“I’ve always had a purpose to my creativity,” says Pomona Lake, a Vancouver graphic designer and artist. She found that purpose fast and early, when an image from a high-school art project went profoundly, monumentally viral.
This particular picture shows the back of a woman’s legs with her skirt pulled up. Running up her left leg is a sequence of markings, each labelled with a different qualifier, starting with “matronly” just above the ankle and finishing with “whore” just under the cheeks. It was a simple and scathing commentary on sexism – “I think that art came out of feeling my sexuality for the first time,” Pomona says, “feeling sexualized by external people,” – and it understandably took off.
Just 18-years-old, fresh into her first year of design at Capilano University, she suddenly became to thousands of people worldwide the face of young feminism. She was inundated with messages, both caustic hatemail and proclamations of support from likeminded supporters worldwide. She was interviewed by major publications like The New Statesman and cited in university classes across the globe. At one point it took her to Belgium to battle a racist group who co-opted the concept for their own agenda.
Few creatives get such an all-encompassing response to their work, especially as a teen. And even people decades older would have been hard-pressed to handle it with Pomona’s level-headedness. While the outpouring of support was empowering, she didn’t let the anonymous attacks faze her. “It’s really easy to see through the hate mail,” she explains. “They’re just scared.”
Although she’d been declared an expert, the unexpected success of the photograph was what actually sparked Pomona’s activism. At the time the piece came out she didn’t even identify as a feminist, she was just working off her own experiences. “I realized I was completely ignorant and needed to know things,” she says. She embarked on a serious self-driven education, focusing on feminism but spiralling into other areas, and hasn’t slowed since.
Today Pomona makes a point of offering her design services to deserving people and companies that otherwise couldn’t afford them. During business hours she works at Yulu PR, which she describes as “the Robin Hood of PR firms.” Off the clock she helps out worthy causes.
Through her work she hopes to change the flawed and unbalanced system of capitalism by gaming it from the inside. It’s not that she thinks the system is run by some cat-stroking, monocled super villain. She just recognizes that most people are looking out for themselves – “everyone’s just dumb, not evil,” – and with a little readjustment life could be a lot more fair for everyone.
She’s a proponent of “liberating funds,” using money earned through her work in responsible ways like shopping at small, local businesses, finding alternative ways to meet needs, and re-investing in the community. It’s all part of her life mission, which she’s honed down to this: “To open eyes and ears and bring people together.”
She pauses for a second, thinks, then nods. “And fix bullshit.”