We had the good fortune of connecting with Donel Williams and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Donel, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I would love to say it was intentional, but it was definitely a path I discovered late in my academic life. I was never artistically inclined, and to this day I can’t draw to save my life.

However, it was through my small community college that I was introduced to a pair of wonderful instructors. They saw my passion for storytelling, and also understood my struggle to emote certain feelings through language alone. Words are extremely powerful, yet can only go so far in a given context.

I found myself gravitating towards photography as a tool to fill in those gaps, and when I transferred to UCLA I was introduced to other genres of creative expression.

Ultimately, I chose this path to continue my desire to share the ever important stories of the marginalized through my unique experiences, and to hopefully inspire others to do the same.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Most of what I create is inspired my my relationship with my stepfather, who I consider my father outright.

What I produce now is largely inspired by a two year stretch in which he fell victim to a debilitating stroke. The stroke robbed him of his ability to move or communicate, other than a series of groans if he were in extreme discomfort. It was a particularly difficult period for me because we were so close, and the day I learned of being accepted into UCLA, I broke into tears knowing that I could tell him those exact words and he would be unable to comprehend them.

It was during the beginning of my tenure away at school that he was confined to an assisted living facility, which my mother would visit daily after work and provide me with photos and updates on his condition. I would make visits whenever time permitted, and the overall sensory experience of his room forever stuck with me. Certain microscopic moments I enhance in my mixed media paintings.

The road has not been an easy one, for sure. I had to work several jobs to support my art practice in the beginning, and have been fortunate to have stability in a job as a Wine and Spirits Buyer at a family owned market called Jayde’s.

The loss of my father certainly had a negative effect on me, and caused me to withdraw from art and the world in general for a while. Yet at the end of the day, I found some part of me healing in sharing his story, because as unique as his story may be, it is not singular, particularly in communities of color. At the end of the day, I look forward to sharing his story, and engaging in conversations regarding the shortcomings of our country’s medical infrastructure.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Wow. Where would I even begin??

There’s so many incredible places to visit. I would have to start with my mom’s favorite restaurant, Harold and Belle’s on Jefferson Boulevard. I got goosebumps when I smelled their food for the first time in many years recently because I vividly remembered eating there with my parents as a child before we would make the commute back home.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I absolutely would not be where I am today without the support of my UCLA Arts faculty and classmates. I was pushed to make some of incredible bodies of work because of their guidance. My classmates inspired me with their work, their unique perspective and voices, it was a perfect storm of a community.

My mentors, Kathy Haddad and Mitchell Syrop, for instilling in me the belief that I was even worthy of applying to UCLA. I can’t imagine how much differently my life would have been without meeting them and growing so close to them.

And finally, my mother. She’s been a stellar model of hard work, dedication, and stability in my life. Ever supportive of all that I do, and I could never fully express how much I love and appreciate her.

Website: www.donelwilliams.com

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