When Colette Bernard left Lafayette, La., for New York City, Bernard, who uses they/her pronouns, saw it as their great escape — from the small-town, Southern lifestyle that they felt never really fit.
After arriving in New York, it wasn’t long before Bernard began fighting for Southern representation when they were met with raised eyebrows and judgmental gazes at the first mention of their Southern roots.
“I would introduce myself as someone from the South and the immediate reaction was disgust,” they said. “I started deconstructing those feelings and asking myself why it was making me so angry. It’s because I know better. There are people in the South that need to be advocated for.”
Bernard, a recent graduate of Brooklyn-based Pratt Institute, has garnered more than 290k TikTok followers for their “Art Explained” series. In addition to covering art-world drama like the newest Drake album cover or new public art installations, they’ve taken to creating Southern merchandise for often disregarded communities in the South, such as the LGBTQ community and the BIPOC communities.
Recently, Bernard designed a blue enamel crawfish claw pin to raise money for Hurricane Ida relief efforts. The claw pin, like the rest of their work, is vibrant and shimmering. Bernard’s design style is whimsical, bright and welcoming. Their website is a colorful collection of asymmetrical rainbows and funky murals of dancing fruit. Their most popular Southern-inspired piece is inscribed with the phrase, “The South is not a lost cause.”
For some, the phrase “lost cause” can stir up the moonlight-and-magnolias myth that set in throughout the South after the Civil War. The Lost Cause is an interpretation of the Civil War that romanticizes the “Old South” and the Confederacy, drafted and sewn into the fabric of Southern white society by former Confederate generals.
Her reference to a lost cause in trippy, rainbow lettering was created to contradict the idea that the modern South is worthless while standing against the assumption that the South is a monolith of its racist past.
“I think anyone that is from the South understands what I am trying to say,” they said. “We deserve hope and we deserve to be listened to. We deserve to be looked after.”
These pieces initially served as an outlet — a response to the lack of inclusive and diverse merchandise in and around the South. They wanted to support the South in a way that they could relate to, and they found out quickly that many others felt the same way.
At the moment, Bernard is in a “post-graduation fog” after accomplishing their five-year goals in one year. They have an art show coming up in October, and they plan to continue making art for Southerners who don’t find their particular style at Belk or Southern Tides.
“I am trying to design something new, and it’s in the works,” Bernard said. “I am always reflecting as an artist. I am creating pieces that say, ‘Southerners for Science,’ because there is such a big pushback against vaccines in the South right now.”