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Malaysha K. Belton is an artist and designer born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina specializing in digital illustration, acrylic on canvas and mixed media art.
The Black Wall Street Times spoke with Belton about her inspiration from early childhood experiences growing up on the east and north sides of Charlotte and her vibrant symbolism, spiritual connection and deep rooted family ties.
“I was introduced to art at age six or seven years old.”
“As far as I can recollect my brother, CJ, would draw animé, Simpsons, and Pokémon characters back in the early 2000s.” Belton said, “I remember watching him draw and said, ‘I wanna do that.'”
The younger sibling explained, “Later on, I remember sitting downstairs in our den and I came across one of his drawings. Everything he did I wanted to do it so I’m glad art was one of those things.”
“I would take his drawings and trace over them and once I got comfortable, I discovered that I can take ideas in my brain and I can alchemize them onto paper,” says Belton.
Reflecting on how art isn’t what she does but whom she is, Belton commented, “It definitely helps with the spiritual side of myself, the visions, because I see things a lot more vividly now,” says Belton. “It’s no longer a gray area. Life is in full color.”
Her company, MALAYSIAN-INK, acts as an over-flowing source for creativity and service to young art collectors, musical artists and business owners around the city since its start in 2017.
She furthered, “If I see something in the mental, I can draw it. I felt like a magician. I still have that same feeling today when I’m working on pieces and projects.”
“It’s like real life magic.”
Unfortunately, unlike magic, Charlotte colonizer’s sleight of hands and abracadabras have only revealed more invaders with little appreciation or deference to the previous residents.
“When I look around the city, I love how forward it has come. I love the architecture, energy, and the progression. But it’s heartbreaking when you no longer feel familiar with the areas that you live in,” commented Belton.
Black-owned businesses once thrived in Charlotte neighborhoods like Brooklyn but the neighborhood was torn down in the 1960s and ’70s in the name of urban renewal, displacing around 216 businesses and thousands of residents.
“There’s beauty and pain,” says Malaysha Belton.
In the present, gentrification continues to run rampant throughout the Queen City, displacing communities and culture like a vast majority of once-Black neighborhoods across the U.S.
“I kind of feel broken up with. You threw out the heart of the city.” The artist continued, “There is a mural that I did on Keswick Avenue that I was excited to do because I was born on that street. It was the first house my parents ever bought. Me and all my siblings were born in that house.”
Though her family moved from the property years ago, the very place she once called home was demolished only days prior to this interview.
“I was talking to my dad last week and he told me they tore it down and I know what they’re going to replace it with,” she painfully acknowledged. “They’re doing so many other houses the same way. That’s why it feels so heartbreaking because instead of preserving things and making it beautiful, you just throw it all away.”
“Everything that I go through is either a lesson or a blessin’,” says Belton.
Through the years Belton’s art has been housed in a number of pristine galleries including the historical Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University: her alma mater.
A proud graduate of WSSU, Belton reflects, “I was at Winston 2014 – 2018. I just remember being in the moment while on campus. Fried Chicken Wednesdays, hanging with your friends, getting my first apartment, that was the first thing I ever did for myself.”
Asked what the newly grown-up did in her brand new apartment all to herself, Malaysha laughed, “I drank wine.”
Ballin’ on a budget, she remembers, “I went to Dollar Tree and got two wine glasses then I went to Food Lion and got some Moscato.”
Malaysha heard Charlotte buzz before it was a slogan
Known to some as ‘Buzz City’, Malaysha says she has seen the bees of Mecklenburg County up close and way too personal. Remembering her grandmother’s home, she said, “bees would over time gather in my grandma’s bedroom inside of a wall and they just co-existed together.”
Reminiscing about her grandmother Lillie Bell, she says, “I know she heard all those things, and she just let them be. And I think that’s why they never invaded the house.”
“From the time I came into this world, whole bee nests were already in her wall.” She continued, “I remember at times they would swarm on the side of the house even when we had to leave. It would be thousands and thousands of bees but I was a thug so I ran through it.”
“Like whenever I think about my childhood, she was always the center of it.” Belton pondered, “Her and her big blue chair, I like to think that’s because her nickname was Sapphire.”
After a day of riding around Charlotte in her grandma’s ’87 Cadillac DeVille to Eastland Mall or selling candy around the neighborhood, a young Malaysha remembers Miss Lillie Bell’s hands felt like no one else’s.
“It felt like it was either super hot every time we visited her house or it was thundering, storming, rainy, and she would sit in the blue chair and just rock me or I would play in her hair.” The self-proclaimed favorite grandchild nostalgically noted, “We would just sit in silence and it was something special between us two.”