If the aim of art is to hold a mirror to society, no one has polished a surface more reflective, streak-free and detail-catching than Halifax’s Bria Miller. A professional artist for about five years—focusing on the mediums of digital and ink illustration—Miller is out to capture the scenes and subject matter mainstream art has left behind: After all, as she puts it, “art is what captures history. Propaganda, a lot of it back in the day, in war times, or anything really: It’s all actually art, you know? So actually, creating right now is technically about [the] archival.”
The result? Fluid lines that twist and unspool around a visual style that’s informed by tattoo artistry and a love of “cartoons and weird internet things.” Colours that smack and pop like bubblegum, re-enforcing the social justice narratives her work puts forth. A world of diverse skin tones, body types and world views that populate her scenes.
Plainly put, what Kent Monkman has done for historical painting, Bria Miller will do for illustration: Remind the viewer who’s left out of the big picture by making a better one with those people in it.
When asked what art gives her, Miller’s answer is quick: “Healing and processing the world around me,” she says, speaking with The Coast by phone. “A lot of my art often revolves around themes of social justice or injustice: Empowerment for marginalized people which is many demographics because I’m Black, Indigenous and queer. So I feel like whether I’m making art for myself or for somebody else, in regards to being marginalized, empowerment for me is at the forefront.”
She continues: “Because sadly, pain and trauma is highlighted so much by artists—so I try to do the opposite as much as I can: including the reality but focusing on vitality.”
Here, she breaks down four of her most notable works—giving a simultaneous tour of her artistic practice and of what it’s like to be alive during this time:
Black Lives Matter poster
This piece is one of Miller’s earliest designs—and one that’s exploded in popularity during this spring and summer: “I’ve been making it for at least four years. For a long time, there’s been a lot of apprehension when people walk up to my table at markets—or literally people just grabbing their children away and things like that. But recently, it has so much more support than before and it’s really cool also to see so many people resonate with it and also to find their own articulations for why Black lives matter.” Miller sold out of this print mid-July after introducing variations with a floral background and a multicolour ombre background.
All versions of the poster will be available at the Taking Black Gottingen market this weekend, where Miller will be sharing a table at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street, Aug 29-30, noon-5pm ).
Stay TF Home
Miller says the response to this digital illustration—created and released when Nova Scotia was still under a stage of emergency—“has been huge.” She adds: “History has been told by the colonizers, by the conquerers, and I just feel like it’s really, really important to uplift our voices in art right now for that reason: Because 10 years down the road, I feel…the impacted voices of all of this upheaval are gonna be the most important to listen to and look back on, too.”
Welcome To My Nest
Early on during lockdown, “I was talking to friends at the time about how everyone on Instagram at the time was posting photos of their beautiful at home workspaces with their fancy-ass desk and rose gold pens and shit and we were getting annoyed: My friend was like ‘if I see one more loaf of fucking bread!’,” recalls Miller with a laugh. Here, she gives the view of her own quarantine life: “I call them clutter nests: just little piles of stuff that follows us from whatever spaces we decide to sit in or are convent in our home. I have one around my bed and one in my living room where I’m always sitting… I decided to draw the things that are around me which happened to be a tray for rolling joints, my iPad was in there, I was also journalling a lot in that time because there’s so much uncertainty.”
She calls it “a very real snapshot into my reality instead of a very polished one.”
Created during the height of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, this piece depicts local activist Kate Macdonald—based on photographs by the artists She Nubian Liberation. “Because of pandemic times, I was having a lot of anxiety about going to marches and actions and so I didn’t feel able to be there physically. And as a witchy human, one thing I’ll do is draw friends and kind of say affirmations in my head as I’m doing so. Sometimes I’ll say things I wish for them—like to be protected, or those things. So, I was doing that while Kate was at the protest,” Miller says of this untilled, not-for-sale piece. “I felt really proud of Kate, she’s a good friend of mine and I was happy to see her face and her presence be celebrated and for other people to be supporting her and what she’s doing and just uplifting the message of defund police. It was a little bit of spell-weaving to protect her but it was also a gift for her, as a reminder of her power.”