Satirical art for the sake of laughs and social change

Talking stop-motion animation with Kelli S. Williams

3 minute read
Williams, a Black woman, poses for a portrait with her arms crossed in a grassy field.
Philly-based Kelli S. Williams is part of the 2021 Mural Arts Philly Black Artist fellowship class. (Photo by Alicia Smith.)

Kelli S. Williams, an award recipient of the 2021 Mural Arts Philadelphia Black Artist Fellowship, is a Philadelphia based animator, visual artist, and community artist. An assistant professor at Moore College of Art & Design, her work has been shown across the globe and featured in the Huffington Post, Columbus Live, Hyperallergic, Artnet, and Baltimore Magazine. Utilizing stop-motion animation, photography, installation, and humor, Williams creates art commenting on society through the lens of social media and technology.

Being an artist in the animation and filmmaking sector is important to Williams because “there have been so few people who look and think like me in those spaces,” she says. “I take that responsibility very seriously and always consider that as I create.”

Williams’ stop-motion animated web series This is Tru follows the misadventures of a quirky, twenty-two-year-old student trying to understand her place in the world while navigating the ever-evolving world of social media. Growing up with social media being a major presence in Williams’ life, she is both highly dependent and critical of it. Her work is never grounded in reality, rather straddling the line between reality and our fictional, virtual selves. Humor and satire are driving forces behind her work as Williams finds that “humor creates a safe space to create dialogue on sometimes difficult subject matter.”

To thine own self be true

The idea for This is Tru was birthed during the 2016 presidential election when Williams began to understand how conversations that take place on social media have real world effects. After establishing the structure of the series, Williams created episodes that could “comment on anything from critiques of the interface to cultural appropriation.”

A stop animation still featuring a claymation woman with colorful hair, yellow framed glasses, and pink top.
A still from 'This is Tru'. (Image courtesy of Kelli S. Williams

Drawing heavily from the style of sketch comedians like Dave Chappelle, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, Williams has developed her own artistic flair and creative tone. The heads of the characters in the web series were all sculpted by hand, cast in plaster, and painted. The body was created using an aluminum wire armature inside, upholstery foam, and latex. Williams made most of the clothing from various scrap fabrics and used yarn for the hair.

Contributing to community projects as well, Williams collaborated with Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland on The Black Lives Matter Inside Out project. This community project greatly impacted her during an all too relevant time in Baltimore, conceived and produced before the Freddie Gray uprisings. “Less than a mile away from the place of the uprisings, we installed the images on the facade of the building about a month later. I still remember the community response during the install: cars honking in support as they drove down the street, people putting black power fists out of the window as they drove by, artists walking by just donating their time to help out,” says Williams. “It felt like we were doing something that mattered and that felt good.” Williams hopes her art will create a dialogue making people question their preconceived ideals or judgments, no matter how big or small.

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