Addressing Social Issues Through Art: Amy Scheidegger Ducos
By Sarah Mills
I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting & Drawing from East Carolina University in 2005 and a Masters of Science in Arts Administration from Drexel University’s graduate program in 2010.
Originally from North Carolina, I relocated to Philadelphia in order to join the Drexel graduate program to pursue a more multi-faceted role in the world of art and culture.
In 2011, I founded the Artistic Rebuttal Project – a grass roots art advocacy initiative that strives to, through story-collecting and story-telling, emphasize the power and necessity of the arts. On the project’s behalf, I periodically travel around the country speaking with university students in art programs, creative adults and kids, imploring them to become active in their communities in order to better serve the places in which they are rooted. It is only when the public knows the importance of art and art’s way of connecting our past to our future, can the arts act as a civic lesson to citizens everywhere. That same year, I was nominated a Creative Connector, a recognition pioneered by Leadership Philadelphia. Creative Connectors are “hubs of trust, seen as trustworthy and credible who use art and design to mobilize people around an issue.”
In March of 2017, I moved to Quito, Ecuador to study how arts and culture are managed and appreciated in an older, foreign country. Living here, I am able to carve out a lot more time to create my own work.
My work is largely social issues-centered, ranging from global warming, mental health, immigrant rights to body positivity.
My recent body of work was sparked by a myriad of issues that were once at the center of a progressive government and leadership - broadening women’s issues and mental health policies, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, and confronting police brutality and many more - that are now being rolled back by an administration run by greed and ignorance.
Now that I am living abroad in Ecuador, I am seeing these issues from what is considered a third world country. In this third world country, the class of person who would be considered the minority in the States is the majority that runs the country. In turn, women and the poor are treated on the whole and with a lot more respect in my particular third world country than the United States.
My intent with the images enclosed is to explore the experiences I’m having watching and learning how Ecuador deals with these issues in contrast to my country of origin.
My work is created through a variety of mediums. I work initially with graphite and ink on paper as a first layer, then watercolor and acrylic on paper, as well as non-traditional materials like coffee (from the Galapagos). After scanning in these traditional/non-traditional mediums, I inject more color and detail digitally, creating a digital painting using a tablet.
How did you first start creating?
I first started drawing when I was 2 years old and I haven’t stopped! My mom saved everything (including the attached photo what "what mommy looks like when I'm bad"), put me in every after-school art class my parents could afford, art teachers from elementary to high school (I was lucky enough to have art classes every year) all encouraged and nurtured my inherent urge to make art and it blossomed into a skill that I’ve sharpened throughout the years.
Travel obviously plays a big role in your work, can you talk about your experience and the impact it had?
I didn’t travel much until I was 17 - the first time I ever got on an airplane. But since that first flight, I’ve tried my best to see and experience as much as I could afford. As fate may have it, I met an extraordinarily kind man from Ecuador while we were both earning advanced degrees in Philadelphia, PA. Pedro, by the end of his student visa, had to return to Ecuador, so after about 2 years of dating and living together in Philly, we took the leap of faith that we were going to work out and I moved to Ecuador with him in 2017. The shift to a completely different culture where I was now the minority took a long time to adapt to. In the States, I felt like things were “made” for me. Everything was in English, almost everything on tv and online is marketed towards women because women do the shopping...like the world catered to me and I had access to everything I needed, even when money was tight. And I wasn’t rich by any means - I grew up lower middle class in a very rural town. Once I moved out of state I had my struggles not being able to find full-time work after I got my Masters in Arts Administration and yet I feel I excelled because the society I was in was some-what tailored to help me, a young white woman, succeed. Therefore, to be taken out of that environment and placed in a city where I couldn’t understand one conversation being had on the street, needing my fiance to tag along everywhere I went to translate, I ultimately, after 9 months needed to fly back to the States because I had overstayed my time Ecuador without getting the proper documentation. I was a legit illegal immigrant for 5 of those 9 months. (Americans can stay in Ecuador for 4 months until needing to register with the government and we had a crap lawyer who didn’t do her job). It gave me a completely new look at the America I grew up in and I have to tell you, it’s not a positive new look. I think my South American now-husband and I are lucky to not be living in the United States at this specific point in time. We would be in constant fear that his status would be in question and that we might be separated. I have learned that all Latin Americans - from Mexico to Chile to Spain - are all lumped together when Americans in power talk about them. When the current administration started calling Mexicans rapists and Venezuelans criminals as they stood in line for asylum at the border, I listened as my husband, an Ecuadorian, called all of them “his people” as he watched in agony as the United States continued to perpetuate harmful myths, vow to deport them all, and separated children from their parents. And for me, who has always had art as a form of therapy, expression, and retreat, my subject matter naturally becomes a portrayal what I’m feeling in response to my husband and his family’s current state of shock surrounding what the United States has become - for them. I can always return and I have thousands of good memories of growing up in North Carolina and finding my voice in Philadelphia. America will always be my home but when you’ve never lived outside if it, you don’t know the true impact and role it plays as far as what direction the rest of the world is headed. As Mark Twain once wrote - “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
Much of your work involves observations on social, political, and cultural events, how did you get started creating this type of work?
