• Class of 2017: Anajah Hamilton

    With eyes ahead to the new year, we brought together the fresh new faces that are challenging the status quo. Artists, activists, and musicians, our Class of 2017 is forging the path ahead with hope and optimism.

    Versed in the art of speech and debate, 19-year-old Anajah Hamilton uses her voice to amplify marginalized voices around her. We talked to Anajah about her work as a curator for Art Hoe Collective, her forthcoming music release, and her hopes for 2017. 

    Age: 19
    Occupation: Curator, Actor, Singer
    Sign: I was born on a Libra, Scorpio cusp
    Senior Superlative: Weirdest 

    Photo by Logan Jackson

    Who is Anajah Hamilton? 
    I am a leader. In all of my friend groups, I'm kind of like the one who sets the standard most of the time. I used to do public speaking in high school. I guess I'm cool. I don’t want to put that on myself, but I get told that a lot. I’m a singer. I used to dance. I want to continue with that. I model. Who am I? What am I? I guess I’m just… I’m a thinker. I think a lot, and I observe a lot. I guess that’s who I am. 

    What kind of public speaking did you do? Speech and debate? 
    Yeah, I was on the debate team. I was director of debate. I helped teach others how to speak. I won 11 Best Speaker Awards. I studied Speech and Political Communication at Stanford for a month. And then I went to Princeton and I studied Leadership and Politics. We would have to make bills and we would have to lobby for certain things, make legislation. We studied different things. We would go to Washington every year and we would debate on social justice, women’s issues, and issues for people of color. Different issues that really take a hold on society today. 

    Photo by Logan Jackson

    Was that your first opportunity to engage with these issues? 
    Growing up, being a girl, I would just notice these things. But it was my first time actually being able to speak on it, in a safe space. I started really learning about all of these issues online through Tumblr and blogging and stuff. And then I would read a lot. My family celebrates Kwanzaa, so I would learn what it is to be African-American. But growing up, I would pick up on things and think really hard. Some things just didn’t look right. And when I got to high school, I thought, “Well, I guess I could try to use my voice to make a difference and teach others about what is right and what is wrong in our society and our country.” 
    How did you first get involved with Art Hoe Collective? 
    A lot of my mutuals and I all had our Tumblr blogs at the time. My friends Mars and Jam, Mars lives in Florida, Jam lives in Canadathey were like “We’re going to make a collective.” This rapper Babeo Baggins had coined the term “art hoe,” like “I like art, but I’m also a hoe.” And then Dazed Magazine did this piece on the term “Art Hoe” and the movement. And then we made it a collective. 

    I do the performance art portion because I sing and dance and I act and I go to college for Music and Theatre Arts. I post the different submissions and I help with the Art Hoe tent at Afro-Punk. 

    What do you see as the goals of the organization? 
    I see our goal as being a way to continue to educate people on why people of color or other marginalized groups should have a safe space and a proper platform for them to showcase their artwork. When I go to art museums or galleries, I really don’t see people of color or their artwork showcased as much as the work of white men. Like Paul Gauguin and Van Gogh. They’re awesome artists, but it’s not unusual to see other people showcase their art. I see Freida Kahlo, I love her, but it feels like she’s the only one, you know? I want to go out and see more art being recognized. 

    I’m into music, and I know that most mainstream music is not inclusive. Let’s say with hip-hop or rap or pop music, there aren’t a lot of Asian people or Indian people being recognized for their work. And I think that the Collective is shining a light on how society views people of color and their artistry and their originality and how we’re constantly being ripped off. People like what we do and they take it from us as opposed to giving us credit. I think that as a collective, we’re going to continue to educate people and give people a safe space. That’s kind of all we can do at the moment. 

    When did you first start singing? 
    I was eight years old. I was in North Carolina, that’s where I was born. My Aunt Dee Dee, she’s passed now, but I was in the closet folding my clothes and she heard me singing this Hannah Montana son. It was the Disney times. And she was like, “You have a voice.” I have really bad anxiety, I always have, so I never wanted anyone to know that I sing. So that Sunday, she made me sing in church, and my family put me in the choir. I sang in the choir all the way until tenth grade. We performed at Gospel Fest and won, like, three times. My choir director would hire me to sing for upcoming artists, so I would get paid for that. I was like ten or eleven. 

    Do you write your own music? 
    I started writing my own songs in preschool. I used to listen to Stevie Wonder all the time, and my grandma used to play Anita Baker, and my aunt was really into A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, and mom liked India Arie and Erykah Badu and my dad liked Dip Set, like hardcore rap. My dad rides motorcycles. And then I would spend time with my great-grandmother, so I would listen to a lot of jazz music, music from the '20s. I have a huge love for Billie Holiday. 

    You grew up with the classics from every generation. 
    Yeah, every generation, it just comes together. So then as I got older, I started taking my music more seriously. My family wanted me to go to law school, and I just said “No.” So I started writing my own music, I started recording. I’m dropping my EP next year. I also record my cousin and my aunt wants me to go to Atlanta to record with her, so I’m kind of just doing a bunch of stuff at once. 

    Are there any up-and-coming artists that have been inspiring you lately? 
    My best friend, Camille. She draws these cool, grungy, death-type illustrations. They’re nature, celestial type of drawings. I keep telling her to put herself out there. She’s going to draw for my EP. And I have a friend named Justin Wong who raps. He goes to NYU. My friends Chloe X Halle, they’re signed to Beyonce’s label. They’re awesome. 

    Do you feel like you’d be as creative as you are if there weren’t all of these artistic people around you? 
    I would still be as creative. Growing up, I wasn’t around artists. My mom and grandma were English teachers. My dad was an auto mechanic. I read all the time, so that gave me an outlet, being able to read about other artists. And when the internet really blew up. I would draw all the time. I went to school in Newark and there were a lot of art programs going on. I was in the Theatre Club and the Art Club. So I was pushing myself to indulge in this space that I knew nothing about. So I started taking the initiative and making my own stuff. Being creative has helped people gravitate toward me. 

    Do you feel like our generation can create meaningful change? 
    I really do. I always that that this is kind of the rebellious generation. Looking back at the past, nothing’s really changed. In some ways, it’s gotten worse. We’re the generation that’s not taking any crap. We’re doing our own thing. I feel like we can really use our voice to change the world, because we're more accepting than the past generations.We’re the only generation that understands each other, having safe spaces for people that are non-binary and trans is great. Having black women be on the cover of magazines or female models who aren’t skinny. I think that’s amazing. I think that we’re the generation that’s opening more doors and being more inclusive of one another. I think that this generation can really change the world. 

    What do you hope for yourself in 2017? 
    I hope that I can believe in myself more, because I have times where I'm just like, "I'm never going to make music." Because I'm always writing, my family wants me to do law, but I don't want to, because I feel it in my heart that when I don't make music, I get really sad. 

    I really just want to make art whether people like it or not. I want to do it for myself, and I mean like, I write music about girls who love themselves or about going through heart ache or feeling alone. That's something that everyone feels. My goal for 2017 would be to just believe in myself and show people that dreams can still come true.

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