “To tell people of color that they can do whatever they want. Art can change the world. Art is a kind of propaganda. It triggers a reaction in people. Hopefully it can trigger something later that night I get a direct message from Mars via Instagram. It’s of course just this 🙂

Christopher S. Washington