My first major move, long before I moved to Ecuador, was moving from North Carolina to Philadelphia - which completely opened my eyes to how different races are treated across the country. I grew up in a somewhat mixed community, had friends of all colors, but we were in a rural town where law enforcement (from the point of view of a teenager who maybe wasn’t clued into politics quite yet) was community-led, everybody knew everybody. So there was a sense of justice and fairness spanning all ethnicities because if you were caught doing something you shouldn’t have been, no matter the color of your skin, the town sheriff knew your momma and knew she raised you better. Once I got to Philadelphia, things couldn’t have been more different. Avoiding eye contact with strangers was paramount because if you did say hello, more often than not it would turn into a creepy guy trying to follow you home from the subway or an arrogant man feeling entitled to let you know your tattoos are “unbecoming of a lady” and “your job should fire you” for letting one peek out underneath your shirt sleeve. And because none of those experiences are against the law, sometimes you have absolutely no one to turn to. From rural North Carolina where you go from home to car, to work, back to the car, back home, to Philadelphia where you feel you’re exposed on a regular basis - I became very hardened myself yet very aware of what women and men of color are subjected to on the daily. I could endure someone talking shit about my tattoos or my weight on the bus, at least I was never spat on because of the hijab being worn, or followed around a drug store simply because my skin was black and I was wearing a hoodie. Living in such proximity to racial profiling and racial biases has made me more empathetic and aware that racism is alive and well - and that I’m always working on my own biases that I wasn’t fully aware of having grown up in the South. That emotional work shows up in my artwork now - that idea from Mark Twain about travel, I’ll amend it to say that proximity is also fatal to prejudice. If you can SEE what happens to people of different races and backgrounds and be able to compare that to how you’re treated - your world will be flipped on its head if you think equality or equity has been reached in any way shape or form.
What is your favorite part of your creative practice?
My favorite part is I guess what you would call the middle part, where idea meets reality. Once you’ve conceived an idea and you begin sketching it - for me the first few sketches are never what I had envisioned in my head, but by the 3rd or 4th, it starts coming out the way it should. So when I’m able to step away from my work and say “YES! That’s what I was going for,” I get really excited to keep going and finish.
How has making art impacted your life?
That’s a difficult question, considering I’ve never NOT had art as a critical part of my life and being. I would say, having this ability has been the greatest gift, no doubt, but it has also been the root of some sadness as well. I’m currently writing a children’s book about my childhood where I was used for my skills and then discarded when my skills/I myself wasn’t “needed” anymore. Or times in my life where I wished I could have spoken my mind instead of keeping quiet at the moment and instead of painting about it later. Both are valid ways of communicating but I think I always wanted to be more vocal but didn’t know how which is something that maybe comes with age and experience. My voice is a lot larger than it ever has been - my family can attest to that - and now that I’m almost 35 I’m finding a better balance between speaking vocally and speaking through my artwork.
What is a piece of advice that was given to you that you would like to share with our readers?
The main thing for me, when I was in art school, I had a teacher named Mr. Hartley, who has since passed, but he told me being an artist had nothing to do with talent: it was all about practice and sharpening your skills. I had a lot of people tell me when I was growing up that I’ll be an artist, no doubt, it’s a talent I was born with and I shouldn’t waste it. But the work you have to put into it is NOT something the average person realizes. The amount of artwork that doesn’t see the light of day because it’s not up the artists’ ridiculously high standards is not something the average person realizes. So yes, you can be born with talent, but don’t let that for a minute make you think that being an artist isn’t all about the work. “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life” IS A LIE!
What is the most important thing you have learned from your creative journey thus far?
I have learned that the world and all its creatures are so complex, it’s beyond all of our practical comprehension. I grew up thinking being right was more important (to me) than anything else. In Philadelphia, I thought hustling and being busy from sun up til sun down meant I was doing all the right things. I learned that everyone’s got baggage so stop judging. In Ecuador, I am learning that the world was not made just for me, so I need to adjust-adjust-adjust myself on a regular basis and not be afraid of how other people see me. Through my journies of becoming an Ecuadorian resident, my own personal difficulties of learning how to speak Spanish, and now at the beginning of my marriage, I have learned that trying to be right all the time and trying to come off like I know something about everything is exhausting, arrogant, and won’t work for me or the important people in my life anymore. I’m settling into a place where most things are new to me and there’s no way I could have prepared for them or knew about them. Personal evolution is my current mindspace and I have to leave all the doors and windows open.