Meet one of Toronto’s most empowering artists: Blackpowerbarbie

Amika Cooper, known by her artistic pseudonym, especially on Instagram, blackpowerbarbie has been making waves in the art and illustration scene. 

“My name is inspired by my personality and my worldview. It’s kind of an empowered alter ego that I have that is really passionate about challenging and subverting the status quo and aiming to provide compassionate representation for the underrepresented,” she says. 

“I’ve always gravitated towards art to help me understand myself and the world.”

Raised in the GTA in Brampton, Cooper was exposed to diverse communities which helped her develop an open-minded perspective and a strong sense of self.  A student at St. Thomas Aquinas, Cooper was a theatre major in their regional arts program. But, after attending and graduating from Toronto Metropolitan University, she fell in love with animation in a digital media course, which helped solidify her choice of a career in illustration. 

Now based in both Toronto and New York City — the latter being where she was originally born — her unique blackpowerbarbie name and artistry reflects her unwavering commitment to challenging conventions and advocating for marginalized voices.

A self-taught illustrator and animator, Cooper has garnered recognition for her exceptional artwork, which primarily celebrates the beauty of Black femmes. Her portfolio of work is filled with clients like Starbucks, Nike, Hershey’s, Meta (then Facebook), BET, Doordash, The Washington Post and Viacom. 

But it was her recent project with tech giant Apple for their Black History Month campaign in 2023 that she remains most proud. Initially tasked with creating three art pieces, her work expanded into a comprehensive design system featured across Apple’s platforms throughout February. 

“I had so much creative control and it was an honour to see my work on display in store and so many places online,” says Cooper. 

When asked about what inspires her work, she points to the human experience and community.

“I’m fortunate to be surrounded by many folks, who in the face of adversity, have still managed to show up in the world with creativity, ingenuity and hope,” she says. 

“In the early stages of my career I really was utilizing my art to make sense of my emotions and experiences because I used to feel isolated. The process of sharing these feelings through art revealed that I wasn’t alone just because the media wasn’t saturated with perspectives like mine. Any time that my work deeply resonates with someone or encourages them to be themselves is what continues to inspire me these days.”

Constantly inspired, too, by the city of Toronto, Cooper proclaimed on a recent blackpowerbarbie Instagram post that the arts community, in her opinion, is “the brightest beacon that shines in Toronto and has been such a site of love and inspiration.”

In fact, that’s why Cooper still reflects fondly on her time growing up in the GTA — especially the events her friends used to host at the Drake Underground. 

“Friends of mine used to run an open jam session for local musicians and singers. It was a beautiful era in my life where I got to improvise and collaborate musically — and live — with so many talented people,” says Cooper. 

“Music has always been something I’ve been passionate about as a singer — which many people now don’t know — and that event was such a wonderful outlet for talent in our city.”

And if you were to ask her what her favourite thing to do in the city is, she’ll tell you it involves “walking around the west end” on her days off. And her go-to places to eat? Some of her preferred establishments include Contra Cafe, La Bella Menagua, Manita, Terroni and Ali’s Roti.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO