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Teshika Silver Wants People To See Beauty In Themselves

Written by on April 28, 2022

Illustrator Teshika Silver uplifts marginalized identities through positive and optimistic representation.

Detroit born, Chicago-based Teshika (or Tesh) Silver is an illustrator focused on representing historically marginalized people and Black femme energy in colorful, ethereal contexts.

Teshika Silver sits at her desk inside her Woodlawn home, explaining the inspiration behind her digital illustrations.

Since moving to Chicago in 2005, Tesh has called many neighborhoods in Chicago home, including Uptown, Rogers Park, Little Village and Woodlawn. In an interview for Vocalo’s audio series “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Silver notes her appreciation for the ways each neighborhood differs. She feels Chicago is cohesive in the way the variety of people, cultures, music and art comes together to create a diversified unit.

Holding a degree in graphic design with a minor in illustration, Silver knew at a young age she wanted to illustrate and see Black femmes represented in a positive light.

“There’s a lot of representation, but a lot of it is also centered around Black trauma and Black pain. When I draw I want to feel light-hearted… excited and happy about what I do.”

-Teshika Silver

Silver creates her magical “oeuvres” on a small-scale basis for local businesses and non-profit organizations, and her pieces have been featured in publications like the Chicago Reader. Shining through her mother’s legacy, Tesh Silver hopes her work will inspire and uplight those living in the margins.

“My wish is for all marginalized people to not be in the margins. For all people to be liberated. For people to be able to see the beauty in themselves. To understand that they are walking embodiments of God-consciousness.”

-Teshika Silver

What does your work look like?

My work primarily focuses on Black femme energy and marginalized people. If you saw one of my pieces, you would see a Black or Brown person centered. Probably engulfed in a nebula, or stars, or roses, some sort of plant life. Very colorful, really playful and ethereal, and makes you want to dance on a cloud.

Tesh stands in front of a bright orange backdrop set up across from her desk, reflecting color across the room as it catches diffused sunlight through the curtains.

Where are you from, and where do you live?

I’m originally from Detroit. I graduated 2004, and then moved out here in 2005. I feel like I was maybe 13 and my mom brought me to Chicago for the first time, and I was like, “Oh, this is it. This is the big city, and this is where I’m going to live.” I’ve been in many neighborhoods since moving here. I’ve lived in Uptown. I lived in Rogers Park. I lived in Little Village. I’ve lived all over, almost all over Chicago. And I just love that there’s always a different vibe in each neighborhood and, but somehow it all coalesces and it all feels the same, because it’s Chicago. You know, the variety of cultures and people and music and art scenes is so very much a part of Chicago culture.

Currently, I’m in Woodlawn. There’s a lot of older folks and they all, you know, they own property here. So it’s going to be quiet, it’s going to be clean. You’re not gonna play your music. You know, you’re not washing your car on the street or fixing it, you know, like, they have all of these signs up saying, like, what we don’t do in this neighborhood. Um, and I think that’s really endearing. It’s just a really nice peaceful place to live. It’s probably one of my favorite neighborhoods that I’ve lived in, actually. Just very Black, very chill. I love it.

Tesh and her 17-year-old dog, Penny, outside their Woodlawn home.

How did you find your way to illustration? 

I went to college for graphic design. And that was because my mom was very much like, “Okay… you’re going to be an artist, but you need to make money.” She was very, very practical in that way. So I was like, “Oh, alright.” And I just did what she said. And I, and I minored in illustration. Graphic design was like my first, you know, foray into, like, “arts,” but I always wanted to be an illustrator. It was always in the back of my mind. Like, graphic design is like, yeah, it does make you money, like, no doubt. But illustration is something that I’ve, like, since I was a child, I’ve always done. 

What is the focus of your work? Why?

I am a Black femme and because of that, I want to see more of me. Not in a superficial way, but in a… more of a representation way. And there are so many different kinds of ways to be Black, so many different kinds of ways to be femme or queer, and I want to see more of that.

And I also tend to draw my figures pretty happy, because there’s a lot of representation, but it’s like a lot of it is also centered around Black trauma and Black pain. When I draw, I want to feel lighthearted. I want to feel like, excited and happy about what I do, because I’m a predominantly happy person, pretty positive. And, you know, and I love nature and esoteric things, and galaxies and stars, and I want to see more of that with Black people in it. 

Tesh created this piece to promote celebrating all women during Women’s History Month in 2021, featuring a hijabi woman of color.

How has the pandemic affected your work flow?

2020 was the year I decided I’m going at my own pace. I’m a person who has anxiety, like, literally a generalized anxiety disorder. But when 2020 happened, everybody else was also feeling what I always have felt. So suddenly everybody was a little bit softer, a little bit gentler, a little bit like, “Oh, whenever you want. Oh, don’t worry about it.” And from that I learned that, “Oh, I really can go at my own pace.” Capitalism really teaches us that everything has to be right now, and that’s not true. Like, you can also be like, “No, I need to take time and space for myself and enjoy what I’m doing.” I draw for a living. I should enjoy that instead of being freaked out about it. I don’t want to be stressed out by the job that I’ve always wanted. So I tend to take on smaller businesses. Non-for-profits, people who want, you know, unique things. I’m a unique thing! And so people want that, like, that little hint of whatever magic it is that I give. 

Tesh’s work station is surrounded by windows overlooking the trees on her street, which are beginning to bloom in late April.

Your legacy in one sentence, or any words to live by? 

I have thought very much about legacy. Like, my mom passed away like 15 years ago. And one of the first things that I thought about, like after getting out of unredeemable grief, was I am her legacy. So, what can I do? My wish is for all marginalized people to not be in the margins. For all people to be liberated. For people to be able to see the beauty in themselves. To understand that they are walking embodiments of God-consciousness. That we all can be people who come together with all of our differences, still be cohesive. And queerness is not just who you sleep with, it’s a politic. And, there’s so much good in the world with all of its ills and it doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom if we just change our thought process a little bit about who we truly could be. Not who we are, but who we could be. And Chicago has a lot of potential for that.

Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago — enriching us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.

Interview, transcription and audio production by Ari Mejia

Introduction written by Milo Keranen

Photography and editing for clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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