Artist and D.C. native Allen-Golder arrives at our interview dressed in layers of torn-up, oversized button downs, slacks, and a suit jacket. Some layers still have dry-cleaning tags attached; others are covered in screen-printed letters. At first, Allen-Golder appears like a walking newspaper, but, upon closer examination, their clothes present words that never go into print, from various racial slurs and lines of poetry to generational traumas and triumphs.
Allen-Golder was born in Washington D.C. in 1999 and was later raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Their mother, an art student, made sure they and their siblings had a paintbrush in their hands from day one.
“They thought my sister was gonna be the artist,” Allen-Golder begins, “but surprise, motherfuckers. It’s me!”
Over the past few months, Allen-Golder has released a clothing drop and put on an exhibition at D.C.’s famous Dupont Underground. In the past, they have delved into just about every artistic medium from photography to fashion, but multimedia and semi-sculptural clothes are admittedly their current focus. Still, as we walk along the street, they stop to take pictures of flowers and trash bags.
”I feel like I’m fully formed, this is what I want to do,” they mention, in reference to it all. While Allen-Golder has been creating their entire life, they admit they didn’t think of themselves as a serious artist until their drawings of rapper Playboi Carti turned into screen prints of missing women in D.C. and commentary on government programs. “I feel like, with any artist, the content is just a reflection of what you’re into at the time,” they explain. “What’s at the forefront of my mind right now is my identity as a Black person, my ancestral identity, my generational trauma, and my generational triumphs.”
Rejecting the Clout Economy
It’s this content, surrounding the Black experience and various facets of American culture, that has earned Allen-Golder success in artistic circles. Despite this, they have taken a somewhat untraditional route into the art scene. Not only does Allen-Golder reject the principles of the art market but also what they have nicknamed the “clout economy,” consisting largely of Instagram influencers and artists whose connections have bought them quick tickets to success. It’s a process that hasn’t been easy, considering the demands of the popular art scene and the “clout economy.”
As Allen-Golder explains, “People don’t like me because I don’t kiss their ass, I don’t do drugs, and I don’t party, so that’ll alienate you from a lot of art and fashion circles. But I feel a lot of love from normal, ground-level people. I did the footwork of meeting people. Being personable. Being a decent human being.”
They’re on the road to hopefully removing themselves from the clout economy entirely. “I feel like I’m getting to a point where I have a lot of the right emails and phone numbers so I don’t need to be on Instagram,” they declare. “Once you get enough support to live on, you don’t need anyone else.”
Current Work: Punk Craftsmanship and Community Storytelling
While we discuss Allen-Golder’s current work, they scroll through their camera roll, pulling up pictures of screen prints, sculptures made from discarded furniture, and words spray-painted on trash bags. Once we’re out of pictures, they pull a few new and upcycled garments out of their bag.
“I usually choose very cheap, raw, often secondhand materials,” they explain, “One, because I’m on a budget, and, two, I’m trying to show people you don’t need a sea of money to get your ideas off. I’m eyeing clothes on the street to take home and do stuff with. Secondhand stuff has this built-in life to it.”
This refusal to abide by an art market that requires high-end materials and connections has encouraged Allen-Golder to experiment with more ephemeral—and, often, traditionally punk—means of making artwork. They admit they like to play with the idea of interactive—yet temporary— work, a concept that’s largely been lost to the onset of the internet. “Sometimes I paint on trash bags because you know they’ll be gone tomorrow,” they tell me, now pulling up pictures of poetry they’ve spray-painted on trash throughout city streets. One particular image shows a white couple at brunch looking at a piece of wood Allen-Golder has spray painted on. It reads, “They stole my grandma, packed her on the ship, she come to me in my dream, wipe my tear, tell me never cry.”
“If you saw one of those before it got picked up, that makes it even more special,” they explain. “People only treat things with urgency when there’s a deadline.” Allen-Golder carries this interactive nature into their exhibition work as well, describing a set of surveys they had visitors fill out at their last exhibition with questions such as, “How have you been affected by the prison industrial complex?”
“People remember things when they feel like they’re a part of it” they explain, “I want to take that community storytelling to a new level.”
Future Work: Avoiding the Trap of Talking About Race
While Allen-Golder’s recent work has largely dealt with heavy topics, they admit they don’t want to be boxed in. “I remember reading the phrase ‘Black artists, don’t fall into the trap of only talking about race,’” they say. “That stuck with me because I’m really capable of talking about more than that.” Now that they’ve grown into their art, they plan on continuing this community storytelling to explore brighter concepts such as joy.
Allen-Golder’s rejection of procedural approaches to becoming an artist and stale definitions of artistic purpose have left them room to explore the art world in their fullest form. “This is my job, I really do this,” they explain. However, “this” doesn’t have to be so strict. Allen-Golder knows they’ll continue with fashion, but remains open to the possibilities of their artistic future. “I did everything before this. I was a photographer. I made a short film. It was so garbage! I ran a magazine that never printed because I lost my job. I still wanna do a film based on a short story I wrote a long time ago, but I wanna wait. If you told me I couldn’t do it for 10 years but then I would be able to do it perfectly, I would wait.”
This honest approach to art serves as a reminder that one’s evolution is non-linear, even in a world where progress seems to have become procedural. “I feel like people are ready to look at me as a young Black artist that’s underprepared, underdeveloped, unprofessional, and poor,” they say, “but I’m gonna make stuff out of garbage and show you that you can be broke and do it better than Susan who paid $200,000 to go to a school I couldn’t afford.”
For more information about Allen-Golder, follow on Instagram at @golders_sin.exe.